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UNDP, the SDGs and the Role of Innovation Involving Machine Learning

The United Nations Development Programme, Sustainable Development Goals and applications within the field of Artificial Intelligence

1. The Evolution of the Concept of Sustainable Development and a Discussion of the 2030 Agenda

The sustainable development goals has a long and varied history that stretches back far beyond the conference in Paris in 2015 where they were agreed by most of the countries in the world. One could say perhaps that they began with the wish for a more peaceful coexistence after the second world war with the creation of what later came to be the United Nations in 1945, since collaborating to prevent future atrocities and nations helping each other in a more coordinated manner has been an increasing focus since then. The ideas of multilateralism and cooperation between countries is central to the creation of the sustainable development goals, and these agreements that nations make for a better world (at least the attempt) at conferences or gatherings between nation leaders.

2. Are the SDGs an Important Tool for Global Governance of Sustainable Development?

Yes, the SDGs are an important tool for global governance for sustainable development. However simply stating this is of course not enough. When challenged it is hard as well to say how these goals actually matter at all, and a classic argument is that business as usual is still occurring. If the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) really matter then how can it be said to do so, if nations are doing what they would do regardless: then are the SDGs not worse than useless? At worst they can shroud the harsh reality with their rainbow colors, although it is easy to love rainbows, lofty goals remain aloft of the tragedies on the planet. If you look around at your friends, at your family, are they changing because of the SDGs? It is easy to argue on behalf of abstract ambitions with concrete points and claim a measured improvement, that is ideal for policy-makers. Yet one could think that these goals do offer a great deal of grief too because of their public nature, although even for the educated public to arrest or hold to account those who enact or implement policy in their lack of focus is not at all simple.

3. ‘Greenwashing’ and how it impacts the achievement of the SDGs

Greenwashing is the practice of using a false premise related to an argument of environmental and societal benefits of a product or a service. It could also be outright lying about your service or product through this process rather than giving a false premise. Another way for greenwashing as a practice to operate is simply attempting to make your service or product be perceived as ‘green’ or more beneficial in this same sense. This is not a set definition, and there are likely more ways to define greenwashing, however this will be an attempt to exemplify greenwashing giving one example for each variation:

  1. The false premise: this could be the partly state-owned Equinor cutting all of their emissions in the production of oil. Although this sounds helpful only 5% of emissions come from production of oil while 95% comes from the combustion of oil. Therefore stopping the production of oil and the transition towards other energy sources would likely be better.
  2. Outright lying: the OK Tedi Mining facility in Papua New Guinea is known to be one of the greatest environmental disaster in the mining industry. They claimed they would build a tailings dam, and they ended up never doing this, as such an outright lie. This lie can often take the shape or form of a promise, and it could of course be argued that this is a broken promise rather than an outright lie, however the difference in this regard is not great. After being discovered and sued for a large sum it continued with its practices while it created a nonprofit based in Singapore to own the mining facility. They promised again to build a tailings disposal, but they did not do so.
  3. Perceived as beneficial: Coca Cola announced a bottle they called Coca Cola Life. This bottle had a green wrapping and claimed to be more sustainable or green due to its use of a different type of sugar, as well therefore being more healthy for you because it did not use unnatural/artificial sweetener.

4. From theory to practice

I wrote a blog post specifically focused on the intention of wanting to move towards a more practical project:



AI Policy, Governance, Ethics and International Partnerships at All views are my own.

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Alex Moltzau

AI Policy, Governance, Ethics and International Partnerships at All views are my own.