Industry 4.0 to drive Sustainable Development Goals: Part II

M Rokonuzzaman | Published: December 04, 2018 21:40:00 | Updated: December 10, 2018 21:08:08

The relevance of Industry 4.0 to drive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is widely recognised. Focus is here on 10 SDGs - from goal 8 to goal 17:

GOAL 8-SUSTAINED ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PRODUCTIVE EMPLOYMENT: Many developing courtiers are running out of the advantage of low-cost labour and raw materials. In order to drive the growth, the next frontier is technology. It's true that due to the lead role of advanced countries to benefit from Industry 4.0, labour and the raw material advantage is already weakening. But Industry 4.0 could be leveraged by virtually all countries, irrespective of the development stage, to drive economic growth. For example, with the innovations supported by related technologies like sensors, software, AI and 3D printing, wastage could be reduced, and emission lowered-thereby increasing the quality and reducing the cost of production. By leveraging this opportunity, the role of total factor productivity in driving growth could be accentuated. Industry 4.0 also offers new technology core to drive entrepreneurship for creating productive employment. 

GOAL 9-SUSTAINABLE INDUSTRIALISATION, INFRASTRUCTURE, AND INNOVATION:  This is a tricky issue. Industry 4.0 is blamed as being premature industrialisation in many developing countries. Research indicates that more than 50 per cent industrial jobs across the world are vulnerable with the rising waves of Industry 4.0. Developing countries appear to be more vulnerable than their advanced counterparts. Already an increasing number of jobs are being taken over by robotics and automation. But the same technology portfolio also offers the opportunity of creating new jobs. Moreover, pollution created by the conventional industrial activities is limiting the sustainability of the industrial economy. The integration of intelligence in production machinery and across the supply and distribution chain has an enormous potential to reduce pollution, wastage, and emission-making the contribution to sustainable industrialization through innovation.

GOAL 10-REDUCE INEQUALITY: So far, technology has been blamed for increasing inequality. But technology is also created the opportunity for millions of semi-skilled people to participate in the industrial economy. Over the last 50 years, due to technology, globalisation increased creation of export-oriented manufacturing jobs in developing countries. Many technologies driving industry 4.0 such as additive manufacturing, sensors, software, and AI (artificial intelligence) have the potential to enable developing countries to foster innovation making their economies more productive. It appears that Industry 4.0 has reduced the barrier for developing countries to participate in innovation economy-giving a chance to every country to benefit from advanced technologies improving the quality of life-thereby reducing inequality.

GOAL 11-MAKE CITIES AND HUMAN SETTLEMENT SUSTAINABLE: Industrialisation over the last 300 years has made human settlements unsustainable, often unlivable. Centralised production has encouraged people to converge in small areas for building towns and cities, while deserting rural communities. Air, water, and soil pollution caused by industrial economy has made the environment of our cities toxic. Industry 4.0 offers us the opportunity to reverse the situation. It offers opportunities to make cities livable, and create productive opportunities in rural communities. Instead of leaving rural areas, people will be able to participate in productive activities from anywhere in the world--in operating semiautonomous productive machinery by submerging in augmented reality environment.  

GOAL 12-SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION AND PRODUCTION: According to Food and Agricultural Origination (FAO) of the UN, roughly one-third of food produced in the world for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tones - gets lost or wasted.  Food losses and waste amount to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialised countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries. Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labour, and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change. The use of smart technologies in food harvesting, preservation, processing, and distribution has a significant potential to reduce this wastage. Creating the market of innovation around sensors, data analytics, smart vehicles, advanced robotics for strengthening the supply chain, improving the prediction of demand in supermarkets, hotels and restaurants, and expanding food packaging industry could help reduce the amount of food loss and waste.

GOAL 13-COMBAT CLIMATE CHANGE: Greenhouse gas emission from our productive activities is a major cause of global warming and climate change. Greenhouse gases trap heat and make the planet warmer. Human activities are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years. The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities is from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation. Technologies behind Industry 4.0 is opening the opportunity to power cars, trucks, ships, and trains with electric battery and hydrogen, consequentially reducing the emission from transportation. Progress is being made in making wind and solar the main sources of electrical energy. Similarly, once we succeed in making electricity produced from the sun and wind cheaper than fossil fuels, heating and all other forms of demand will be met with clean energy. It appears that as opposed to regulation, Industry 4.0 technology portfolio is opening the opportunity to intensify adoption of clean production methods to reduce emission and increase profit simultaneously.   

GOAL 14-CONSERVE AND SUSTAIN OCEANS, SEAS, AND MARINE RESOURCES: Technology-supported aquaculture has the potential to reduce the demand for fishing on the open sea. According to some reports, we waste an enormous amount of ocean life--up to 40 per cent of our global catch. Millions of tons of unintended fish, shellfish and wildlife like marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds die in fishing gear meant to catch other species. Bycatch leads to overfishing, killing endangered animals, and messing up the whole environment; and of course, it costs time and money. Technologies like sensors, data analytics and augmented reality have the potential to increase the precision of fishing leading to dropping bycatch. Industry 4.0 technology innovation also opens the door to reduce pollution and control unauthorised fishing activities. 

GOAL 15-INCREASE SUSTAINABILITY OF THE ECOSYSTEM, AND BIODIVERSITY: Data analytics and simulation tools are going to play a vital role to understand the likely implications of the change of ecosystem and biodiversity. On one hand, such analysis will provide better insight for scientists to recommend appropriate policy intervention. On the other hand, such tools could be used to raise social awareness to support protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable use of ecosystems, land and forests.  Moreover, tools like drone-based surveillance will also provide real-time data to support the management of forests, including halting deforestation and increasing afforestation as well as reforestation.

GOAL 16-BUILD PEACEFUL AND INCLUSIVE SOCIETIES: The fourth industrial revolution is based on a set of 10 technologies; many of these technologies could be used to address this important agenda. The rollout of the full potential of technologies will significantly help develop peaceful and inclusive society.  

GOAL 17-FOSTER GLOBAL PARTNERSHIPS FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: Although the fourth industrial evolution poses threat to the globalisation of production, its technology portfolio opens up enormous opportunities  for innovation for sustainable growth of all countries. Many of the global issues like pollution, climate change and migration could be addressed among countries through expanding cooperation on and access to science, technology, and innovation.

 For all countries, particularly the developing ones, addressing the SDGs is vital. In the absence of the adoption of advanced technologies, existing productive activities are not scalable to address most of the SDGs.  Developing countries should carefully figure out the optimum fusion of prevailing low-cost labour advantage with technology import and local innovation so that the benefit keeps increasingly outweighing the negative consequences of pursuing the strategy of addressing SDGs with advanced technology portfolio like Industry 4.0.

The first part of the article appeared on Sunday, December 02, 2018.

M Rokonuzzaman Ph.D is academic and researcher on technology, innovation and policy.


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