UN Sustainable Development Goals – Role of Space Technology

Introduction – United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

In September 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations have adopted a set of 17 goals each comprising specific targets to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. They are referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the member states are expected to formulate their national policies towards achieving these goals over the next 15 years. Also, a global indicator framework for the SDGs was announced in March 2017 1 . The UN SDGs were based on the earlier set of goals known as Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the UN in 2000 and expired in 2015.

While the MDGs also addressed poverty & hunger, universal education, combating diseases, child mortality, maternal health, gender equality, environmental sustainability, global partnerships, the SDGs appear to be superior to their predecessors on several fronts. Given the involvement of middle and low income countries in the international negotiations during their formulation, the SDGs are more universal applying to all countries. Through initiatives such as UN Global Compact and Impact2030, the private sector can greatly contribute towards global development. The SDGs can be a powerful tool for the United Nations in spreading awareness on poverty, inequality, sustainability, discrimination and think as global citizens. Moreover, the indicator framework has the potential to create opportunities to engage and participate in governance at local levels.

The 17 global development goals and their 169 targets are more or less interdependent and can only be pursued together with improvement in one area depending largely on progress in several other areas. For instance, poverty cannot be eradicated without significant progress in the fields of education, health care and reduction of inequalities. Climate change can only be combated via conservation and sustainable use of oceans, land, clean energy and responsible consumption and production techniques.

The wide agenda of the SDGs requires participation from all global actors who need to formulate appropriate policies at their national levels while also engaging their population at local and regional levels. Formulation of policies, implementation of necessary actions and assessment of progress in this global endeavour requires historical and accurate real-time data as well as infrastructure which space technology tools such as satellite imagery, satellite communication, satellite navigation and positioning, satellite based weather data can uniquely provide.

Role of Space Technology

The majority of the developing and underdeveloped countries, which have the greatest need for sustainable development, have large populations. This places a great complexity in both formulation and implementation of national policies towards sustainable development. The making of policies would require the most accurate information on the existing state of affairs, such as levels of poverty, land use, local climate, etc. Effective implementation would require real-time statistics on the measures taken. However, most important towards realisation of the UN SDGs is empowering the unaware and underprivileged population with access to all such information, at a personal as well as the community level. They should have access to the benefits being provided to them, the policies being chalked out and the metrics on the aid being offered.

Education and awareness are the most important tools of empowerment, in addition to providing access to information. Education, awareness, access – all require being connected to the rest of the world and amongst themselves. This global connectivity in turns requires vast infrastructure which space technology can offer most effectively – in terms of both cost and ease of establishment.

Earth observation satellite constellations have the potential to provide real-time images of the globe. Sub-meter and high spatial resolution imagery can help in urban planning, monitoring of urban land abuse, detection and tracking. Medium resolution imagery can aid in agricultural land mapping, land use, monitoring of lakes & water bodies. Coarse resolution images help in climate monitoring, disaster management and mitigation.

The satellite communications sectors with the VSAT terminals can take broadband access and thereby connectivity to the remotest locations. High Throughput Satellites now have upwards of 200 Gbps throughput. This can also greatly aid in providing education to even the remote locations and help in medical supervision by expert doctors wherever there is a shortage of specialists.

The applications of remote sensing and satcom are greatly aided by the satellite positioning and navigation services.

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