One of the cardinal questions of our time and age is: how can we build a community of a shared future for mankind through the help of and recourse to scientific and technological innovation?
Today, the entire Earth system is threatened by the progressive destruction of biodiversity, the degrading of our lands, forests and oceans, the pollution of air and water, the destabilization of the climate and the ongoing devastation of our natural capital. All this can undermine or destroy the basis for our livelihoods, where and how we can live. If these forces are not managed much better, if we do not find better ways of producing and consuming, integrating adaptive capacity and flexibility – that is, resilience – in our social and environmental fabric, the consequences could be catastrophic, with widespread loss of life, vast movements of people and the likelihood of severe and extended conflict. We are all threatened, but it is the poorest who are hit earliest and hardest.
Making the digital revolution, biotechnology and advances in artificial intelligence work for a stabilized climate, a healthy biosphere and a just future for all is one of the major challenges over the coming decades. In a world of 10 billion people, where all citizens have the same right to a good life, one of our grand challenges is how to manage the ecological space on Earth, wisely and equitably.
Undoubtedly, we will have to focus and rely more extensively on science in order to build a global eco-civilization. Science has become a global public good par excellence and it is universal. Science, technology and innovation (STI) are critical to bring about the social and economic transformations required to meet the diverse challenges for sustainable development and in particular poverty eradication in all countries. We need new approaches and tools to identify, clarify and tackle global challenges for our joint future. Science brings about progress towards a more sustainable world, crossing national, cultural and mental borders, while drawing on a whole range of disciplines from natural sciences to social sciences and the humanities. STI can be the "game changer" for socio-economic advances benefitting all countries. To this end, science education and capacity-building in science will play a crucial role. Strategic investments need to be made in education, capacity development in STI and engineering, and innovation ecosystems. Strengthening science education at all levels, including technical and vocational education and training, entrepreneurship education and teacher training is essential to catalyse innovation.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), promulgated by the United Nations, must be pursued through an integrated scientific approach. The potential of science to federate different knowledge systems, disciplines and findings and to contribute to an integrated understanding and knowledge base must be leveraged by all countries. Drawing lessons from the Covid-19 tragedy, we must build a new global research architecture so as to strengthen and organize interdisciplinary and international scientific collaboration in a transparent and accountable manner.
During the Covid pandemic we have seen the pivotal role played by cities and city leaders worldwide. They demonstrated the effectiveness of new types of international cooperation and indeed a new multilateralism. This spirit must now be extended from health emergencies to other areas, like water, energy, housing and transportation. Science cooperation must be intensified not only at city levels, but also among academies and universities, by forging new corporate alliances beyond national frontiers and by assembling civil society and young talent. We have less than ten years remaining to attain the 17 SDGs. Creativity, cooperation, cities, culture, science, technology, digitalisation and innovation will be the catchwords for the future. Creativity will be key in helping to reach the various goals. In its 14th five-year National Development Plan, China has highlighted the crucial role of science and technology as a "core priority". Science and technology independence, encapsulated in Vision 2035, is China's new strategic pillar for its medium-term national development, 2021-2035.
An international network of science cities could be built to expand scientific cooperation and talent training, enhance intellectual property protection, build new joint laboratories, provide science parks, innovation centers and incubator facilities. Overall, science cities could expand scientific diversity and outreach and share their capacities and achievements with other cities nationally and worldwide. A science cities network would benefit from the fact that research and innovation have become increasingly open, collaborative and international, offering an opportunity to overcome the unequal distribution of the benefits of STI and knowledge within and among countries and cities, and to close multiple technological gaps.
How can we build a safer, more sustainable and shared future for humanity? STI can be the undisputed catalyst for achieving the 17 SDGs and a shared future for mankind. Increasingly, we need to rely on the transformative power of technology, with creativity as the ultimate energy and driver and turning innovation into action.
The focus of scientific research and collaboration should cover numerous fields ranging from modern agriculture, medicine, health, new energy and materials, food processing and ecological protection, artificial intelligence (AI), as well as advanced manufacturing. All these disciplines have huge implications for the world's population.
The ways in which knowledge is created, processed, diffused, shared and applied, have also been revolutionized in part through rapid developments in information and communication technologies (ICTs), leading to the creation of dynamic networks and cross-border collaborative processes.
In general, a strengthened science-policy-society interface is needed for ensuring that scientific research, technology development and policy both address the needs of society and respond to current and future sustainability challenges towards a shared future of humanity. Priority should be given to sharing and disseminating scientific information and translating it into practical methods and policy options that can readily be integrated into policies, regulations and implementation plans. Science also has to interact with civil society to ensure an inclusive user-driven approach to knowledge, research and technology. It is also critical that research, development and deployment in all fields strive to bridge existing gaps and respond to gender exigencies. All people should have access to life-long learning opportunities that help them to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to exploit opportunities and to participate fully in society.
Concerted efforts are required towards building an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and the planet. To achieve sustainable development, it is crucial to harmonize three interconnected core elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. Science is related to all three. A new academic discipline "sustainability science" is examining the interactions between human and environment.
Currently, we witness not one, but two waves of technological change. The first wave is the digital revolution of Web 2.0 technologies. The second wave is highly data-driven and involves artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of things, gene editing, blockchain and other frontier technologies associated with Industry 4.0.
Digitalisation is providing new opportunities to engage stakeholders at different stages of the innovation process. Digitalisation is changing innovation and science practices, transforming innovation processes, lowering production costs, promoting collaborative and open innovation, generally speeding up innovation cycles. Data have become a main input to research and innovative activities, and many innovations are embodied in software or data. Enhanced access to data promises many benefits, including new scientific breakthroughs, less duplication and better reproducibility of research results. Governments have a role to play in helping science cope with the challenges of open science in several ways: by ensuring transparency and trust across the research community and wider society, enabling the sharing of data across disciplinary boundaries, and ensuring that rewards are in place for researchers to share data.
AI and machine learning have the potential to increase the productivity of science and enable novel forms of discovery. To that end, links between universities, industry and technology enterprises also need to be created and supported. A major concern today is that artificial intelligence and robotics will reduce employment. The impact of artificial intelligence on inequality between countries will depend on the type of input data. If artificial intelligence uses mainly big data generated by the Internet of things, it may also benefit other countries with strong manufacturing bases.
Tools such as big data, interoperability standards and natural‐language processing can provide governments with more granular and timely data to support policy formulation and design. By linking different datasets, these tools can transform the evidence base for STI policy and help demonstrate the relationships between science and innovation expenditures and real‐world outcomes.
Frontier technologies have enormous potential to improve people's lives and protect the planet. There are several examples of developing countries using frontier technologies to track diseases, create early warning systems for pandemics and natural disasters and monitor crops and droughts. The international community needs to guide frontier technologies to support sustainable development. It is crucial to establish coherent ethical frameworks, in particular for artificial intelligence and gene editing deployment. There is a need for a global, inclusive dialogue on all aspects of fast technological change and its impact on society, including its normative dimension.
Space technologies have equally an enormous potential to contribute to the achievement of numerous SDGs. For example, earth observation data can be used to map land cover areas, develop crop yield estimates and support early warning for drought and other disasters. Remote-sensing technologies can also monitor and forecast disease patterns and their spread, as in the case of COVID-19.
Telemedicine, remote care and mobile health, including the home monitoring of vital signs and medication adjustments, have reduced costs and improved safety in health-care delivery. Internet access is a key infrastructure for digital health, but it also requires reliable access to electricity.
However, significant gender imbalances in science and innovation remain at a time when workforce diversity is urgently needed to address the SDGs. Promoting women's contribution and leadership in science, technology and innovation continues to be a challenge. Digital technologies, digital-based information, and apps are not reaching women to the same extent as men, and the differential effects of new technologies on women and girls need to be better understood. First, there is a need to mainstream gender in technological design to leverage the potential of technology for women's needs, perspectives and priorities. Second, there is a need for more research on the implications of new technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and blockchain for women. Third, while women should be trained for occupations in which they are underrepresented, it is equally important to ensure that job positions for women are available in high levels. Fourth, there is a need to identify barriers and opportunities for scaling gender and socially inclusive innovations. Fifth, multi-partner, multi-level and multi-stakeholder programmes are needed to mainstream gender into policy and action in various sectors. Partnerships among government, civil society organizations, the private sector and academic institutions are all facilitators for gender inclusion and sustainable development. In that spirit, most countries have already included gender diversity as a key objective in their national STI plans.
Whether we are tackling a pandemic or the climate crisis, we need science, solidarity and decisive solutions. Technologies are not deterministic. They can be directed towards the achievement of sustainable development. Governments should seek to help shift technological change from existing trajectories towards more economically, socially and environmentally beneficial technologies, and to likewise influence private STI investments towards sustainability. Partnerships can accelerate game-changing innovations. It won't be new technologies in isolation that will make the shift to greenhouse gas neutrality – but rather people who want to make a difference. The business world has a vital role to play, but success also lies in the power of people.
Through concerted international efforts, governments and other stakeholders need to guide the development and deployment of new and emerging technologies so that they support sustainable development and leave no one behind.
Beyond action at the national level, international technology cooperation will be of great importance for the building of a community of shared future for mankind. At the recent Zhongguancun Forum in Beijing, President Xi Jinping stated that China would in the spirit of a more open attitude take part in global innovation networks. He said: "All countries in the world need to open up and cooperate more in science and technology, and jointly explore methods to solve important global problems."
This then is the path all countries, industries and societies should pursue towards a shared future.