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Connected cars and other digital solutions can drive progress toward UN’s sustainable development goals by 2030: report

June 14, 2016   by Canadian Underwriter

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Connected cars could save 720,000 lives from road accidents annually and prevent up to 30 million traffic injuries, according to a new analysis prepared for the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) by Accenture, a global professional services company.

The information and communication technologies (ICT) sector can play a vital role in helping achieve the objectives of the United Nations’ (UN) 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030, Accenture said in a press release on Tuesday.

The GeSI report, titled #SystemTransformation: How digital solutions will drive progress towards the sustainable development goals and published in collaboration with Accenture Strategy, demonstrates the impact that digital technologies can have on shaping a more sustainable future, and highlights the opportunity for companies in the ICT sector to drive growth and competitiveness by investing in these initiatives.

The report also identifies three roadblocks to realizing the full potential of these digital solutions: barriers to the efficient operation of the ICT sector, such as political and regulatory blockages; constraints to ICT rollout, such as a lack of capital for infrastructure projects or for testing innovative digital solutions; and impediroadments to ICT uptake, such as a lack of suitable digital skills among would-be users or entrepreneurs.

The report found that every country has achievement gaps in more than half of the 17 SDGs, and many fall short on all. While the greatest strides are needed in the least developed countries and developing regions, the report demonstrates that “action is equally needed in developed regions to decouple their economic growth from degrading the environment.”

Widespread deployment of digital solutions will substantially contribute to all three dimensions of development covered by the SDGs, which include goals such as good health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, climate action, and affordable and clean energy. For example:

  • Improving people’s lives: 1.6 billion people could benefit from more accessible, affordable and better quality medical services through e-healthcare, while connected car solutions could save up to 720,000 lives annually and prevent up to 30 million traffic injuries (SDG#3);
  • Boosting equitable growth: Digital solutions like the Internet of Things and robotics can help bring almost US$1 trillion in economic benefits to industries from smart manufacturing and smart logistics (SDG#9); and
  • Protecting the environment: Digital solutions could enable greenhouse gas emissions reduction and drive market transformation for renewables, cutting carbon emissions by around 20 percent in 2030 (SDG#13).

In particular, part of SDG#3 includes targets to halve deaths from road accidents. According to the report, the casualty rate on the world’s roads remain “far too high,” with around 1.25 million people dying each year from traffic accidents and 50 million suffering injuries, as reported by the World Health Organization. “The introduction of Car2X, which enables cars to communicate with their surroundings, could prevent up to 60% of road traffic accidents and related fatalities and injuries from happening,” the report said. “With a 100% adoption rate, this could save a total of around 720,000 lives and prevent 30 million injuries from road accidents, which would actually overshoot target 3.6.”

By 2030, ICT sector companies could realize US$2.1 trillion in additional annual revenue from services that directly contribute to SDG achievement, the release added. This includes US$400 billion per year from connecting an additional 2.5 billion people to communication services by 2030. Additionally, US$1.7 trillion can be realized from digital solutions contributing towards SDG achievement, including eCommerce (US$580 billion), eWork (US$537 billion), smart buildings (US$200 billion), eGovernment (US$86 billion) and online learning (US$75 billion).

“Through strategic deployment of digital solutions, the ICT sector can act as the catalyst for helping the world’s nations solve critical social, economic and environmental challenges,” said Peter Lacy, managing director of Accenture Strategy, in the release. “The speed and reach of digital solutions allows them to spread quickly to reach people irrespective of location or income bracket, and they are designed to complement their use, so their uptake is rapid. Digital solutions also make good business sense, as they contribute to new business models, create markets and help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems in innovative ways.”

To fully utilize the power of digital solutions and realize these benefits for society, economy and the environment, the three roadblocks to large-scale ICT digital deployments need to be removed, the release noted. The report calls on policymakers, multilateral and donor organizations, NGOs and the private sector to take steps to address the following hurdles:

  • Political and regulatory constraints, related to insufficient or uncoordinated intellectual property protections and data security – Differences in regulatory requirements slow the deployment of sensors and smart technologies, as they increase the complexity associated with their development and use, thereby also adding to their cost;
  • Supply-side constraints, resulting from inadequate capital for infrastructure projects or for testing innovative digital solutions – Efforts to find capital for large infrastructure projects in developing and least-developed regions are undermined by a lack of investment security and lack of integrated standards across technologies; and
  • Demand-side barriers, such as low affordability and a lack of digital skills needed to use the new technological solutions – Underpinning this are gender-specific barriers, such as lower purchasing power of women, their lower literacy rates and a mismatch with cultural role expectations. The use of technologies is also impeded because they are often not translated into local languages.

GeSI is a strategic partnership of the ICT sector and organizations committed to creating and promoting technologies and practices that foster economic, environmental and social sustainability. Formed in 2001, GeSI enjoys a diverse and global membership, representing around 40 of the world’s ICT companies and partners.