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Implementing the 2030 Agenda

Vienna Austria
ACUNS Vienna UN Conference

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano delivering his remarks at the ACUNS Vienna UN Conference. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The IAEA is best known as the world’s so-called “nuclear watchdog.” We help to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by implementing safeguards.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the start of implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a landmark international agreement concerning Iran’s nuclear programme.

The Agency is verifying and monitoring Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. My regular reports to the IAEA Board of Governors last year showed that Iran is implementing its commitments.

Alongside our verification work in 181 countries, we have been making an important contribution to sustainable development since the Agency was established 60 years ago.

I have long believed that science and technology are essential for achieving what we now call the 2030 Agenda. So I was very pleased to see their importance explicitly recognised in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Nuclear science and technology have many peaceful applications which can help countries to reduce poverty and hunger, improve energy supplies, treat diseases such as cancer, and respond to climate change.

Our work is directly relevant to many of the SDGs. We work very closely with partners such as the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA’s Atoms for Peace and Development mandate is extremely broad. Let me highlight just a few of our activities contributing to the 2030 Agenda.

First, birth control for insects.

This is important in combating pests that cause human and animal diseases and can destroy entire crops of fruit and vegetables.

The IAEA makes available something called the sterile insect technique. This involves sterilising male insect pests, such as tsetse flies or fruit flies, by applying radiation.

These sterilised males are released in a targeted location. They mate with wild females, but no offspring are produced. Over time, the wild population declines and the insect pest is greatly reduced, or completely eliminated.

The sterile insect technique saves countries many millions of dollars per year and protects farmers’ livelihoods. We have also made it available to countries affected by the Zika virus to help them combat the Aedes mosquito, which spreads the virus.

Incidentally, the Agency also provides nuclear-derived diagnostic kits which make it possible to undertake rapid diagnosis of Zika, as well as other viruses such as Ebola, in the field.

Second, food security.

The IAEA makes a direct contribution to increasing food supplies by developing new varieties of staple crops such as rice and barley which are higher-yielding and more resistant to drought and disease.  

This is done by using radiation-induced mutation techniques.

In nature, plant mutation occurs thanks to the radiation coming from the cosmos or the earth.

But, by applying radiation, it is possible to accelerate this mutation process and develop new varieties of crops faster than through traditional plant breeding methods. This builds on a natural process and does not involve genetic modification of the plants.

In Peru, for example, farmers are now growing abundant crops of new varieties of barley at high altitudes. In Myanmar, new varieties of rice have greatly increased farmers’ incomes.

Producing these new plants involves highly sophisticated science, but the farmers who use them do not have to change their traditional techniques for growing crops.

The third area I want to mention is human health, and, in particular, cancer control. This is an important focus of the IAEA’s work.

It is estimated that, by 2030, over 21 million people will be diagnosed with cancer every year. Around 60 percent of all new cancer cases will be recorded in developing countries, and that is where around 70 percent of cancer-related deaths will occur.

Unfortunately, many developing countries lack both equipment and the trained medical and technical experts to treat cancer effectively. In Africa alone, there are 28 countries which do not have a single radiotherapy machine.

The IAEA, working with partners such as the WHO, helps countries to devise comprehensive cancer control programmes.

Our technical support focuses on nuclear medicine and imaging technology, and radiotherapy. We provide education and training for health professionals.

We have developed innovative e-learning initiatives such as our Human Health Campus and Virtual University for Cancer Control. These offer high-quality online training in areas such as radiotherapy, medical physics and nutrition.

Fourth, the IAEA is unique within the UN system in having specialist nuclear applications laboratories in Seibersdorf, near Vienna.

These offer training to scientists, support research in human health, food and other areas, and provide analytical services to national laboratories.

Transferring knowledge and expertise is at the centre of the IAEA’s approach. The ultimate goal is that countries should become self-sufficient, able to train their own future generations of nuclear specialists.

Since 1958, more than 48,000 scientists and engineers have held fellowships and scientific visitor positions through the IAEA technical cooperation programme, both at our laboratories, and in the facilities of our partners around the world.

Our Seibersdorf laboratories are now undergoing a long-overdue modernisation.

We also have environmental laboratories in Monaco, including the IAEA Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre, which we established in 2013. It uses nuclear and isotopic techniques to study biological processes affected by ocean acidification.

It is also leading international studies to address the effects of climate change on polar and mountainous regions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The best known peaceful application of nuclear technology is nuclear power.

Nuclear power makes a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy security, while delivering energy in the large and growing quantities needed for development.

Many developing countries are interested in introducing nuclear power. The IAEA does not attempt to influence their decision. But if countries opt for nuclear power, our job is to help them use it safely, securely and sustainably.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me conclude by noting once again that peaceful nuclear science and technology have a great deal to contribute to sustainable development.

Helping developing countries to deploy that technology successfully to improve the health and prosperity of their people will remain a priority for the IAEA.

Thank you.