Technology, innovation crucial to advancing sustainable development, Ban says in Estonia

16 November 2013

Continuing his visit to Estonia on Saturday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored the vital role of technology and innovation in finding solutions to some of today's most pressing challenges such as advancing the global sustainable development agenda.

“We live in a fast-moving momentous era – a time of profound global transition – an age of promise and opportunity,” Mr. Ban said, according to remarks prepared for delivery at Tallinn University. “Estonians understand this.”

He highlighted the successful transition to a “vibrant, prosperous and democratic” society that Estonia has made in just over two decades since regaining its independence in 1991.

“You are emerging invigorated from the global economic downturn. You are a global leader in a new wave of technology that is changing the face of the world,” added Mr. Ban, who earlier in the day visited the Robotex technology exhibition, where he saw how young people from around the world are being encouraged to take up science and engineering.

Recalling how science and technology helped his own country, the Republic of Korea, to make the transition from a nation destroyed by war to one of today's leading economies, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of science, education and hard work.

These same traits are crucial in efforts to promote economic dynamism, social progress and environmental sustainability, he added.

“Our sustainable development goals must be informed by the best science. They must be bold in ambition yet simple in design. They must be universal yet responsive to the complexities and needs of individual countries. They must be rights-based, with special emphasis on women, young people and marginalized groups. And they must protect the planet's resources and support action to tackle climate change.”

Another crucial element to combat climate change and achieve the global anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is innovation, Mr. Ban said, noting in particular Estonia's own efforts in this area – from having among the fastest broadband in the world and practicing e-government for more than a decade to voting and paying taxes online.

“Advances such as these are spreading rapidly in all regions. Estonia is contributing to this progress by sharing its experience with countries in this region and beyond,” he stated.

But technology and innovation does not always mean hi-tech, the Secretary-General said, pointing out that fuel-efficient cookstoves can cut respiratory disease and save the environment, while solar-powered fans can dry fish, meat and fruit, extending their shelf-life and reducing waste dramatically.

“It is clear that science and technology are central to promoting progress – from climate change to public health; from food security to sanitation; from good governance to disaster preparedness,” he said.

At the same time, he added, policy-makers are often not aware of the solutions that modern science and technology can bring to today's challenges, and too much of the world remains cut off from scientific advances.

“Now is the time to harness the power of science for the greater good everywhere,” said Mr. Ban. “To do that, we have to close the technology gap. Countries like Estonia have an important role to play – as donors and innovators.

“We have to bridge the digital divide. We have to promote 'pro-poor' research that addresses the needs of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people, such as small-scale farmers. Other imperatives include closing the digital divide in access to information technology and expanding education.

“In particular, we have to close the gender gap in technology,” the Secretary-General stated. “Women in low- and middle-income countries are much less likely to own a cell phone than men. And we have to provide science education to all students, especially girls, so they can train for jobs in the fields of science, technology and engineering.

“That way we can raise a new generation of engineers, entrepreneurs and visionaries.”

During his visit to Estonia, Mr. Ban met with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, and other senior officials. Discussions focused on a range of global issues of mutual concern, as well as UN-Estonian cooperation, according to a readout of the meetings.

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