Science, the key to sustainable and equitable development


Africa could more quickly implement the goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a science, technology and innovation revolution focused on sustainable development rather than harnessing the environment, according to Professor Hubert Gijzen, UNESCO Regional Director for East Africa.

Speaking at a public conference organized by the University of Nairobi on the role of higher education, science, technology and innovation in accelerating the implementation of development goals Sustainable Development (SDGs) in Africa, Gijzen argued that food insecurity, insufficient access to clean water and lack of access to clean energy sources are among the main challenges of the pursuit by the Africa’s SDGs and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, as all three hinder the achievement of other goals, such as access to education, eradication of hunger and the fight against climate change.

According to a study published in The Lancet, in 2019, an estimated 1.1 million people died in Africa as a result of indoor and ambient air pollution from the use of firewood for cooking, motor vehicle exhaust and to the open combustion of waste.

The study researchers argued that African countries are in a unique position to avoid the mistakes made by developed countries to achieve sustainable development without pollution.

Gijzen argued that the use of alternative fuels such as solar, wind and geothermal power will ensure access to renewable energy and can be used to power information and communication technologies, especially in areas rural areas in Africa that may not be connected to the national grid or experience intermittent periods. electricity supply.

He added that transportation systems should be checked to reduce air pollution from traffic.

Interdependent targets

Gijzen denounced the problems of access to drinking water in African countries such as South Africa and Guinea which, he said, could hamper progress towards the achievement of health goals.

“If you push a target forward, you see the other targets moving forward as well,” he said.

The challenges of sustainable development, argued Gijzen, were evident in a serious imbalance between people and planet Earth – 800 million people still suffer from hunger in the world – and characterized by human activities such as deforestation, pollution water and soil, and overfishing associated with ocean pollution.

“We also have persistent imbalances between people… women only earn 10% of the world’s wealth. Modern medicine has answers to disease, but the poor still grapple with the burden of disease, ”said Gijzen.

These inequalities, especially in countries of the South, could trigger violence and conflicts that further hamper development interventions in affected areas.

Inequalities also applied to advances in science, technology and innovation.

“We are all moving forward, but not at the same speed,” he said, a reality that was evident in the fact that many schools and universities had struggled to shift to teaching and learning in line when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing many education institutions to shut down.

“We need science, technology and innovation [STI] revolution focused on sustainable development in Africa. If we look at how we have mobilized STI in the past, it has brought us tremendous economic growth and prosperity, but it was not sustainable, ”said Gijzen, citing the green revolution which led to widespread degradation of the environment.

Moreover, he said, most of the development interventions used in the past by industrialized countries were not sustainable because “a lot of people were left behind.”

Harmonization of academic programs

However, he argued that Africa can benefit from STI if the skills driver – higher education programs – is aligned. He pointed out a lack of cooperation and harmonization of university programs in different countries.

“How to have a common market if you cannot trust the diplomas of a neighboring country? He asked.

Calling for joint academic and research programs, he said such interventions could improve the quality of teaching, learning and research, building skills needed for economic development in Africa.

But quality, he said, comes at a price: he called on countries and their governments to increase national budget allocations for research and development, ensure modest remuneration for academics, and provide scholarship opportunities. .

He said investments in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programs were needed to transform Africa.

University of Nairobi Professor Michael Chege on Public Policy and International Development agreed that science holds the solution to many challenges facing Africa, including climate change.

Chege noted that Africa suffers from the worst effects of climate change, despite lower greenhouse gas contributions, and stressed the need to invest in science and technology to provide responses to the threat of change. climate.

“Our academics know the issues facing Africa. If you look at Kenya’s Vision 2030 master plan, science and technology is a cross-cutting basis. Our academics have contributed to this and it tells us that our universities know the problems and can provide effective solutions, ”Chege said.

Fighting profit in higher education

However, he said most African universities needed to change the colonial-era paradigm of massification of for-profit higher education which he said prompted universities to drop one of theirs. fundamental research for development mandates.

Referring to the 2021 Global Innovation Index, Chege said there was concern that no African country was ranked in the top 50 (Mauritius and South Africa are in positions 62 and 63 respectively) .

“China was one of the poorest countries in the world, but used science, technology and innovation to eradicate poverty and industrialize,” Chege said, urging African countries to invest in research which can produce technologies and innovations to boost sustainable development in Africa.

Professor Margaret Hutchinson, University of Nairobi’s Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Enterprise, said Africa has a unique opportunity to grow rapidly towards sustainability by avoiding the mistakes of the past .

“The challenges of sustainable development are complex and require transformational change in key sectors such as water, energy, health and transport.

“This transformation must be achieved simultaneously,” said Hutchinson, who urged governments and development partners to put universities at the center of development interventions. This, she said, will in turn help place science, technology, innovation and new knowledge at the heart of development interventions and improve their sustainability.

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