2030 is the “Decade of Delivery” to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – yet the gap between where we are, and where we need to be is significant. A new report, Unlocking Technology for the Global Goals, finds that 4IR technology can play a major role in bridging this gap, but new commitments and partnerships will be necessary to move beyond technological optimism.
Over 300 use cases of emerging technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, Internet of Things, 5G and drones were analysed to build the case for how 4IR technologies could do more to accelerate progress towards the Global Goals.
Across the Goals, and their 169 targets, 70% could be enabled by 4IR technology applications already in use today. Current 4IR tech was found to play an important role for 10 of the Global Goals, in particular: Health (Goal 3), Clean Energy (Goal 7), and Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (Goal 9).
The World Economic Forum report, written in collaboration with PWC, found that the extent to which these technologies are already providing positive contributions. It highlights barriers and risks to scaling up 4IR solutions and outlines what needs to be done to unlock the enormous potential. Overall new technologies are shown to offer ‘high’ impact on more than half of the Goals. The study also finds that big data platforms and AI are already supporting progress on every Global Goal.
“There is a huge untapped opportunity to harness new technologies to accelerate progress on the Global Goals,” said Celine Herweijer, Partner and Global Innovation and Sustainability Leader, PwC UK. “It’s time to move from celebrating so-called Tech for Good use cases to assertively directing technology at society’s biggest challenges – such as climate change and inequality.”
The analysis shows that today’s applications of 4IR technologies related to the Global Goals tend to focus on areas with strong private sector commercial benefits, including energy, industry and healthcare. Underlying barriers, from lack of basic infrastructure, expertise and data, to adequate market incentives and business models, must be addressed to shift this reality.
To help close the gap between technology’s potential and the slow rate of progress, the Forum is supporting the launch of Frontier 2030 at the 2020 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. Frontier 2030 sets out an ambitious aim: to mobilize technology companies, governments, international organizations, investors and civil society to tackle the barriers that prevent 4IR technology from being scaled up to address the Global Goals.
“We have good reason for technology optimism, but we also need a good dose of technology realism,” said Antonia Gawel, Head of Innovation and Circular Economy, World Economic Forum. “4IR technologies are tools that still require commitment, policies and partnerships to put them to work in the service of the Global Goals. With Frontier 2030 and UpLink – our digital platform to engage Gen Z and entrepreneurs in meeting the SDGs – we will make this happen.”