Spotlight Series: SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

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If you were to skim through the website of the 9th sustainable development goal, you’d encounter phrases like “industrial diversification” and “integration into value chains”. Now, while there’s a few things the UN could do to improve the way they communicate their goals to the public (including to the facilitators laboring over the SDGs!), this blog post aims to break down everyone’s favorite 9th SDG, and make it slightly more accessible to all of us.

The cool thing about Goal 9 is that it’s rather broad. It starts from the ground up: with infrastructure, which, as you well know, is made up of all the facilities and structures that a society needs to function well – stuff like roads, power plants, and buildings. Then, Goal 9 presents us with industrialization, which is a process virtually all countries have begun, but many have yet to fully finish. Industrialization, then, is the process of making use of all the stuff you’ve built, such as employing people in factories, which creates income! Finally, SDG #9 focuses on innovation, which would hopefully improve the technological capabilities of all the industry a country has developed.

More specifically, countries are keen on working on:
– building, and providing equitable access to infrastructure
– promoting sustainable industrialization
– increasing the access to financial services
– “retrofitting” (more simply, improving) old industry
– create opportunities for more scientific research
– do all of the above in developing countries
– support domestic development
– strive to provide universal internet access

Now, this all seems great, right? I think most of us would agree that achieving Goal 9 would probably benefit everyone involved. So why haven’t we heard of a massive, global-scale effort to revolutionize the industrial capacity of growing countries? How come we’ve still got villages in Macedonia with no access to clean water, or entire countries in Africa where less than half of the population has access to electricity? How come I can write this from the comfort of my bed in the US, after having a shower, with barely a thought about SDG #9?

The answer to that problem is fairly simple. Not every country, as is obvious to everyone, is at the same level of industrialization because not every country started industrializing at the same time. Much of what would conventionally be called “the west” (places like Western Europe or North America) began industrializing a whole lot earlier than the rest of the world. This meant that they could develop and gather wealth freely, as no one really knew enough (or cared) about the consequences of CO2, which has already been covered our previous blog posts.

But what happens at the point when we do have a whole bunch of scientific research that tells us that if everyone else does what the UK did, the Earth wouldn’t be a very cool place to live? That’s where we get to the root of the problem. On one hand, of course countries like India should be allowed to industrialize and uplift millions of citizens’ standard of living. Just because they’re doing it 100 years later than the US, doesn’t mean their citizens have any fewer rights to development! On the other hand, of course we need to be mindful of how we develop and industrialize, since the scientific context today is wildly different from that of the late 19th century.

Now, I’m not one to think I’m smart enough to answer that question for you. All I aim to do is show you what the countries that agreed to the sustainable development goals think is important in this debate. And while they acknowledge that there is a significant gap between “developed” regions and “developing” regions (particularly sub-Saharan Africa and small island nations in Oceania), they are also aware that there’s a long way to go before any of this gets solved.

There are good news, though! Investments in research, globally, are increasing, and many of the largest manufacturing countries are seeing declines or plateaus of their emissions. Cell phone coverage is becoming near-universal, with 95% of the world’s population covered by a mobile phone signal. With technological improvements – especially in the field of renewable energy – it seems possible that developing countries go through the process of industrialization (and thus lifting millions out of poverty) in a manner that’s sustainable in the long run. To be honest, I can’t wait to see it happen!

 

This is part 10/18 of a series on the Sustainable Development Goals.

 

 

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