How developing countries can take advantage of “green windows of opportunity” through innovative technologies | So Good News
A concerted global effort is needed to help developing economies harness technological innovation for sustainable development.
© Shutterstock/PradeepGaurs | Solar energy technologies are suitable for small off-grid applications, helping to reach people in rural and remote areas.
Sustainable and frontier technologies enable the developing world to accelerate green and inclusive development, but realizing this vision requires international cooperation.
This was the main message at the meeting of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) held on 25 and 26 October.
“International cooperation has an important role to play in providing technical and financial support to developing countries, which can benefit from green windows of opportunity,” said Shamika N. Sirimann, director of technology and logistics, opening the meeting.
UNCTAD provides significant support to the CSTD, which is the UN’s “torch-bearer and focal point for the development of science, technology and innovation (STI)”.
Discussions at the meeting focused on two key themes: how STI can increase clean and competitive production and ensure safe water and sanitation for all.
Delayed advantage for developing countries
Green, sustainable technologies can open a window of opportunity for developing economies to achieve a technological leap, it was noted at the meeting.
Unencumbered by legacy systems, backward countries are more flexible to adopt such technologies at lower costs and to avoid the risks associated with experimentation, research and development and the slower initial adoption experienced by advanced economies.
In addition, changes in policies, access to finance and global requirements – driven by the urgent push for global sustainability – will help reduce barriers to entry by accelerating the adoption of these technologies in the developing world.
Making the economy clean and productive
Technological innovation can strengthen the role of developing countries in greening global value chains, as well as in diversifying and moving towards sustainable economic sectors – with enabling policies and cooperation.
For example, successful models for accelerating the development of renewable energy technology have been institutional in nature, with countries using new environmental laws to encourage public-private cooperation in the green transition.
In China, the 2006 Renewable Energy Law contributed to the establishment of the country’s biomass industry.
Egypt’s 2014 Renewable Energy Law allowed the private sector to partner with the government to generate electricity from renewable sources.
Another example in energy production is the global green hydrogen economy.
Developing countries such as Chile, Panama and South Africa already have advanced green hydrogen strategies consistent with sustainable development.
In rich countries that lack the labor to produce the electrolyzers that are key to making green hydrogen, their developing counterparts in Europe, Japan and South Korea have the opportunity to meet future demand.
Ensure universal access to water and sanitation
Even today, safe drinking water and sanitation remain a challenge for many vulnerable communities around the world.
Rapid advances in frontier technologies, including the bioeconomy, artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and nanotechnology, point to the water and sanitation sector as a potential key beneficiary.
These solutions can reach last-mile populations, as off-grid decentralized solutions are increasingly available and can be deployed and maintained on-premise with minimal training.
For example, Swiss Fresh Water has developed a low-cost and powerful desalination system that enables small-scale production of low-cost drinking water in developing countries, particularly in Africa.
Similarly, UN Women has helped pilot a community-led solar water pumping project for drinking and irrigation in Mozambique.
Necessary measures for implementation of “green windows of opportunity”.
To unlock STI opportunities for developing countries, the meeting called for closing the digital capacity gap, which is largely due to uneven investment in research and development between rich and poor economies.
Moreover, international cooperation on innovation requires equitable partnerships that go beyond traditional donor-recipient relationships.
It is important to consider a number of key factors when planning technology transfer and to make such transfer part of a comprehensive effort to build a broader socio-economic infrastructure in developing countries.
The meeting on policy recommendations emphasized the development and expansion of local innovation ecosystems, particularly by including women and marginalized groups in design and project implementation.
He also highlighted the need for STI policies that support concrete solutions to increase sustainability and climate resilience.