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The Role of Nuclear Technology in the Post-2015 Development Agenda


Many areas of the IAEA's work meet the goals of the proposed UN  sustainable development goals.  (Photo: J. Castillo/IAEA)

Nuclear science and technology have made key contributions to development over the last few decades, and the IAEA is prepared to support emerging United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through its Technical Cooperation Programme. This was the conclusion of a side event held during the IAEA’s 59th General Conference yesterday, with speakers from both the IAEA and the wider development community emphasizing the role for the peaceful use of nuclear technology in a wide range of areas.

“The IAEA looks forward to playing an active part in helping with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in his opening address. “The new goals will be incorporated into national development plans and these will then be reflected in the IAEA’s Country Programme Frameworks.”

World leaders are expected to adopt 17 SDGs as part of the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” at the UN Sustainable Development Summit at the end of September in New York.

SDGs and the IAEA: “Close overlap”

“Looking at the 17 goals, I am struck by the very close overlap with the work of the IAEA,” Mr Amano 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.”

The SDGs succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the development objectives established by the international community for the 2000-2015 period. The SDGs represent a wider range of objectives than the eight MDGs, recognizing that several important areas had not been addressed in the goals set 15 years ago. The side event entitled ‘Atoms for Peace and Development: IAEA & the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals’ focused on opportunities the new SDGs provide for Member States, including least developed countries (LDCs), and how the IAEA could assist them, said Ana Raffo-Caiado, Director of the Division of Programme Support and Coordination at the IAEA, who moderated the panel discussion.

“The explicit emphasis on science and technology in the SDGs will give us an opportunity to further explore the intersection between the goals and the IAEA’s technical cooperation activities, as well as the broader relationship between development and science, technology and innovation,” Raffo-Caiado said.

Broadening the goals

The SDGs have the potential to take development to the next level thanks to the inclusion of the new objectives, including on science and technology, said Ambassador Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque, the United Kingdom’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna. “We cannot wait to start working on these goals. Once we agreed next week, work needs to start immediately.”

The broadened scope of SDGs creates an opportunity for the United Nations family to work collaboratively, said David Osborn, Director of the IAEA’s Environment Laboratories. Acting in increased coordination, United Nations organizations can exploit their complementarities. “While there are organisations with lead mandates in specific areas, at times more complex challenges need to be advanced through partnerships and a collaborative approach,” he said.

Najat Mokhtar, Director of the Division of Asia and the Pacific at the IAEA, pointed to SDG Number 9, ‘Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation,’ which explicitly carves out a role for technology in development: Promoting innovation through both technical cooperation projects and Coordinated Research Activities is at the heart of the IAEA’s mandate, she said.

Science for the sake of development

Ambassador Didier Lenoir, Head of Delegation of the European Union to the International Organizations in Vienna highlighted the need to convert scientific achievements into progress on the ground. “Scientific development is not an aim in itself,” he said. “The objective is to provide better quality of life.” The task for development organizations and recipient countries is to work together translating scientific achievements into concrete actions that help address challenges, he said.

Mohamed H.A. Hassan, former President of the African Academy of Sciences, and Member of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries, briefed the audience about the proposed technology bank called for under the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020, also known as the Istanbul Plan of Action. “It is well recognized that LDCs cannot escape the LDC trap without access to technology and innovation,” he said. “Providing LDCs with first hand access to technology is necessary.”

The technology bank is envisaged as a mechanism to help LDCs build a base for science, technology and innovation by improving technology access, acquisition and use. It would be a facilitating mechanism, to be run and funded jointly by national governments and international organizations. Mr Hassan said that once set up, the technology bank could support LDCs in, for instance, equipping their universities to train scientists to the level of international standards, providing access to scientific information channels to publish in scientific journals, and setting up a patents bank for LDCs to make it easier for researchers to file patents.

Iddi Mikhala, Director General of Tanzania’s Atomic Energy Agency, spoke of the importance of providing high quality science education to youth, including girls. In Tanzania, where 47% of the population is below 15, the government is taking a two-pronged approach: it is offering improved education opportunities and is also facilitating graduates’ access to jobs. He spoke of a pilot project offering boarding school places to girls studying science. “Their performance has improved a great deal as a result,” he said.

It is often difficult for science graduates to find employment, he said, so the government can play a more active role in assisting them to become entrepreneurs by providing business incubators where graduates of various disciplines can come together and translate science and technology ideas into practical business ventures.

Japan’s support

Japan, one of the largest donor countries of the IAEA, will continue to support technology transfer to developing countries, with a special emphasis on LDCs, said Ambassador Mitsuru Kitano, Permanent Representative of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna. “Japan is determined to continue support both the Technical Cooperation Programme and the Peaceful Uses Initiative.”

Scientific development is not an aim in itself. The objective is to provide better quality of life.
Didier Lenoir, Ambassador and Head of Delegation, European Union Delegation to the International Organizations in Vienna
Last update: 15 Jan 2021

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