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How Digital Solutions Can Drive Progress Toward the UN SDGs

The information and communication technologies (ICT) sector can play a vital role in helping achieve the objectives of the United Nation’s (UN) 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, according to new analysis prepared for the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) by Accenture Strategy. This would involve deploying an array of digital solutions to improve the quality of people’s lives, achieve equitable growth and protect the environment.

#System Transformation: How digital solutions will drive progress towards the sustainable development goals demonstrates the impact that digital technologies can have on shaping a more sustainable future, and highlights the opportunity for companies in the ICT sector to drive growth and competitiveness by investing in these initiatives. The report also identifies three roadblocks to realizing the full potential of these digital solutions - policy, regulatory and supply-side constraints - as well as barriers on the demand side.

The report shows that by 2030, ICT sector companies could realize $2.1 trillion in additional annual revenue by 2030 from services that directly contribute to SDG achievement. This includes $400 billion per year from connecting an additional 2.5 billion people to communication services by 2030. Additionally, $1.7 trillion can be realized from digital solutions contributing towards SDG achievement, including eCommerce ($580 billion), eWork ($537 billion), smart buildings ($200 billion), eGovernment ($86 billion), and online learning ($75 billion).

“Through strategic deployment of digital solutions, the ICT sector can act as the catalyst for helping the world’s nations solve critical social, economic and environmental challenges,” said Peter Lacy, managing director at Accenture Strategy. “The speed and reach of digital solutions allows them to spread quickly to reach people irrespective of location or income bracket, and they are designed to complement their use, so their uptake is rapid. Digital solutions also make good business sense, as they contribute to new business models, create markets and help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems in innovative ways.”

“GeSI is committed to leading the discussion about how the world should use digital solutions to address the challenge of meeting the SDGs,” said GeSI chairman Luis Neves. “By making the SDGs GeSI’s central framework for action, we have defined an implementation roadmap that we will continue to refine to guide our priorities up to 2030, and we commit to supporting our member organizations to make this exciting vision a reality.”

Widespread deployment of digital solutions will substantially contribute to all three dimensions of development covered by the SDGs. For example,

  • Improving people’s lives: 1.6 billion people could benefit from more accessible, affordable and better quality medical services through e-healthcare, while connected car solutions could save up to 720,000 lives annually and prevent up to 30 million traffic injuries (SDG#3);
  • Boosting equitable growth: Digital solutions such as the Internet of Things and robotics can help bring almost US$1 trillion in economic benefits to industries from smart manufacturing and smart logistics (SDG#9);
  • Protecting the environment: Digital solutions could enable greenhouse gas emissions reduction and drive market transformation for renewables, cutting carbon emissions by around 20 percent in 2030 (SDG#13).

“At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more,” said CEO Satya Nadella. “Through initiatives like GeSI, we believe digital technology can be applied to help solve society’s most pressing challenges spanning education, healthcare, environmental sustainability and urban planning.”

Timotheus Höttges, CEO of Deutsche Telekom AG, said: “It is time to understand that the digital revolution can be the answer to our global problems, therefore it is our #digital duty at Deutsche Telekom to shape this revolution for the benefit of future generations.”

To fully utilize the power of digital solutions and realize these benefits for society, economy and the environment, three roadblocks to large-scale ICT digital deployments need to be removed. The report calls on policymakers, multilateral and donor organizations, NGOs and the private sector to take steps to address the following hurdles:

  • Political and regulatory constraints, particularly related to market entry and data security. Differences in regulatory requirements slow the deployment of sensors and smart technologies, as they increase the complexity associated with their development and use, thereby also adding to their cost.
  • Supply-side constraints, resulting from inadequate capital for infrastructure projects or for testing innovative digital solutions. Efforts to find capital for large infrastructure projects in developing and least-developed regions are undermined by a lack of investment security and lack of interoperable standards across technologies.
  • Demand-side barriers, such as low affordability and a lack of digital skills needed to use the new technological solutions. Underpinning this are gender-specific barriers, such as lower purchasing power of women, their lower literacy rates and a mismatch with cultural role expectations. The use of technologies is also impeded because they are often not translated into local languages.

“Despite the promise and potential of global connectivity, we cannot lose sight of the fact that more than four billion people have yet to be brought online,” said Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the ITU, the UN’s specialized agency for ICT. “Connecting the unconnected and bridging the digital divide must be addressed as an urgent policy priority, requiring more innovative public-private partnerships and finance and investment models.”


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