Information and communications technology (ICT) is aiding countries worldwide meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, with EU countries leading the way. Sustainability is not just about action to tackle climate change, but also the path towards a fairer, more stable and conflict-free society. This is what can be read into the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which emphasise as much the need for ending poverty, providing universal access to education and the Internet, and gender equality, as action to tackle global warming.
The SDGs were adopted by the UN in September 2015, drawing on suggestions from across society. They map out global targets to guide our progress in sustainable development to 2030. ICT will be a key accelerator in helping countries achieve the Goals, not least by increasing the scale and diffusion of solutions.
First, though, what is ICT? It combines information technology – the management of information via computers, software, networks and equipment – with communications technologies, such as email, mobile phones and media broadcasting.
Huawei is a sustainability leader
Huawei is a company with sustainability at the forefront of everything it does. A firm supporter of the SDGs and board member of CSR Europe – the European business network for corporate social responsibility – Huawei wants ICT to contribute as much as possible to the Goals. So, it decided to conduct a study to see whether ICT was indeed making society more sustainable.
The 2017 Huawei ICT Sustainable Development Goals Benchmark looks at the successful strides being made in both developed and developing countries and shows that ICT investment can support progress on the SDGs by enabling increased access, connectivity and efficiency.
It clearly demonstrates that ICT is highly correlated with country-level SDG performance (89%), suggesting that countries that perform well on ICT also perform well on the SDGs, and countries that underperform on ICT are also lagging on SDG achievement. While this does not prove causality, it suggests a strong relationship.
Progress on certain SDGs is currently more correlated with ICT development than others. The Goals with higher ICT correlation include SDG 9, which determines to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation, and SDGs 3 (health) and 4 (education).
Overall, developed countries generally have higher ICT scores than SDG scores, indicating that ICT development is outpacing progress on sustainable development. In developing countries, given their sparser infrastructure, ICT will play an increasingly important role in developing cleaner and more efficient construction going forward.
Protecting human health
The SDGs also stress the need, not only to limit environmental degradation due to infrastructure, but to leverage this kind of development to support human health and protect natural resources.
Most vital infrastructure is controlled by ICT: power grids, water supplies, transport hubs and more. But as well as being an economic cornerstone, ICT infrastructure is all about empowerment too. Broadband access enables people to get educated, start businesses, create jobs, and much more.
For every person connected to high-speed broadband, though, five are not. And, worldwide, some four billion people do not have any Internet access at all, two billion don’t use a mobile phone and almost half a billion live in areas without even a mobile signal. A divide also exists across genders. Access to ICT is still lower for women than men.
R&D investment crucial
Investment in R&D is critical to innovation and cultivation of sustainable industrial development. But, as recently as 2013, global expenditure on R&D as a proportion of GDP only stood at 1.7%. Private enterprises must play their part in investing in meeting the Goals and do so by increasing their R&D spending. Huawei has shown it believes in this. Since founding 30 years ago, we have re-invested more than 10% of our annual revenue in R&D. Last year, it was over 14%, about USD 11 billion.
Huawei launched the first IoT lighting solution for cities in 2016, able to reduce electricity usage in street lamps by 80%.
Industrial productivity and resource use are increasing hugely through the introduction of ICT infrastructure such as the industrial Internet of Things. Sensor technology is proving critical to the evolution of advanced traffic management systems and energy grids, reducing costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
Huawei’s smart lighting solution, for example, which connects all street lamps in a city to a unified IoT sensor network, reduces electricity usage by up to 80%. With over 300 million street lamps around the globe, such differences matter.
EU countries under the microscope
In Huawei’s global report, Sweden, Germany and the UK topped the list of countries whose ICT development is most helping them to achieve the SDGs.
Now Huawei has gone on to investigate progress in the rest of the EU countries, a report that will be published in October. This has established the specific Goals on which the EU performs well – and where opportunities for improvement lie.
As in the global report, ICT development in EU countries appears to be outpacing progress on sustainable development. The positive take on this is that, properly harnessed, ICTs are well placed to advance sustainability in the future.
The report can be found in the following link: www.huawei.com/en/sustainability/sustainability-report
By Tony Graziano
Vice President of EU Public Affairs and Communication