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How the IAEA Will Contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals


The IAEA will play an active part in helping the international community with the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are expected to be adopted at the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Summit in New York this weekend. Director General Yukiya Amano is representing the IAEA at the Summit.

“Looking at the 17 goals, I am struck by the very close overlap with the work of the IAEA,” Mr Amano has said. “The new goals cover poverty, hunger, human health, clean water, affordable and clean energy, industry and innovation, and climate change, to name just a few. These are all areas in which nuclear science and technology have much to offer.”

To shed light on the role of nuclear science and technology, and in turn, the IAEA, in some of the areas covered by the SDGs, here is a look at how the IAEA is providing support to countries in using nuclear and isotopic techniques. This work is expected to intensify in light of the SDGs, and will help to bring the world closer to achieving the relevant targets.

Hunger and malnutrition are often rooted in food insecurity and agricultural challenges, causing well-being to suffer and economies to grow strained. Through the IAEA, and its partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), several countries around the world are improving food security and agriculture by using nuclear and isotopic techniques to protect plants from insect pests and to breed new plant varieties that show improved crop yields, disease resistance and/or drought tolerance. Others use these techniques to protect the health of their livestock and enhance reproduction.

Read the story on how plant mutants developed using nuclear techniques allow Bangladesh to feed a growing population and how Senegal nears the first victory in eradicating tsetse flies using the sterile insect technique in the Niayes region. Watch this video on the use of nuclear and nuclear-related techniques in maintaining animal health in Cameroon.

Farmers use the techniques for drip irrigation, which helps them to more efficiently measure and time water and fertilizer use to save resources and improve the sustainably of agriculture. Read the story of a farmer in Mauritius, who has increased his yields and conserved water, and is now growing produce that previously had to be imported.

As foodstuffs are prepared for consumption, irradiation helps to ensure quality and safety. With IAEA assistance, some countries use irradiation to eliminate potentially harmful bacteria and unwanted insect pests, while others benefit from their use in extending food shelf life. Watch this video on Indonesia’s experience.

Stemming from food insecurity and agricultural challenges often comes hunger and malnutrition. Using stable isotope techniques, health professionals can monitor body composition and food intake and absorption to better understand the complexities of malnutrition and whether treatment and prevention measures are effective. Read this story on how scientists and health workers in Guatemala work to control malnutrition and how South Africa has improved breastfeeding rates thanks to monitoring using nuclear techniques.

Achieving sustainable development is not possible if health suffers due to debilitating diseases and health conditions. To help achieve the target of reducing deaths from non-communicable diseases by one third, the IAEA is well-positioned to assist countries in tackling cancer by helping them to devise comprehensive cancer control programmes, establishing nuclear medicine, radiation oncology and radiology facilities, as well as supporting education and training for specialized health professionals. The IAEA also works to improve the utilization and reliability of facilities, including research reactors, that produce life-saving radioisotopes and to support countries in limiting patients’ overexposure to radiation during medical procedures. The Agency’s work contributes to improved cancer management and access to care worldwide.

See how the IAEA supports Viet Nam in cancer control and read how Cuba can now manufacture radiopharmaceuticals.

With greater access to radiation and nuclear medicine technologies, countries are also able to more precisely diagnose and manage diseases and health conditions, like cardiovascular disease, as well as monitor and evaluate health conditions, such as tuberculosis and other infections.

The IAEA also supports countries in developing capabilities for the early detection of diseases that spread from animals to humans, such as Ebola. Read how nuclear-derived techniques can help strengthen Africa’s capacity to anticipate the risk of outbreaks of such zoonotic diseases.

Water is essential to life. As populations grow and economies expand, access to clean and safe water is imperative. Isotopic techniques shed light on the age and quality of water. Some countries, such as Brazil, use this to implement integrated water resource management plans to sustainably use resources and to protect water and water-related ecosystems, while others use them to address scarcity and improve freshwater supplies.

Watch this video on how the IAEA helps farmers in Kenya to use their scarce water resources efficiently.

As society leaves its mark, water pollution is also a challenge. With IAEA support, some countries are now turning to radiation technology to treat wastewater from industrial use, reducing contaminants and improving water quality, making water safer for reuse.

Access to clean, reliable and affordable energy is a precondition for sustainable economic growth and improved human well-being, affecting health, education and job opportunities. The IAEA fosters the efficient and safe use of nuclear power by supporting existing and new nuclear programmes around the world, catalysing innovation and building capacity in energy planning, analysis, and nuclear information and knowledge management. The IAEA helps countries meet growing energy demand for development, while improving energy security, reducing environmental and health impacts, and mitigating climate change.

Read how the IAEA supports countries considering the introduction of nuclear power in Latin America and watch this video on the role of nuclear power, and the IAEA, in electricity generation.

Cutting-edge industrial technologies underpin the success of strong economies, in developed and developing countries alike. Nuclear science and technology, in particular, can make a major contribution to economic growth, and have an important role to play in support of sustainable development.

With the IAEA’s help, some countries have increased the competitiveness of their industries by using these technologies for non-destructive testing for safety and quality tests, and irradiation techniques for improving product durability, from car tires to pipelines and medical devices to cables. Read Malaysia’s story.

Irradiation also improves industrial sustainability by helping to lower environmental impact through treatment of flue gases (read Poland’s story), and the identification of pollution pathways (read Indonesia’s story).

Nuclear science, including nuclear power, can play a significant role in both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Nuclear power, along with wind and hydro, is one of the lowest-carbon technologies available to generate electricity. The IAEA works to increase global awareness of the role of nuclear power in relation to climate change, in particular to try to ensure that the role that nuclear power can and does play in assisting countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is properly recognized.

Read how nuclear power forms an important pillar of many countries’ climate change mitigation strategies.

Nuclear science and technology can play a vital role in assisting countries to adapt to the consequences of climate change. Read about better flood control in the Philippines and the development of new watering techniques in increasingly arid regions of Kenya.

Oceans contain vast ecosystems brimming with marine life, and are a vital resource for people that rely on the sea for their livelihood, day-to-day nutrition, or both. To sustainably manage and protect oceans and, in turn, support coastal communities, many countries are using nuclear and isotopic techniques, with support from the IAEA, to better understand and monitor ocean health and marine phenomena like ocean acidification and harmful algal blooms. Watch this video on the study of ocean acidification using nuclear techniques.

National, regional and international laboratory networks established through IAEA coordination also offer several countries an avenue for scientific collaboration, and are key resources for analyzing and monitoring marine contaminants and pollutants.

Desertification, degrading land and eroding soils can jeopardize peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Isotopic techniques provide accurate assessments of soil erosion and help to identify erosion hot spots, providing an important tool to reverse land degradation and restore soils. The IAEA’s support in this area helps many countries to gather information using these techniques to shape agricultural practices for more sustainable use of land and, ultimately, to increase incomes, while also improving conservation methods and protection of resources, ecosystems and biodiversity.

Read the story of a Vietnamese farmer who used these tools to identify the source of soil erosion afflicting his coffee plantation, allowing him to save his farm and earn enough extra income to educate his children.  

Partnerships with Member States are at the heart of the IAEA’s activities. Close collaboration between the IAEA, United Nations organizations and other international and civil society organizations also helps to maximize the impact of the IAEA’s support towards the achievement of Member States’ development priorities.

In 2014, the IAEA provided support to 131 countries and territories through its Technical Cooperation Programme. In cooperation with its partners, including a global network of regional resource institutions and collaborating centres, the IAEA promotes science-based policy making and access to technology and innovation. Read more about the IAEA’s coordinated research activities and technical cooperation partners.

Longstanding partnerships, such as the ones with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), allow international organizations to combine their skills and resources in their respective areas of expertise and mandate to support Member States.

To ensure that the IAEA’s assistance is tailored to the specific needs and priorities of its beneficiaries, and is sustainable in the long term, activities are based on consultations with Member States. Over 90 Member States already have in place country programme frameworks that identify areas of cooperation with the IAEA in support of their national development priorities.

IAEA Member States also share their knowledge, technologies and best practices through regional technical cooperation projects – including regional/cooperative agreements – coordinated research projects and projects involving the IAEA’s specialized laboratories. The IAEA promotes and facilitates bilateral, South-South, sub-regional and topical collaboration among countries, regulators and institutions.

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