This is a think piece written by Professor Johan Schot for the European Commission Conference “Sustainable Europe 2030: From goals to delivery” on April 8 2019 in Brussels
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in the United Nations 2030 Agenda are the ambitious to-do list for Europe and the World. How the SDGs will be reached is still the big question.
From a SDG viewpoint, the old distinction between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries is less relevant. We all need to move away from our dependence on fossil fuels, production of waste, resource inefficiencies, labour productivity, and the global mass-production and mass-consumption addictions. While each region and nation may face complex, specific situations, and have differing levels of economic wealth, none have broken through the old blueprint served up by the First Deep Transition – industrial modernity as we currently know it – to forge a Second Deep Transition, a new trajectory with sustainable, equitable socio-technical systems of provision for their populations in food, energy, healthcare, education, finance, mobility and water.
The approach, advanced by the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC), is that emphasis should be put, not on the individual goals, but in fact on the SDG strapline – ‘Transform our World’. Rather than treating the SDGs as targets, or top-down missions, actors should focus on the transformation processes of socio-technical systems, which will deliver on the SDG mission and forge the Second Deep Transition in a bottom-up and integrated way.
A transformative science, technology and innovation (STI) policy can be a key implementation mechanism and game changer for realizing all the SDGs. An important question to ask is whether current STI policy is fit for purpose? The answer, unfortunately, is negative. Over the last decades the interest of policymakers has mainly focused on STI as a driver for economic growth, innovations and job creation using environmental and social goals as framework conditions. For transformative policies, the SDGs should be seen as strategic and dynamic drivers of long-term growth.
Current thinking about STI policy has been dominated by two framings around innovation – R&D stimulation on the one hand, and building eco-systems of innovation and entrepreneurship on the other. However, there is the opportunity to strengthen the emergence of a new more transformative and open-ended system and mission-oriented policy, as outlined in Three Frames for Innovation Policy: R&D, Systems of Innovation and Transformative Change’. Such a policy invigorates opportunities for experimentation, upscaling, and opens up the minds and practices of incumbents towards proper transformative change.