The Impact of Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Friday, 28 August, 2020 - 12:22

The excellent news for sustainable development is that these digital solutions can help us decouple growth from automatically increasing resource consumption and environmental degradation (target 8.4).
Digital solutions can cut the equivalent of 25 billion barrels of oil in 2030, a reduction of 70 per cent compared to today’s oil consumption. Smart-mobility solutions alone could take 135 million cars off the world’s roads and over 330 trillion litres of water could be saved in 2030 from smart agriculture, smart buildings and smart manufacturing. E-work, moreover, could save 0.4 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions.

7. Forecasts for ICT’s positive impact on employment are mixed.
Analyzing the past, some studies have seen positive impacts. For example, the World Bank has observed that for every high-tech job created in the United States, nearly five additional jobs could be created in other sectors. Another study estimates that extending internet access in the developing world to levels seen in the developed world could create around 140 million net jobs.
Increasing connectivity is at the heart of SDG 9. And GeSI’s research shows that 2.5 billion more people can be connected to the knowledge economy in 2030. But timing matters: broadband coverage needs to increase fast so that the “digital critical mass” required to spur economy-wide innovation is reached as soon as possible. Installed broadband capability needs to be fast as well as reliable. Other SDGs depend on this too, in that failing to deploy broadband would mean foregoing the equivalent of 12 per cent of the GDP of developing countries in 2030.
Underpinning the dividend from digital infrastructure is a simple fact: bringing more people into the global marketplace is not only great for their employment prospects; it also creates new markets and greater scope for innovation across borders. In terms of really boosting world-changing innovation and R&D, though, the core challenge is to raise the number of researchers and the amount of research spending going into solving social and environmental challenges.
As everyone in the ICT sectors knows, when it gets going, innovation can move very fast. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the world of 2030 sees the most innovative internet access in a country with very little infrastructure today. Just think of the possibilities that white space might allow, when unused broadcasting frequencies in the wireless spectrum could provide access to fast internet without the necessity of traditional broadband infrastructure.
This is still in early stages, but ICT companies have already begun to invest in the opportunity.
Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions:

Luckily, digital solutions have an enormous potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. GeSI has calculated digital solutions, including smart manufacturing, smart agriculture, smart buildings, smart mobility, and smart energy, can cut over 12 gigatons of CO₂ across the global economy by 2030. That would be around a fifth of total global emissions in 2030,81 a substantial inroad. Importantly, GeSI’s modelling also shows that these digital solutions can help us hold emissions at current levels while enabling the huge strides in equitable growth and quality of life.
All this will lead to vastly improved lifestyles for people around the world, with a much-reduced risk of resource warfare and the displacement of peoples. At the very least, digital solutions can help us stabilize global climatic conditions that are recognizable today – while enabling economic growth to do its work in lifting people out of poverty.

Sustainable urbanization:

Digital solutions will play an important role in sustainable urbanization in making cities smarter and more sustainable. For example, enabling new forms of mobility and housing. In terms of mobility, there are two main ways in which digital solutions can transform urban lives. These are, firstly, by connected private transportation and, secondly, by helping city authorities design and operate better traffic flow with traffic control and optimization.
Improved people’s access to transport:

Car-sharing and car-pooling platforms can be made much more accessible through smart technology which will improve people’s access to transport and also help take cars off the roads. Strides in GPS location-based services are also making an electric vehicle network a genuine prospect in the future, and better-designed social media and apps are helping people book rides, organize logistics and generally plan their lives more easily.

Traffic control and optimization:

As far as city-wide traffic control and optimization is concerned, both driverless cars and connected smart sensors will have a substantial impact in aiding flow, shortening journeys and saving fuel. Coupled to intelligent infrastructure and real-time big data analytics, a seamless and automatic traffic grid is not beyond our reach. Forty-two billion hours could be saved globally in 2030.
Car-to-car technology is also predicted to reduce the number of deaths and injuries from road-traffic accidents by 60% (as already mentioned in the section on health above), saving both lives and money for emergency services and transport networks.
8. The specific barriers to the deployment of digital solutions.
Recent research has identified three types of barriers facing large-scale ICT deployment to boost digital impact towards SDG achievement:

  • Barriers to the efficient operation of the ICT sector, or the “rules of game”, such as political and regulatory blockages;
  • Constraints to ICT rollout, or supply-side barriers, such as a lack of capital for infrastructure projects or for testing innovative digital solutions;
  • Impediments to ICT uptake, or demand-side barriers, such as a lack of suitable digital skills among would-be users or entrepreneurs

Some of these barriers are more prevalent or serious in developing regions, some are confined to the least developed countries, and others are universal, persisting across all country clusters. The most fundamental barriers within the "rules of the game" category apply to all regions.
This includes limited awareness of ICT’s potential among stakeholders, such as policy makers, aid organizations and NGOs that could otherwise harness digital’s potential for development work.
Equally, supply-side barriers, such as the lack of available capital for financing hinders the scaling of digital solutions all over the world, especially of costly infrastructure projects in rural areas.
Finally, based on the reviewed case studies the following recommendations can be proposed for countries to capture the power of ICT to deliver SDGs by 2030. These include:

  • Development of physical infrastructure to enable broadband connectivity throughout the country
  • Interoperability of e-governance tools and integration of e-payment solutions within businesses.
  • Use of ICT to strengthen the monitoring of the SDGs at the national and sub-national level. (SDG dashboards)
  • Integration of ICT application into national programs, plans and strategies for SDGs.
  • Collaboration among relevant stakeholders across public, private and non-profit sector.
  • Build on existing governance framework and develop strategies to strengthen collaboration among actors.

South African Case Studies:

  • Ekurhuleni smart city partnership: Great deal of investment in projects covering broadband connectivity, smart meters and fiber installation had led to efficient monitoring and integration of different services. These technological developments will attract start-ups and promote entrepreneurship within the country hence leading to job creation and better energy consumption patterns, contributing towards SDG 11, SDG 9 and SDG 7.
  • Open Medicine Project South Africa: The project aims to provide healthcare professionals with access to relevant information through mobile technology. Under the project a number of innovative applications have been developed to tackle specific health problems. Ultimately, this project can improve the overall quality of the healthcare delivery services in South Africa, Contributing towards SDG 3.


Luis Neves, Chairman, Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI)
Rose Stuckey Kirk, Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer & President, Verizon Foundation
Sigve Brekke, President and Chief Executive Officer, Telenor Group
carbon economy. And much more is possible by 2030.”
Gavin Patterson, Chief Executive, BT Group
Nicholas Davis, Professor of Practice, Thunderbird School of Global Management and Visiting Professor in Cybersecurity, UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy
Derek O'Halloran, Head of Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation, World Economic Forum
Dr. Hesham O, Dinana, The American University in Cairo (AUC) School of Global Affairs and Public Policy (GAPP)

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