Luis Neves Published Date: 2018-07-17,
Today, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) presents its latest report, Enabling the Global Goals, at the 3rd SDG Business Forum in New York.
 
The report is the latest instalment in a series stretching back to ten years ago, when GeSI published its first assessment of the potential of ICT in enabling the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.
 
Over the last decade, we have continuously updated our analysis to reflect the fast evolution of digital technologies; and the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals by the UN General Assembly provided the world with a new framework to look at sustainable development.
 
With this in mind, we started exploring the link between digital and the SDGs: the GeSI #SystemTransformation report released in 2016 found that digital technologies will be fundamental for the achievement of all 17 SDGs, and over 50% of the 169 related targets.
 
With Enabling the Global Goals, we took a further step in our analysis and we looked at the correlation between access and SDG progress.
 
The results are very encouraging: evidence shows that there is a clear, positive link between access and 11 of the 17 SDGs. The strongest correlation is found with the social and economic SDGs: SDG 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 3 (good health and well-being), 4 (quality education), 5 (gender equality), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure), and 16 (peace and justice, strong institutions).
 
The report also found early indications of causation: we selected three SDGs for in-depth analysis on healthcare, gender quality, and climate action, providing a balanced overview of the three areas of impact for the SDGs (people, growth, and the environment). The exploration of the correlation results and the additional analysis ran on these SDGs shows that the link between access and SDG progress is well beyond coincidental
This is important as it provides us with a solid foundation of data to inform evidence-based decision-making and action; and because it helps better predictions about the quantitative impact of digital access on the SDGs.
 
Thus, in the case of healthcare we found that a 5% increase in digital access can result into a decrease of neonatal mortality (defined as occurring in the first 28 days of life) of 7.4%, which translates as 2 babies saved for every 1,000 live births in Least Developed Countries.
 
For gender equality, the same 5% digital access increase would mean 2 additional weeks of schooling for girls and women as compared to boys and men, thus contributing to the achievement of the specific SDG5 indicator on female years of schooling.
 
For environmental SDGs, the picture emerging from the research is somewhat mixed, with the correlation between digital access and those SDGs still unclear (or negative in the case of SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production).
 
However, when looking more specifically and closely at climate action, there is reason for optimism: a number of studies, including the SMART series of reports produced by GeSI between 2008 and 2015, clearly showed that the application of ICT solutions in sectors such as agriculture, mobility, energy, building and more can enable those sectors to significantly reduce their carbon emissions up to 2030. Indeed, this potential reduction was estimated by previous GeSI research (SMARTer2030 report)  at 12.1 gigatons of CO2e to be saved up to 2030, thus helping to hold global emissions at today’s levels and decoupling growth from carbon emissions.
 
In terms of climate action, the further modelling done in the new Enabling the Global Goals report showed that a 5% increase in digital access would reduce consumption-based emissions by 1.6%, equivalent to the annual emissions of 468 coal plants.

To track SDG progress, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Bertelsmann Foundation have developed an SDG Index which we have adopted in our analysis. To monitor digital access, however, we decided to develop a new tool: the GeSI Digital Access Index is focused solely on digital and technology indicators, and it covers the entire digital industry with categories such as connectivity (infrastructure, use, affordability), technologies (e.g. cellular M2M connections and social media penetrations), and digital solutions/use cases. The Index is meant to be a dynamic tool to be regularly updated in the coming years as new data and technologies become available.

We are conscious of the fact that the SDGs are the most ambitious development goals ever agreed globally, and that 2030 is barely a decade away. We also know that no individual stakeholder – countries, industry, civil society – can achieve them alone. That is why in our report we reiterate our commitment to work with our members and the broader digital industry to scale up the positive impact of digital, flip the negative ones, and continue to innovate for all SDGs. We also look forward to joining forces with all relevant stakeholders, policy-makers, businesses from outside the digital sector, and the SDG community, to steer the digital transformation and help deliver the Goals. Let’s make it happen!

Further details about the Enabling the Global Goals report and Digital Access Index can be found at www.digitalaccessindex-sdg.gesi.org.

Article initialy published on the SDG Knowledge Hub website

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