The world economy is set to transform in ways that are as radical as they are unpredictable, changing the ways we produce and consume goods and services. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, brings myriad new possibilities to use emerging physical, digital, and biological technologies. Artificial intelligence and advanced robotics, for instance, allow machines to learn more and more tasks from observation, making automation of more and more activities feasible. Radio Frequency Identification and the Internet of Things can revolutionise logistics and home electronics. And three-dimensional printing technology has already proven commercially viable in complex products such as auto parts, customised shoes, with human organs on the horizon.
The potential benefits of this transformation to accelerate countries’ implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are unprecedented. They include radical gains in productivity, a range of new opportunities for economies in transition to leapfrog to the latest technologies and standards, and trade in a growing array of services, for a shift towards more sustainable production and consumption and a truly circular economy.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution can create green, clean, equitable and sustainable production systems – and a range of new, well paid, and rewarding jobs and other opportunities for all. But harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution for sustainable development will require concerted action. To remain competitive, UNECE countries will face mounting pressure to reform, building, improving, and adapting essential framework conditions such as good governance, relevant skills, efficient infrastructure, flexible labour markets, responsive legal systems, and the appropriate rules and regulations. Innovation policies and institutions should play a leading role in this context.
This will be especially crucial in the context of concerns around growing inequality and the sources of future jobs. As automation grows, wage differentials among countries dwindle and skills become more and more important. For the past two decades a growing number of sectors have increasingly relocated previously labour-intensive production to high-income locations, cutting opportunities for emerging and transition economies to accumulate productive capacities as a foundation for future growth.
With these issues high on the policy agenda across the region, UNECE is supporting countries’ efforts to capitalize on the opportunities – and respond to the challenges – of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
This will be the focus of the 11th session of the UNECE Team of Specialists on Innovation and Competitiveness Policies, where policy makers, business and civil society will explore how to harness the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the role that innovation policies and institutions can play.
The meeting will also feature in-depth discussion of potential high-level innovation policy principles for sustainable development and an initiative to pilot a sub-regional innovation policy index.