The role of Science, Technology and Innovation in the implementation of the SDG’s – Reflections from the UN 2nd Multi-stakeholder Forum, May 15-16, 2017

June 21, 2017

In May, FinCEAL Plus together with Prof. Satu Miettinen from the University of Lapland and Dr. Mikko Perkiö from the University of Tampere attended the Second UN Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation in New York.

Photo credit: Kajsa Ekroos, 2017.

In April 2016, Dr. Måns Nilsson from Stockholm Environment Institute published an opinion piece on how science should feed into the 2030 Agenda (Sustainable Development Goals)*. Following his engagement in an advisory role for the European Commission on the same subject, he recommended three principle roles for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in the SDGs:

  1. Characterizing the challenges – the use of scientific research to contextualize the challenges, priorities and options for actions; and tracking the progress towards the goals
  2. Providing the solutions – providing technologies, strategies and business models for implementing the goals
  3. Strengthening public institutions and society – acting as a neutral platform for various groups and organizations and building up an educated middle-class

In May, FinCEAL Plus together with Prof. Satu Miettinen from the University of Lapland and Dr. Mikko Perkiö from the University of Tampere attended the Second UN Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation in New York. Under the theme of ‘Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world’, the forum attracted both UN staff and global experts working especially in SDGs 1,2,3,5,9, 14 and 17**. The objectives were to discuss STI cooperation in implementing the SDGs, needs and gap analysis, networking and facilitating interaction and to explore strategies of developing and disseminating technologies for SDGs.

Looking back on Måns Nilsson’s recommendations and the output from the forum, the practice of STI integration in the SDGs is still open and will need to be developed further. The roles mentioned by Nilsson are good arguments on why STI should be integrated in the SDGs, but, on a more practical level, the integration is still proving to be a challenge as the STI community tries to find its positioning in a terrain of complex political processes and interests. One of the speakers at the forum pointed out the need to put certain factors into consideration to strengthen the role of science:

  • Engaging multidisciplinary scientific sectors
  • Engaging different sectors and
  • Taking into consideration different geographical and social positions of all players

The challenge therefore is how to maximize on the benefits of science and develop sound strategies of implementing them. More than once, Finland’s roadmap was highlighted as a unique example of STI engagement in the SDGs. Looking at countries like Finland, should roadmaps be emphasized as instruments for countries to use in identifying, focusing and prioritizing science integration in specific aspects of the SDGs? Such proposals are still under consideration as far as the next Forums are concerned.

Moving forward from the Millennium goals, the idea behind the SDGs was ‘global problems, global responsibility and global solutions’ – it seems, however, that this thinking is yet to be adapted at the Forum. Speakers were constantly mentioning Africa in examples of global challenges like climate change and food security, which was disproportionate considering what is happening in the world as a whole. As with everything in society, there are, pull and push factors and many of the global problems are intertwined in the same way. The focus of the Forum should gear itself towards a more holistic, truly global outlook and not remain stuck in the realm of the MDGs that focused on less developed countries.

As a general note, although the Forum had high-level speakers representing different sectors, further engagement of practitioners and experts working with grass-root problems was a visible gap in the Forum. Most participants were representing different UN bodies, and little effort was made to offer discussion and networking opportunities for participants. That being said, the platform is understandably still at development stage after its first two years, and has the potential to evolve into a space that fosters real dialogue about the best practices in STI and global sustainability. The Forum is also an arena for countries to present and showcase their innovative practices in tackling common problems, and this could also be an interesting opportunity for Finland in the near future.

* Sci-Dev Article by Måns Nilsson

** Goal 1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere; Goal 2 End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; Goal 3Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; Goal 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; Goal 9 Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation; Goal 14Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development