top of page

It is time to take action!

Join our Tribe of Changemakers.

Sign up for Virtual Conversations! 


Satellites hold promise

Satellites are among the technologies that hold promise for tackling urban sustainability challenges.


“Urban development issues such as planning and the control of new population settlements can be addressed through satellites,” said Miguel Bello Mora, one of the experts who will speak at the event.


“By facilitating urban planning, satellites help ensure basic services such as water supply, energy or garbage collection are provided,” said Mr. Mora, the CEO of the AIR Centre, an intergovernmental organization that helps countries use technologies to promote development.


He said satellites help authorities in urban areas identify vulnerability to natural hazards such as flooding, sea level rise, large fires, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.


They also provide data to mitigate the impact of these disasters by giving a synoptic view of affected areas, helping relief teams identify worst-hit areas and paths to reach and support victims.


Satellites also monitor air quality in urban areas. “This is a serious problem in many African cities, where poor air quality causes many deaths,” Mr. Mora said.


Besides, authorities use satellites to monitor city water resources, identify periods of water scarcity and assess whether the water is suitable for human consumption.


Supporting developing countries

UNCTAD is seeking to work with the AIR Centre to help more developing countries use satellites to address these issues and tackle urban sustainability challenges.


Developing countries can leverage technology to make progress towards sustainability goals for urban development by using data provided by satellites combined with artificial intelligence algorithms and big data.



More than half of the world’s population live in urban areas. By 2050, that figure is expected to rise to 6.5 billion people – two thirds of all humanity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the sustainability challenges facing urban areas. For instance, the use of masks and other disposable plastics has significantly increased urban plastic pollution and inappropriate waste management practices.

Science, Technologies Can Transform Global Challenges, But Need to Be Accessible to All, Senior Officials Stress, as Economic and Social Council Forum Concludes

Closing the Economic and Social Council’s two-day Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals, senior United Nations officials welcomed the convergence of experts from Governments, the private sector, academia and civil society, and stressed how rapid scientific progress can be leveraged to address pressing global challenges, so long as the technology emerging is accessible to all.


But rapid technological change opens new possibilities for inventively addressing urban problems, at a lower cost and more sustainably.


The 25th session of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) slated for 28 March to 1 April in Geneva and online will examine how to leverage science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world, among other topics. UNCTAD serves as the CSTD secretariat.


GOAL 17.png

Oftentimes, the lack of capacity, appropriate resources, security and environmental conditions makes sustainable development data collection and analysis problematic.

TARGET 7.png

Ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages is essential to sustainable development.

TARGET 7.png

Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development.

TARGET 7.png

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.


Sustainable Development Goal 11 seeks to enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization in all countries by 2030, among other targets.


Ms. Sirimanne said meeting the goal would require more international cooperation efforts to further pool, formalize and transfer available knowledge of effective science, technology and innovation solutions.


We risk falling short on our promises” as the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda draws near.  While the international community has lost ground due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it can build back smarter through decisions grounded in science and data.  By harnessing science, technology and innovation, the world can transform its relationship with nature, reverse rising inequality and build resilience against the next crisis of conflict, natural disaster or future pandemic.

The world observed what science can achieve in mere months when efforts are aligned, she said, spotlighting the speed of the COVID-19 vaccines’ development and dissemination and the new technology that enabled students to continue their education remotely.  However, these developments also highlighted long-standing divides and existing inequalities.  Digitalization holds great promise, but this potential cannot be harnessed when only about 63 per cent of the global population uses the Internet


Sustainable development, including in the digital field, can best be achieved if actors work together and contribute their experience, expertise and resources to realising the common goals. For instance, #eSkills4Girls, an initiative based on cooperation between several actors, namely, the G20, UNWomen, OECD, ITU, UNESCO, and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) seeks to contribute to SDG 5 (Gender Equality), in particular in developing countries, by sharing information, recommendations, and good practices on digital inclusion of women.


The mapping also includes several examples of successful local measures which support the realization of the SDGs. For instance platforms such as ‘Ecubi’ in Mexico or the ‘Too Good to Go’ application in Europe are used to fight food waste, but also to distribute excess food to those in need at the local level and therefore contribute to SDG 2 (Zero Hunger). Other local projects such as the e-Rezeki and the eUsahawan launched by the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation promote SDG 1 (No Poverty) by helping individuals acquire digital skills and find work online.

The majority of the more than 1 billion slum dwellers in the world live in developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia, where they face numerous challenges.

A report of the UN Secretary-General prepared for the commission identifies key urban sustainability challenges in relation to energy, circularity, water, mobility, economic prosperity, housing, gender-related empowerment and equality, urban planning, safety and security and protection from natural disasters.


Seize the innovation momentum

UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics, Shamika N. Sirimanne, said the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of science, technology and innovation in ensuring the resilience of urban systems.


“Science, innovations and the adoption of digital technologies have helped economies and societies continue functioning during the crisis,” she said.


She urged further action at the national and international levels to seize the innovation momentum from the pandemic and use the transformative power of science, technology and innovation to deliver on the commitment to sustainable urban development.


Data revolution and the SDGs

Data as the new currency for innovation is also regarded as an asset for SDGs. In fact, target 17.18 (Partnership for the Goals) calls for the increase in the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts’. This target should come as no surprise given that nowadays data is abundant – it is expected that 175 zettabytes of new data will be created by 2025 in comparison to 33 zettabytes in 2018.


Qualitative and quantitative data can help monitor progress i.e., how much has been done and how much remains to be done, but also stand at the very source of implementation of SDGs given that it can help improve agricultural production (SDG 2 – Zero Hunger), traffic management (SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-Being) and digitize renewable energy (SDG 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy), to name a few.

Nonetheless, the absence of reliable, accessible, and up-to-date data remains a challenge, in particular, for developing countries.

Oftentimes, the lack of capacity, appropriate resources, security and environmental conditions makes sustainable development data collection and analysis problematic. In order to address this difficulty, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (Data4SDGs) was established on the basis of a recommendation made by the Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development (IEAG) which seeks to engage stakeholders – including governments, international organizations, civil society and academia to cooperate on data production and use.


Still Only One Earth: Lessons from 50 years of UN sustainable development policy.

Without transferring technological and financial resources to developing countries, we cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Yet, though the world has enough money to fund sustainable development, there is a financing gap and a persistent digital divide—shortfalls the pandemic threatens to worsen.

bottom of page