Science and technology in the framework of the sustainable development goals

Mariana Imaz (Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Coyoacan, Mexico)
Claudia Sheinbaum (Instituto de Ingenieria, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Coyoacan, Mexico)

World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development

ISSN: 2042-5945

Publication date: 3 January 2017

Abstract

Purpose

In September 2015, the UN member states approved an ambitious agenda toward the end of poverty, the pursuit of equity and the protection of the planet in the form of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. The purpose of this paper is to raise a concern about the context and framework that science, technology and innovation have in the finalized text for adoption that frames the SDGs especially regarding environmental degradation. The authors argue that emphasizing technology transfer in the agenda has the risk to do not recognize other technological alternatives such as eco-technologies, and endorse a limited vision of the role of science and innovation in the achievement of the SDGs. Science for sustainability has to go further than technology transfer, even questioning the limits of the current patterns of intensive use of natural resources and inequity in consumption. By discussing the historical backgrounds of this paradigm and elaborating on the role of science to achieve sustainability in a broader sense. It is in these terms that inter- and intra-discipline and the roles of researchers in sustainability transitions acquire relevance.

Design/methodology/approach

Although many theories regarding human development are in place and under discussion, the dominant view, reflected in the UN agreement, is that the progress of a country can be measured by the growth in the per capita gross domestic product. This variable determines if a society is able to reduce poverty and satisfy its basic needs for present and future generations (Article 3: United Nations (UN), 2015). Progress and economic growth in several aspects of human development has been substantial over the past 40 years. However, at the same time, the state of the environment continues to decline (UNEP, 2012). The obvious inquiry of these opposing trends is whether progress irremediably comes at the cost of environmental degradation. In 1972, the Club of Rome’s report entitled “Limits to growth” (Meadows et al. 1972) confronted the viability of perpetual economic growth. The report alerted of the impossibility of endless growth in population and production in a finite planet (Gómez-Baggethun and Naredo, 2015). The essay forecasted future crises of food and energy if the population and economic growth continued to grow at the same rate of the first half of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, the catastrophic projections were not met, mostly because of great advances in agriculture, water and energy technologies.

Findings

The SDGs constitute a relevant international recognition of the importance of the three edges of sustainable development. However, the pathways toward the achievement of the SDGs need to fully recognize that poverty, inequalities and global environmental problems are expressing a deeper crisis in the shape of economic growth, patterns of production and consumption and, in general, the logic of no limits in the exploitation of natural resources (Sheinbaum-Pardo, 2015). For this reason, the science of sustainability requires a deep understanding of the technological change and that technology is not the only approach toward sustainability.

Research limitations/implications

The paper reflects a conceptual discussion of the narrow vision of science and technology in the SDGs and their UN framework. The most important objective in the UN documents is technology transfer. This has the risk to do not recognize other technological alternatives such as eco-technologies, and endorse a limited vision of the role of science and innovation in the achievement of the SDGs.

Practical implications

An important discussion of the key points regarding SDGs is developed.

Social implications

“Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development (UN, 2015)” presents a narrow vision and a limiting role to the science of sustainability. Moreover, if these issues are not recognized, the achievement of the SDGs will continue to gain only marginal success.

Originality/value

It brings out a very important discussion of the role of science and technology in the ambitious UN agenda of the SDGs.

Keywords

Citation

Imaz, M. and Sheinbaum, C. (2017), "Science and technology in the framework of the sustainable development goals", World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 2-17. https://doi.org/10.1108/WJSTSD-04-2016-0030

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Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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