The third edition of the Global Sustainable Technology & Innovation Conference was organised on 20-22 November 2019 by VITO, and its international partners ACTS (African Centre for Technology Studies, Kenya), Fiocruz (Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil), GIEC (Guangzhou Institute of Energy Conversion – Chinese Academy of Sciences, China), IITD (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, India), NACETEM (National Centre for Technology Management, Nigeria) and TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute, India). 2000 entrepreneurs, researchers, innovation experts, technology suppliers, investors, captains of industry and policymakers from 80 countries came together to make the G-STIC conference into a vibrant action forum for the SDGs.

Against a backdrop of growing urgency, G-STIC 2019 kick-started the development of a living library of technological solutions that can help us achieve the SDGs and climate goals. The conference sessions on climate, education, energy, health, oceans and water dived into concrete examples of market-ready solutions. In addition, participants discussed the levers of change needed to market them at scale under different socio-economic and geopolitical conditions. In doing so, G-STIC helped pave the way for building a tool that sensitises policymakers at all levels and assists them in evaluating the SDG compliance of technological innovations.

Four years after the United Nations launched the Agenda 2030 and its associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), progress is lacking.

The figures reported by various specialised UN agencies are quite alarming, indeed. Essential health services are out of reach for at least 50% of the world’s population. 2.4 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation. Some 840 million people remain without access to electricity. Moreover, droughts, floods, heatwaves, extreme weather conditions and sea-level rise are felt harder and sooner than expected.     

These are clear signs that achieving the SDGs with business-as-usual is just not possible, and that breakthrough technological transformations are of vital importance. Against this backdrop of growing urgency, G-STIC demonstrated its strong commitment towards international processes that forward Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for the SDGs.

A living library of market-ready solutions

The previous editions of G-STIC helped to put technological transformations for the SDGs on the international policy agenda. This year’s edition took the next big step and kick-started the development of a living library of technological solutions that can help us achieve the SDGs and climate goals.

This library is indispensable for policymakers developing Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) roadmaps for the SDGs, while captains of industry can use this library for exploring new business opportunities.

A large enough scale

The deep dive sessions on climate, education, energy, health, oceans and water during this year's conference edition, therefore, gave centre stage to real-life examples of technological solutions that can already be applied today, and that are economically feasible. These include desalination installations to counterbalance droughts and freshwater shortage, modelling and decision support tools for smart district energy planning, and smart glasses to make high-quality healthcare accessible and affordable for patients at remote locations, to name a few.

These sessions also looked into the infrastructure, financial incentives, regulations and legislation that are needed to deploy these solutions on a large enough scale to bring about real change.

A growing partnership platform

This year’s conference edition further strengthened G-STIC as a partnership platform where like-minded organisations dealing with technology for the SDGs and climate change come together to exchange and promote state-of-the-art technology solutions, best practices and lessons learned.

The Copernicus Hackathon was one of the most striking examples, as it allowed small teams of people with different backgrounds and expertise to collaborate on the development of software prototypes based on Copernicus Earth Observation Data. Young people could showcase smart, original and innovative solutions and business concepts during the G-STIC Youth Challenge, a competition organised by IEEE Entrepreneurship in coordination with the UN Major Group for Children and Youth. National Designated Entities from the Asia-Pacific region and businesses had a chance to meet face-to-face with clean energy technology suppliers and service providers from around the world during the CTCN Matchmaking event, to give one more example.

An SDG compliance framework

All G-STIC conference sessions and partnership events shared a razor-sharp focus on market-ready technological innovations. The G-STIC living library will share this focus and provide an overview of transformative solutions underpinned by practical assessment criteria embedded in science and best practices. This approach will make it into a tool to spearhead technological innovation for the SDGs, change markets at scale and inspire societies to move towards more sustainable development patterns.

In the next phase, G-STIC plans to develop scientifically underpinned assessment criteria into a framework that assists governments and corporations in evaluating the SDG compliance of technological innovations. Ultimately, this framework will make it possible and practical to quantify the potential of technological innovations to contribute substantively to the implementation of one or more SDG targets.