The EU and most of its member states are “still on track” to meet their targets for implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But a new report reveals that there is “still work to do” in meeting the 2030 targets and that the ICT sector can play a part in reaching them.
The report, the EU ICT-Sustainable Development Goals Benchmark, ranks EU countries on development of their ICT sector and achievements on six of the 17 SDGs.
Top of the ICT/SDG “league table” is Sweden, followed by the UK and Germany - the three countries which have so far made most progress on both - with Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus firmly rooted at the bottom.
The country-by-country study - thought to be the first of its kind - was carried out by ICT leader Huawei in collaboration with the think tank SustainAbility and leading European business network CSR Europe.
Along with Sweden, UK and Germany, Denmark and France came out as leaders of the benchmark with the highest combined performances in ICT and sustainable development. The results were unveiled at the third edition of the Sustainability and Innovation conference in Brussels last week.
The report said that those EU countries with advanced ICT sectors and information societies perform better on sustainable development - with high-speed broadband at the core of progress. It concludes that the ICT sector “can offer solutions to advance most, if not every single one of the goals.”
European Commissioner responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness Jyrki Katainen, said the ICT sector can play a “significant role” in achieving the SDGs and that the report’s findings offered “clear evidence that the digital revolution can help communities in Europe become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.”
He told the conference: “Sustainable development is part of the EU’s DNA and we are proud of our role in this. But the challenge now is to deliver on the SDGs and means that no one is left behind.”
Highlighting the importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors, he added, “ICT development is a major priority for the commission but it is not an objective just in itself. It is a tool for economic growth and has to be for the benefit of everyone.”
Alan Aicken, a chief sustainability officer with Huawei, told the conference that the benchmark highlights connections between ICT and the SDGs in a number of fields and presents case studies illustrating how technology helps to solve “concrete challenges.”
Charles Ding, President of European Public Affairs and Communication at Huawei, said, “As digital transformation in Europe gathers speed, it is vital that we continue to invest in those technologies with the strongest impact on sustainable development - broadband, cloud, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and big data.”
The benchmark builds on the methodology for Huawei’s global SDG report released earlier this year, which highlighted a correlation between sustainable development progress and ICT on a worldwide scale.
Huawei, participants were told, has made a long-term commitment to sustainable development, implementing a sustainability management system designed to mainstream this aspect into everything the company does. It has been working to support the global efforts towards achieving the UN’s sustain-able development goals ever since their adoption in 2015.
The meeting heard that while all digital technologies present opportunities to advance sustainable development, case studies demonstrate that high-speed broadband will be core to achieving breakthrough progress.
“While connectivity levels are high in the EU, much remains to be in done in this area to improve access, levels of use and general digital skills of the population,” the report points out.
The report cites several examples of “good practice”, including, in Germany, smart production systems linking intelligent machines with data sources and workers, shortening innovation cycles and raising productivity in Germany.
Rob Cameron, chief executive of SustainAbility, commented: “Achieving the SDGs will require new breakthroughs in both the pace and scale of ICT deployment. Such breakthroughs will depend upon collaboration across sectors and outstanding leadership from both the public and private sectors.”
He added, “This report not only points to pathways forward, it demonstrates Huawei’s commitment to the SDGs and its willingness to show leadership in achieving the 2030 goals.”
Summing up, Stefan Crets, executive director of CSR Europe, highlighted the importance of businesses as drivers of the efforts to achieve these goals.
He said, “It is crucial that businesses take a leading role in the transition towards a more sustainable society, and that they dare to transform their business from within,” he said. “We are delighted to see that more and more companies are starting to tackle the SDGs and take responsibility for these developments.”
Crets said the report published at the event showed the “accelerator role” ICT can have in achieving the SDGs.
He told participants, “For this to happen, though, will need more collaboration between companies. It is these companies that can become sustainability champions.”