Katainen: ICT can play significant role in achieving SDGs

European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen has told a conference the ICT sector can play a significant role in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Jyrki Katainen has told a conference the ICT sector can play a significant role in achieving the SDGs | Photo credit: Fotolia

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

12 Oct 2017

He said the EU and most of its member states were still on track to meet the 2030 deadline for implementing the SDGs.

However, he said a new report showed that there was still work to do in meeting the 2030 target and this was where the ICT sectors and information societies can play a part.

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 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 published at a conference in Brussels hosted by Huawei and the two organisations on Thursday.

A 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.”

Katainen, who is responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, said the 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, chief sustainability officer at 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.”

Another speaker, Sarah Atkinson, of CA Technologies, said the link is particularly strong for those goals that focus on industry performance, innovation and gender equality.

She said, “The ICT sector has the power to transform manufacturing industries but, for this to happen, businesses will need to make some profound changes and adapt to totally new practices.”

Atkinson highlighted the importance of tackling gender inequality in the ICT sector - SDG 9 refers to gender equality -  adding, “Up to the age of 10 to 14 girls show a lot of interest in science but it then tails off badly and that is partly the result of gender stereotyping.”

Joe Griffin, a senior manager with Vodafone, agreed, telling the audience, “Inequality, of course, is a global issue but ICT really does have the potential to transform lives. At present, though, there are gaps which need to be resolved.”

The report underlines the strong connection between sustainable development and ICT sector development in EU countries, plus the significant potential for further success in both areas.

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 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.

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.”

Adopted in 2015 by the UN, the SDGs comprise 17 global objectives, ranging from providing “good health and wellbeing” and good education to tackling climate change and “promoting peace and justice.” 


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