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Technology As A Catalyst For Sustainable Development

On September 2015, the 193 member states of the UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes the 17 goals and objectives that seek to eradicate poverty, ensure human rights, gender equality and environmental sustainability, enabling inclusive social and economic development. These 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) apply universally to all countries, including ambitious targets to be reached by developed and developing countries.

Estrella Merlos
2016-10-05

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Estrella Merlos,
Associate Director at the United Nations Institute
for Training and Research (UNITAR)

On September 2015, the 193 member states of the UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes the 17 goals and objectives that seek to eradicate poverty, ensure human rights, gender equality and environmental sustainability, enabling inclusive social and economic development. These 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) apply universally to all countries, including ambitious targets to be reached by developed and developing countries.

The 2030 agenda emphasizes the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs), as well as connectivity, to accelerate human progress through innovative solutions that transform and improve the way we live and work. In various fields such as medicine and energy, the ICTs can contribute to the achievement of the SDG.

Through technological innovations in health known as eHealth the quality of life of patients can improve through constant monitoring and treatment, and mobile phones (mHealth) can be used to perform diagnosis on HIV and monitor epidemics (World Health Organization (WHO), mHealth. New Horizons for Health Through Mobile Technologies), among others, contributing to guarantee a healthy life and promote the wellbeing for all in all ages (Goal 3).

In regard to the protection of the environment, the ICTs can contribute to improve the management of water resources through intelligent technologies such as smart sensors, irrigation systems and water conservation, mobile applications to control water use, etc. Likewise, efficiency in energy consumption can be improved through technologies that help conserve energy and predict patterns of consumption.

Even more, the ICTs can contribute to create intelligent, sustainable and resilient cities (Goal 11).This is of special importance in the face of the challenges presented by urbanization, with more than 50% of the world population living in urban areas and 28 megacities inhabited by 453 million people, according to data from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Development, (UN DESA), Population Division.

Given that the world is becoming increasingly urban, cities represent between 75% and 80% of the GDP of the countries, constituting the main engine of the world economic growth. At the same time, the cities generate 50% of global waste, 49% of greenhouse emissions (GHG) and consume 80% of the world´s energy (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], Fifth Assessment Report [AR5]). This imposes a series of challenges for the cities such as environmental pollution, climate change, disaster and vulnerability, insecurity, water management and waste, among others.

In this context of increasing unplanned urbanization, ICTs offer an unprecedented opportunity, since they allow the creation of smart cities that can respond more effectively to the complex challenges through the efficient management of resources and infrastructure, the reduction of public spending and the provision of better services to citizens. The ICTs facilitate cooperation and the exchange of knowledge among leaders, Governments, and citizens around the world, helping them to be better equipped to create sustainable and inclusive cities.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) defines Smart cities as “those innovative cities that make use of information and communication technologies to improve the quality of life, the efficiency of the urban services and the competitiveness, while ensuring their response to the needs of the present and future generations in the economic, social and environmental aspects”.

Smart cities are characterized by integrating into their processes new applications, technologies and systems for intelligent energy, mobility, and intelligent transportation, smart buildings, smart infrastructure for the management of water and waste, intelligent health systems, intelligent security systems and smart Government.

In the case of the Latin American cities, is increasingly important to transform traditional public administration into a smart management through the use of information and communication technologies. An example to highlight of a city that it is migrating towards a smart city is Rio de Janeiro with its Rio Operations Centre (ROC), which monitors and optimizes citywide performance, data collected by sensors and displayed images are analysed through more than 600 cameras distributed by the municipality. The Center operates 24 hours a day and coordinates 30 governmental bodies that monitor the systems of transportation, energy, communications, public safety and health. Through information technologies, as well as the application of this knowledge, the decision making can be improved and provide better quality of life and services to citizens.

Another example to highlight is the case of the City of New York and its Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), a joint initiative between the city, the University of New York, and a consortium of tech companies seeking to optimize traffic flow. Through sensors distributed in several points of the city, geographic information systems and mobile applications that provide information in real time on traffic flow that is collected, analysed, and provide data to improve the functioning of the transit in the city.

In the case of Santiago de Chile, for example, the Ministry of Education has used the technology to identify the best location to develop educational infrastructure, matching the public offering (State-funded nursery rooms and kinder gardens) and potential demand (population of children aged 0-4 years). This has allowed to better the decision making process in the location of infrastructure and reduce breaches of educational coverage in order to improve social equity.

To end, an important premise starting from these examples is that the central target of the smart cities is to improve the quality of life of the citizens. Also, information and communication technologies are key tools for achieving sustainable development. In this sense, smart cities and the use of technology are not an option, but a necessity.

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Read and share this article in Spanish here.

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ESTRELLA MERLOS
Associate Director at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), she oversees the “CIFAL Global Network” comprised of 16 training centres worldwide. She served as CEO of UNITAR’s training centre in Atlanta, USA, and has worked with the government of El Salvador, as well as in Ecuador, on the implementation of development programmes. She holds a Master in Public Administration and was a Fulbright Scholar in the US specializing in public policy, urban planning and economic development. Her areas of expertise also include airport management, disaster response, Free Trade Agreements and negotiation.

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