Speech prepared for delivery
Distinguished President of Cuba HE Miguel Diaz-Canel,
Distinguished Heads of State and Government Reps from the G-77 and China,
Distinguished Representatives from the United Nations System,
Colleagues and friends.
My thanks to Cuba for hosting this gathering of the G-77+China on an important topic at a crucial time. A time when the triple planetary crisis – fuelled by unsustainable consumption and production – is a dead weight slowing sustainable development.
Many developing nations are reeling under climate change. Struggling with nature and biodiversity loss – including desertification. Choking with pollution and waste. These challenges drive other crises. Human health. Cost of living. Poverty. Hunger. Conflict. And there is, of course, massive injustice inherent in the triple crisis, particularly climate change.
So, it is understandable that trust is low. But every nation of the world must now work, together, towards a low-carbon, nature-positive, pollution-free future. It is time for unity, not division. There is too much at stake, for all of humanity.
That is not to say that every country should follow the same path.
Rich industrialized nations have a responsibility to slash emissions and pollution – with G20 economies responsible for around 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Give nature a chance to recover. Support the adaptation needs of developing nations and address loss and damage.
Developing nations have a responsibility, primarily to themselves and their citizens, to take an entirely different path to prosperity. To reap the benefits of development that prioritizes a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. As President Ruto of Kenya told the Africa Climate Summit, the developing world needs “an audacious leapfrogging”.
Science, technology and innovation, or STI, gives developing nations the chance to not just leapfrog, but to bound energetically into a future of prosperity, resilience and equity. STI has proven its worth many times in the environmental sphere. In dealing with persistent organic pollutants. In solar tech and electric vehicles. In pivoting the cooling industry to protect the ozone layer and climate.
Let me here make two important points on STI.
First, let’s remember that nature is the original technology. Nature stores carbon. Filters water. Protects against extreme weather. And much more. Nature-based solutions can’t do everything, but they can do a lot: for example, deliver about one-third of the climate mitigation needed annually to stay on track for the goals of the Paris Agreement, all while creating new jobs and economic opportunities. So, before we turn to new technology, we should look first to what nature can do.
Second, STI should not be used to seek quick fixes or fanciful magic bullets. Technologies such as Solar Radiation Modification, for example, are fraught with risk. They are not a replacement for cutting emissions. STI should be used only to help us work smarter and harder to reshape societies and economies.
Let me just give a few examples of where STI will be crucial.
Implementing the upcoming deal to end plastic pollution will require chemists, manufacturers and process engineers to design out plastics from products and create new environmentally friendly products. Make products suitable for reuse, refill, repair, recycling and disposal. Deploy green and sustainable chemistry to get rid of harmful chemicals and find safe alternatives – because 3,200 substances associated with plastics have one or more hazardous properties of concern. Innovation is key.
As the Convention on Biological Diversity has said, synthetic biology can bring new solutions to issues such as biodiversity loss, climate change, hunger and vector-borne diseases. Sharing these benefits, for example those derived from digital sequencing information under the Global Biodiversity Framework, will be crucial for fairness and equity. Developing countries must be able to benefit from these resources, not just corporations in the global north. So, we need to share technologies while ensuring safety and considering whole of society approaches.
As the electric vehicle and renewable energy transition intensifies, we will see significant increases in demand for critical minerals like copper, cobalt and nickel. For example, from 2017 to 2022, the energy sector drove a tripling in demand for lithium. These scarce resources will need to be marshalled: through efficiency in use and recycling materials into new products. Deploying STI in this space would reduce the pressure that mining places on the environment. And reduce the pressure on people and communities who work in mines under conditions incompatible with human dignity and sustainable development.
Let me now look, in broad strokes, at three areas in which STI can help developing nations leapfrog, and how UNEP – as one of only two UN organizations headquartered in the Global South – can help.
One, inclusive digitalization and data access.
If we use digital tools well, we find more solutions and we get them out in a way that is relevant. This is why UNEP has elevated the role of digital transformation. Part of UNEP’s vision is to democratize access to data so that it can be used to make a difference. Through data frameworks that are fit-for-purpose and inform action. Through the World Environment Situation Room, which aims to get real solutions to real people. Through sharing data to bring real-world impact – by, for example, providing UN Country Teams with environmental information to improve on-ground delivery in the developing world.
Two, predicting, and preparing for, the future.
Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes. STI can both forewarn and forearm the world.
UNEP’s ongoing strategic foresight exercise has identified several hundred signs of new developments, across all facets of society, that could affect planetary health. These range from physical changes to emerging technologies. UNEP plans to have an initial mapping of these signs and a global foresight report next year.
Together with the rest of the UN system, UNEP works to implement the Early Warnings for All Initiative, which uses remote sensing, AI and analytics to enhance disaster preparedness and response. As climate impacts intensify, such efforts will save lives, protect livelihoods and build resilience in developing countries.
Three, promoting inclusivity in science and solutions.
Science has, for too long, been a relatively closed shop. This must change. We must use every piece of knowledge – from respected scientists to indigenous women to youth. This is how we find solutions that work. This is why UNEP is collaborating with The International Science Council to bring impactful diversity to science and solutions.
We have the science and technology. And we have the tools to collaborate. UNEP is using them to ensure developing nations have the technology they need for a brighter future. Through the Climate Technology Centre and Network. Through the SE4All Africa Hub for energy solutions. Through the Kigali Cooling Efficiency programme. And so much more.
Now we must all do more. Through the impetus provided by today’s deliberations of the G77+China. Through putting technology in the hands of people through digital public infrastructure. Through using STI to prepare for the future. Through bringing the wisdom of all groups to the table. Above all, through putting in the hard yards to create a greener, safer and more equitable world for everyone.