3 700 participants and 200 expert speakers from 140 countries joined the fourth conference of the Global Sustainable Technology & Innovation Community. For the first time, the conference was organised as an online event by VITO and its international partners ACTS, FIOCRUZ, GIEC, GIST, IITD, NACETEM, and TERI. During the sessions live-streamed from the studios in Brussels and the online sessions, world-renowned speakers and sustainability thought leaders explored how to leverage technology transformation opportunities beyond the current pandemic.

Amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic, the intersecting challenges of health and sustainability have never been more apparent. Therefore, the 2020 edition of the G-STIC conference came at the right time to underline the urgency to identify integrated technological solutions and promote multi-stakeholder cooperation to address this health crisis, mitigate its longer-term impacts, and prepare for future challenges that can threaten the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

During her keynote, Gro Harlem Brundtland highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic is a stark illustration of how we need to work together for inclusiveness, equality, empowerment and sustainability to safeguard our common future. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in turn, emphasised that breakthrough technological innovations are crucial to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the growing inequalities throughout the world. He considers this pandemic to be a wake-up call for a better relationship between science and policymaking and more effective international technology cooperation, and recognised the critical role of the Global Sustainable Technology and Innovation Community in this.

Accelerating climate change adaptation

Especially as the climate crisis intensifies and climate change impacts become more visible, climate adaptation issues claim a more prominent role on the policy agenda and the science and technology agenda. Climate change impacts are generally felt locally and therefore require local, tailor-made technological solutions. But as climatologist Jean-Pascal van Ypersele stressed during the Climate opening session, the challenge of adapting to climate change is an international one that requires systemic changes.

The effectiveness of climate adaptation technologies relies indeed on being part of a broader strategy that acknowledges uncertainty, addresses the underlying drivers of people’s current and future vulnerability and uses indigenous knowledge as a source of inspiration. Such a strategy requires the integration of climate adaptation with human and economic development efforts, using the SDGs as the framework.

Leveraging innovation beyond COVID-19

Not losing sight of the longer-term goals agreed upon in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is crucial in preparing for any future challenge that can threaten the achievement of the SDGs. As high-level representatives from countries championing technological innovation made it clear during the Inaugural conference session, we must continue to look further ahead - even if our focus during the past ten months has been on mitigating the economic consequences of the pandemic and the development of vaccines.

Together with the expert speakers participating in the various thematic sessions, they provided countless examples of technological innovations, and digital innovations in particular, to fight COVID-19 and to leverage sustainable economic and social progress beyond the current pandemic.

Digital innovation empowering sustainable progress 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, social technologies associated with digital tools have become essential to the implementation of nonpharmaceutical interventions. Scientists developed several prototypes, focused on increasing the protection of vulnerable populations, as well as establishing innovative methodologies to implement active surveillance of COVID-19. At the same time, health professionals used telehealth, robotics, and artificial intelligence tools to reach out to patients at home or in the isolation areas of the hospitals.

Digital innovation also creates opportunities for all challenges related to the production, marketing and consumption of food. In particular, emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things or big data can help develop monitoring capabilities and platforms to support sustainable food systems that improve cultivation management, automate farming operations, increase production, and save energy in harvesting and distribution. 

Digitalisation programmes for continuous learning, training and reskilling are equally important because the transition to a carbon-neutral world will be inclusive, or it will not be. Novel educational frameworks are needed to prepare students to become life-long learners through a variety of learning approaches including experiential learning, inquiry-based learning, challenge-based learning and interdisciplinary problem-based learning. 

The European Green Deal 

Breakthrough digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things or digital cleantech are indispensable to realise circular value chains. During the Circular Economy closing session, experts from the industry and the European Commission discussed the innovation challenges to bridge the gap between digitalisation and circular economy, and the need to decrease the digital sector’s dependency on imported and critical raw materials. 

Along with the decarbonisation of the energy system and a farm-to-fork strategy for a fair and environmental-friendly food system, the acceleration of universal access to digital technologies and the transition to a circular economy are key components of the European Green Deal. Calling for a dramatic transformation on a well-defined timeline, this Green Deal is a template for what we should do to achieve the SDGs. 

+32 3 295 22 39