Sustainable Development Goals: Science,Technology and Innovation landscape approach

Science and Technology

31 October 2018
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Meeting Summary

The presentation on the landscape approach to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) provided the Committee with an overview of the contribution of the Department of Science and Technology towards their attainment. Knowledge capabilities and the development of technology and innovation towards each SDG was discussed. Countries were at different stages of formalising national-level coordination arrangements for the SDGs, and the SDGs were closely aligned to South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP). Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) had provided various government departments with data that had been used. Of the 17 SDG’s, science and technology was strongest in SDG Nine, which focused on innovation and industrialisation, and SDG 17, which had to do with the means of implementation, such as foreign technology transfer.

An overview of the mechanisms that the UN resolution made were outlined and described. The process was under way in several countries to formalise national-level science and technology innovation (STI) for SDGs. No country had yet released their STI for SDG action plan, but Japan seemed to be taking the lead. The national audit of STI for SDGs would feed into South Africa’s inaugural Voluntary National Review (VNR) that would be tabled at the seventh high-level political forum on sustainable development, which was expected to take place in July 2019. South Africa would submit its first VNR in 2019, using data collected by StatsSA.

The STI and the National System of Innovation (NSI) could support the SDGs by generating and packaging data, generating knowledge and analysis for policy, planning and delivery, assisting with the development and localisation of technological solutions and accommodating the demonstration, testing and diffusion of technological solutions. The National Research Foundation (NRF) had taken research chairs and identified areas in which each chair would make the most contribution, some of which contributed to more than one SDG. Something plaguing the STI community was how to create research programmes that spanned across SDGs, as they were not mutually exclusive.

Members of the Committee raised concerns about the longevity of the SDGs, the uptake of research, especially those of non-NRF researchers, as well as the coordination of work done on the SDGs. Others inquired about the use of data by departments, the role of the SDG Knowledge Hub in Pretoria as a national coordinating mechanism, the time frame for the audit of these, and African support for the attainment of SDGs. It was clarified that due to the cross-cutting nature of the SDGs, each key SDG had a natural coordinating home. Approximately 40 countries presented VNRs, and it was anticipated that eventually all countries would submit them. A modification of the SDGs would be difficult, as they had been devised around domestication. StatsSA would take the lead in the monitoring and evaluation.

Meeting report

Landscape approach on sustainable development goals

Mr Imraan Patel, Deputy Director General: Socio-Economic Innovation, Department of Science and Technology (DST), said this was the first engagement around the sustainable development goals (SDG’s), and because the Department was uncertain about the Committee’s key interest areas, these would be determined at the meeting for future engagements.

Mr Patel confirmed that the White Paper process was nearly finalised and a major event would take place on 9 November.

The Chairperson informed Mr Patel that the Committee had held a briefing the previous and that they would be present at the event.

Mr Patel added that one of the proposals was the issue of development of the decadal plan on science, technology and innovation. It should provide the plan required, and the DST had conducted an audit on DST-funded National System of Innovation (NSI) investments that advance National Development Plan (NDP) priorities and the SDG’s.

Furthermore, an SDG knowledge hub had been established at the University of Pretoria, the intention of which was to provide an interface for decision and policy makers. Initial funding was not provided, but the International Cooperation and Resources (ICR) programme had. There appeared to be a bias towards health, but the plan was to broaden the scope.

Different countries were at different stages of formalising national-level coordination arrangements for the SDGs. In South Africa, the SDGs were closely aligned to the NDP. The Department had engaged with the Presidency and worked with StatsSA, which released a baseline report to determine where the Department was in relation to the SDG’. An updated report was also currently being finalised.

South Africa had hosted the first UN Data Forum in 2017. The aim was to build a coalition of new collectors of data. The most recent data forum was hosted in Dubai two week prior to the meeting, and South Africa played a big role in the collection of data on the continent. Of the 17 SDGs, science and technology was strongest in SDG nine, which focuses on innovation and industrialisation, and SDG 17, which had to do with the means for implementation, such as foreign technology transfer and so forth.

There had been a UN resolution on science, technology and innovation (STI) for SDGs. The STI community had lobbied hard globally to emphasise the role of science and technology and that this needed to be integrated into the implementation of the SDGs. This resolution made provision for several mechanisms, which included an annual STI forum for SDGs. There had been three sessions of the SDG forum which had been supportive of developing countries. The process was under way in several countries to formalise national-level STI for SDGs. No country had yet released their STI for SDG action plan, but Japan seemed to be taking the lead.

The national audit of STI for SDGs would feed into South Africa’s inaugural Voluntary National Review (VNR) that would be tabled at the seventh high-level political forum on sustainable development, expected to take place in July 2019. Countries would provide their VNRs at these forums and provide information on their progress. South Africa would submit its first VNR in 2019, using data collected by StatsSA.

Regarding SDG mechanisms, Mr Patel emphasised the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), where deep assessments of SDGs were conducted and review reports on countries were released. Under Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) processes, the Commission on Science and Technology for Development had been attended by the Minister. Furthermore, there existed a technology facilitation mechanism, which allows countries to create opportunities for technology transfer and so forth. The technology mechanism comprises a number of South Africans. SDG 17 was important for science and technology, because it talks about technology along with its complexities.

The STI and NSI could support the SDGs in four ways. The first was by generating and packaging data for monitoring targets, planning, tracking progress and helping governments and stakeholders to make informed decisions. Secondly, STI and NSI allow for the generation of knowledge and analysis for policy, planning and delivery. Additionally, these assist in the development and localisation of technological solutions to help boost the achievement of SDGs. Finally, they accommodate the demonstration, testing and diffusion of technological solutions, such as South Africa’s collaboration with Germany.

To indicate progress in relation to each of these SDGs, the NRF had taken research chairs and identified areas in which each chair would make the most contribution, some of whom contributed to more than one SDG. Something plaguing the STI community was how to create research programmes that spanned across SDGs, as they were not mutually exclusive.

Regarding SDG One -- to end poverty in all its forms everywhere -- seven research chairs and two Centres of Excellence existed, with various research programmes at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) aimed at deepening the understanding of the social determinants of poverty. There was also a Communities of Practice that was managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF), and longitudinal studies conducted by the HSRC, such as the National Income Dynamics Study.

Regarding SDG Two -- to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture -- the Department had focused on data and research, and knowledge generation. Nine research chairs had been funded, two Centres of Excellence existed, as did various national research facilities. The HSRC longitudinal studies included the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) had submitted various earth observation applications. Furthermore, technology development and diffusion had been achieved through the Bio-economy Strategy’s support of sustainable agriculture, the development of nutritious supplements and technology stations in agro-processing.

Knowledge generation had been key to working towards the attainment of SDG Three -- to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages. The Department was doing a lot in this regard, as 26 research chairs were funded by the NRF, five Centres of Excellence had been established, as had ILABS, a national research facility. Furthermore, the HSRC had devised longitudinal studies, such as the South African national HIV, behaviour and health survey, and other research programmes. Programmes around medical diagnostic devices, pharmaceuticals -- Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) and non-IKS -- and the strategic health innovation programme form part of technology development and commercialisation and the country’s Bio-economy Strategy.

The Department had also taken great steps towards attaining SDG Four -- to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. A lot had happened in the private sector, which had been left out of the presentation. Knowledge generation includes the eight research chairs at the NRF and HSRC longitudinal studies, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Technology development and diffusion had been prioritised through the innovation focus in the National Education Collaboration Trust, which was Department of Basic Education (DBE)-led, the piloting of new technologies in schools, in energy, information communication technology (ICT), water and sanitation, and technology-focused training programmes. Mr Patel added that research chairs do not adopt a technology focus, but rather an educational focus, and therefore considered management at schools and other aspects to education.

Regarding SDG Five -- to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls -- South Africa was making great progress. The Department had recently completed a report on gender. Four research chairs were funded at the NRF, the Women in Science Programme, and preferential funding had been awarded to female post-graduate students. Furthermore, gender targets had been included in various support programmes and a gendered innovation support programme had been initiated, which was an international programme that South Africa had associated itself with.

The Department had played a big role in terms of SDG Six -- ensuring access to water and sanitation for all -- and the Water Research Commission (WRC) was world-renowned. Two research chairs were funded at the NRF, research infrastructures had been established, and an initiative had been launched called WADER (Water Demonstration in Evaluation and Research), which had gained significant traction with municipalities. The South African Sanitation Technology Innovation Programme, the Sanitation Innovation Standards, the use of clean water access technologies and the incorporation of innovation into national water and sanitation policy, were part of the Department’s contribution to technology development, piloting and localisation.  

Where it concerned SDG Seven -- ensuring access to affordable reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all -- the Department does a lot of work. Eskom also maintains a strong research capability. Four research chairs were funded at the NRF, one Centre of Excellence had been established and the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), the clean energy portfolio, and the focus on wind, solar and biomass atlases were amongst the Department’s efforts. Technology had been piloted in schools in the North West and Eastern Cape provinces, and in municipalities in Gauteng.

In efforts to attain SDG Eight -- to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all -- five research chairs were at the NRF, including one for inclusive industrialisation, along with two Centres of Excellence and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) Youth Innovation Fund. Support to strategic sectors with high growth potential was concerned with the Mandela Mining Precinct, the Bio-refinery Industry Development Facility and sector innovation funds. Several private sector sustainable finance initiatives had also taken root.

Concerning SDG Nine -- the goal to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation -- eleven research chairs were funded at the NRF, and five Centres of Excellence had been established. This SDG calls for stronger partnership between government and industry. Knowledge had been expanded through research facilities, such as the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, the DST Innovation Bridge and the Office of Digital Advantage. Additionally, private sector partnerships had been developed around the research and development (R&D) incentive.

The Department’s contributions to SDG Ten -- to reduce inequality within and among countries -- include the six research chairs at the NRF, a Centre of Excellence and several developments. These include the science engagement strategy, the Youth Innovation Fund, the Grassroots Innovation Fund, the Innovation for Inclusive Development Programme, and inclusive technologies. Access to technology was a key inequality with which the Department was concerned.

Regarding SDG 11 -- to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable -- the Department works closely with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA). The following contributions had been made: five research chairs, of which two were funded at the NRF, and initiatives such as the SA Palaeontology Strategy, the Green Economy initiative and, through the STI in the human settlements policy, development of a sustainable human settlements roadmap, with investment in innovative technologies for these settlements and technology deployment incentives.    

SDG 12 observes less work by the Department, as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) performs most work on this SDG, which revolves around the four research chairs at the NRF, a Centre of Excellence, a national research facility, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), and the National Cleaner Production Centre at the CSIR. The White Paper tells how the Department was increasing its contribution to attaining this goal.

Regarding SDG 13 -- to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts -- this was similar to SDG 12, in that the Department’s efforts included ten research chairs funded at the NRF, a national research facility, SAEON (South African Environmental Observation Network), the risk and vulnerability atlas, and the adaptation of research efforts. Work on this SDG would be discussed at the following week’s meeting with the Committee.

SDG 14 -- to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development -- had included a similar number of efforts and the country had strong capabilities. Seven research chairs were funded at the NRF, one Centre of Excellence and a national research facility existed. The Department also boasts cutting edge research related to coastal monitoring.

SDG 15 was to protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. The Department boasts four research chairs funded at the NRF, four Centres of Excellence and a national research facility, with SAEON playing an important role.

The Department had four research chairs and a portfolio which was dedicated to innovation for service delivery, as part of its efforts to attain SDG 16 -- to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. The portfolio includes the Municipal Innovation Maturity Index, the Rural Innovation and Assessment Tool, and various decision-making support tools. The Department recently published a book on the European Union (EU)-supported programme.

Regarding SDG 17 -- to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development -- the Department had acknowledged that it needed to be more strategic in tapping into international funding. Negotiations with developed countries were tough and complex, which were exacerbated by geopolitical developments. Means for implementation also considered technology transfer. Four research chairs, the South African SDG Knowledge Hub at the University of Pretoria, research and development and innovation surveys, and Science and Technology international collaboration agreements, include contributions to this SDG. Furthermore, technology development funding instruments at TIA, and programmes aimed at developing and strengthening innovation skills at TIA, were also contributions made.

Concluding the presentation, Mr Patel emphasised that the STI community was playing an important role in supporting the SDGs. Hopefully, the White Paper process would provide impetus. Technology had emerged as a great issue for the attainment of all of the SDGs. The Department was formulating a strategic STI for the SDG action plan which would be integrated into the proposed STI decadal plan. He invited the input of the Portfolio Committee, saying it needed to be collectively determined which goals had to be focused on.

Discussion

The Chairperson thanked Mr Patel for the presentation, adding that science and technology cuts across all the SDG’s.

Dr A Lotriet (DA) remarked that the work done by the Department was impressive. She asked to what extent there was knowledge among institutions, municipalities, people and companies that this existed. What was the uptake of all the research being done?

A Member asked how many countries would eventually participate in the VNR? How many countries in Africa were involved? Since the SDGs were quite recent, was there a legacy report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? Would the SDGs remain the same until 2030, or could the UN regard some as unattainable and amend the list? He commented that there were so many issues in the world, especially around the movement of people -- would the SDGs deal with that?

A Member asked about research-related matters, commenting that many postgraduate students across the country released various publications that contributed to various aspects, but were not funded by the NRF. How did the Department use their contributions to relay the data collected by those students? How did the SDG Knowledge Hub in Pretoria fit into the National Coordinating Mechanism? Furthermore, what was the time frame for the audit of these, and who would conduct the audit?

The Department was asked how South Africa was coordinating its work on the SDGs, and which Department was leading this initiative. Secondly, who the leads monitoring and evaluation of this work?

A Member commented that not many countries achieved the Millennium Development Goals. What was African support for the attainment of SDGs like? The time frame was linked to the NDP, which puts pressure on the country, therefore monitoring and evaluating the process was important.

DST’s response

Mr Patel responded that he was not an SDG expert, as the processes had led to many people becoming influential on the SDGs. What he said was opinion.

Regarding non-NRF funded researchers, due to the cross-cutting nature of the SDGs, each key SDG had a natural coordinating home. For instance, SDG Three on health was taken forward by the Department of Health. The health sector had a strong history of research, therefore not all of the research produced was used. However, more Departments were going to experts and consulting the HSRC. The central system should encourage evidence-based decision-making. The Knowledge Hub was designed as a platform, and creates a space for researchers.

Regarding intake and uptake, the WRC, for example, hosts policy dialogues which includes researchers. The need for sectoral plans in the White Paper seeks to involve sectors and identify what the sector needs to conduct research. The private sector initiative, the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) was one such initiative that draws on the research and conducts randomised controlled trials. He added that knowledge should be directed, and not be merely knowledge for knowledge purposes.

Mr Patel said that approximately 40 countries presented VNRs, and he anticipated that eventually all countries would. He was not sure what incentivised this, but he anticipated that countries would do more than one in a 12-year cycle. Doing a VNR was expensive as a lot of data needed to be collected.

He added that he was sure that a legacy report on the MDG’s existed, but he had no access to it. Though the MDG’s were directed more at developing countries, the SDGs were global. He thought a modification of the SDGs would be difficult, so they were likely to remain. The SDGs had been devised around domestication, and therefore had been adopted by societies, not governments.   

Regarding coordination mechanisms, nothing had been finalised. However, StatsSA would take the lead on monitoring and evaluation. They had compiled the first baseline report. The Presidency would need to do most of the coordination.

He added that there appeared to be more ownership around the SDGs, but they were a lot more complicated. Perhaps Parliament would be involved in the VNR process.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would include this brief in its legacy report.

The meeting was adjourned.

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