Eight years remain to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and yet, the world is not on track to attaining most of the targets. We are far from a fully realized circular economy transition, or from limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The increasing number of extreme weather events and related catastrophes is but one sign of the urgency of the situation. In this context, reaching our goals will require significantly transforming our societies. In turn this will require innovation – transformative innovation – that makes the ways we consume and produce as a society sustainable and that accelerates progress towards the achievement of the SDGs.
To that end we don’t simply need innovations that incrementally improve products, services, and production processes. We also need innovations that cumulatively create a step-change in the sustainability of entire industries or socio-economic systems, all the while driving productivity growth and prosperity. And we need to deploy these transformative innovations at scale everywhere, so that we leave no one behind.
The issue, therefore, is not necessarily a lack of innovations, but of coordination, dissemination, scaling up, the directionality of innovation policies, and alignment with the SDGs. We need to think about how to encourage positive spillovers, and how to link different innovation actors operating in parallel. The imperative for larger societal transformations alters the dynamics and governance of innovation itself. It is thus important to understand how the experience of countries that have successfully encouraged transformative innovation can be replicated elsewhere.
These topics were discussed at the 14th session of the UNECE Team of Specialists on Innovation and Competitiveness Policies, whose policy segment focused on the theme of “Digital and green transformations - Innovation for a sustainable future”.
Following a keynote address by renowned economist Jason Potts, Professor of Economics and Co-Director of the Blockchain Innovation Hub at RMIT University, various panels of the policy dialogue featured distinguished speakers from governments, academia, international organizations, and the private sector. In their debates they sought to define transformative innovation, explore what catalyzes or impedes it, and understand how innovation governance must adapt to promote it. They also highlighted mission-orientation, promoting innovation via public procurement, adequate financing, robust data, appropriate indicators, fostering entrepreneurship and capitalizing on deep tech innovation, and examined policies to promote the transition to sustainable energy as a case study in transformative innovation.
The session concluded with a review of the work done by the Team of Specialists over the past year, including policy advisory and capacity-building support provided to economies in transition in the UNECE region via initiatives, such as the national Innovation for Sustainable Development Reviews or the subregional Innovation Policy Outlook.
The ongoing work on transformative innovation will feed into these policy advisory and capacity-building workstreams, as well as into the 70th session of UNECE in 2023, which will focus on the topic of “Digital and green transformations for sustainable development in the UNECE region”.