In 2021, 46% of people globally still don’t have access to a computer or the internet in order to access remote education or health services. This figure simply doesn’t align with the global agenda of remote learning and working, and puts the third world at yet another disadvantage. I’ve given you one example, but I could probably give you hundreds, if not thousands, about how the imbalance of global infrastructure has been exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
When industry, innovation, and infrastructure are working in harmony, with a nice dose of sustainability, there is an economic boom. That’s just how it works. That’s the secret recipe. When these things are in sync, employment and income soar, new technologies become available, and the world takes notice. Look at the last 20 years of Dubai as a good example. Silicon Valley is another.
Covid-19 was a monumental spanner in the global works, with projects around the planet slowing down or stopping. In the first world, this wasn’t such a big problem as we had the means to adapt quickly. In the developing world, it was a disaster. In the first world, infrastructure was being improved and optimised. In the third world, it was being introduced, perhaps for the first time. Now, many people are going without and suffering the consequences. Remember SDG 6: Water and Sanitation? A lot of cleaning and handwashing facilities that were being built or were due to be built were abandoned or put back on the waiting list.
Why is manufacturing so important to planet Earth?
Manufacturing means that things are being made, which means people are employed at one end, and consumers are spending at the other end. This cycle must continue indefinitely for economists to cheer. The pandemic has given little to cheer about in this regard though, with global supply chains, manufacturing, and raw material collection in the developing world all suffering.
When businesses are making things, they are also looking at better ways to make things, tweaking industrial processes, ingredients, logistics, packaging, suppliers, and more, with percentages of their budgets going to R&D. These innovations are what help drive humanity forward, as our science and technology become more advanced. Unfortunately, the pandemic has stalled our progress and shown that the global infrastructure for manufacturing is not as resilient as we thought.
UN facts and figures related to SDG 9
- In 2018, 96% of the world’s population lived within reach of a mobile-cellular signal, and 90%of people could access the Internet through a third-generation (3G) or higher-quality network.
- 16% of the global population does not have access to mobile broadband networks.
- The global share of manufacturing value-added in GDP increased from 15.2% in 2005 to 16.3% in 2017, driven by the fast growth of manufacturing in Asia.
- Least developed countries have immense potential for industrialization in food and beverages (agro-industry), and textiles and garments, with good prospects for sustained employment generation and higher productivity
- In 2019, the amount of new renewable power capacity added (excluding large hydro) was the highest ever, at 184 gigawatts, 20GW more than in 2018. This included 118GW of new solar systems and 61GW of wind turbines.
- Capacity investment in solar slipped %$ to $131.1 billion in 2019, while that in wind climbed 6% to $138.2 billion – the first time that wind has outweighed solar in terms of dollars committed since 2010.
- Developing countries continued to outpace developed economies in renewables investment. In 2019, they committed $152.2 billion, compared to $130 billion for developed countries.
What are the goals of SDG 9?
9.1 Develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and transborder infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all
9.2 Promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and, by 2030, significantly raise the industry’s share of employment and gross domestic product, in line with national circumstances, and double its share in the least developed countries
9.3 Increase the access of small-scale industrial and other enterprises, in particular in developing countries, to financial services, including affordable credit, and their integration into value chains and markets
9.4 By 2030, upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes, with all countries taking action in accordance with their respective capabilities
9.5 Enhance scientific research, upgrade the technological capabilities of industrial sectors in all countries, in particular developing countries, including, by 2030, encouraging innovation and substantially increasing the number of research and development workers per 1 million people and public and private research and development spending
9.A Facilitate sustainable and resilient infrastructure development in developing countries through enhanced financial, technological and technical support to African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States 18
9.B Support domestic technology development, research and innovation in developing countries, including by ensuring a conducive policy environment for, inter alia, industrial diversification and value addition to commodities
9.C Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in the least developed countries by 2020
How can we build a better future using SDG 9?
All innovation and industry break down when communication falters, which is why telecoms and internet accessibility around the globe must be developed. As many businesses were forced to close temporarily and workers stay at home, a fair percentage of businesses quickly digitized, but many more failed to adapt despite the potential. For those who did respond quickly, we can now envision a future with more digital health, education, and other key services.
The pandemic has shown that this really is a planet of the haves, and the have nots. Of course, the simple answer would be to give the have nots everything they need, but this isn’t sustainable either, so, rather than take this approach, the UN argues that there needs to be some digital baseline. Global governments need to invest in telecoms and make sure all of the nearly 8 billion humans can access online education, employment, and critical health advice.
When the worst of the Covid-19 phase of our lives is over, we can expect to see governments and industries working to develop more infrastructure in order to drive an economic recovery, to create jobs, and to stimulate the world. Will we also see targeted development ensuring that the basic needs of the poorest are met? Will we see infrastructure that is truly resilient to disasters and climate change? Will we see an adequate level of innovation to help these communities?
The best answers to these questions are the ones that see response plans including actions that multiply positive effects. When constructing a facility to create jobs and provide a service, can we also take into account air quality, urban development, and community impacts? When we provide aid or financial support to regions, with it can we provide advice, attempt to heal social divides, and incentivise sustainable solutions for its spending? Can we build trust and confidence with each response, in a time where misinformation, scepticism, and post-truth behaviour is at an all-time high? How do governments drive clean energy and low-carbon transport as part of their response to a viral outbreak?
We don’t have the answers, but we know that unless people ask these questions of governments and institutions, organic change might not occur. Perhaps, though, it is the governments and institutions that need to change and relinquish some power if they are not up to the task of executing sufficient response plans. The decentralisation of power and authority could work well after Covid-19, giving communities greater resources and power to deliver the changes that they need. A top-down approach, in a time when government faith is exceptionally low and when there is a lot of resentment for being on lockdown for the best part of a year, may be more provocative than effective.