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Xi: Innovation, big data to aid 2030 Agenda

By ZHANG ZHIHAO | China Daily | Updated: 2021-09-07 06:56
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Stakeholders urged to take advantage of intl research center, step up cooperation

President Xi Jinping called on Monday on the international community to take advantage of scientific innovation and big data to overcome key obstacles in fulfilling the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

Xi made the remark in a congratulatory letter to the inauguration ceremony of the International Research Center of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals and the International Forum on Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals in Beijing.

The research center was pledged by Xi during his speech at the General Debate of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly last year. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the restoration of China's lawful seat in the UN.

In 2015, the UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 sustainable development goals, ranging from ending poverty to tackling climate change. In the letter, Xi said the agenda has provided clear objectives for international development and cooperation.

"The world is currently suffering from the great impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, utilizing scientific and technological innovation and big data will help the international community overcome difficulties and achieve the 2030 UN agenda around the globe," he said.

Xi expressed his hope that various parties and stakeholders around the world can take advantage of the new research center to enhance international cooperation, jointly facilitate the fulfillment of the 2030 UN agenda, and contribute to building a community with a shared future for mankind.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message to the events that information from the research center, which is operated by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, "has enormous potential to help address climate change, advance the SDGs and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic".

The research center will work alongside with the Regional Hub for Big Data to support the UN Global Platform and build on the momentum generated by the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism, he said.

"Together, we can mobilize scientific and technological communities to help achieve the sustainable development goals," he added.

Guo Huadong, director of the research center and an academician of the CAS, said fulfilling the sustainable development goals would require overcoming three major obstacles, namely a lack of data, unequal socioeconomic development between different nations, and the complex correlations between the goals.

"These challenges will require us to find better solutions from science, technology and innovation," Guo said.

To tackle these issues, Chinese scientists have been using big data and Earth observation technologies to collect a large quantity of data related to environmental monitoring, forest and water distribution, urbanization, food security, climate and marine resources, as well as other Earth and social sciences fields.

The Big Earth Data Science Engineering Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a massive research project and data-sharing platform, currently hosts a total of 10 petabytes of data, which is equivalent to 10 million gigabytes.

This includes over four decades' worth of satellite imaging and 5.6 PB of biological and ecological data, and around 3 PB of data is updated on the platform each year.

As of this month, more than 280,000 users from 174 countries and regions have accessed the platform since its launch in 2019, with its total online traffic exceeding 57.9 million visits, Guo said.

"This data will help scientists and policymakers better understand and make more accurate predictions and evaluations on the status of the sustainable development goal indicators, which facilitates more efficient planning and measures," he said.

The six goals that the research center will focus on monitoring are zero hunger, clean water and sanitation, sustainable cities and communities, climate action, life below water and life on land.

The research center will also provide powerful data analytical tools, so researchers can process their data in the cloud without needing to invest in extra software.

"It will be a one-stop data service platform for your research needs," Guo said.

Meanwhile, China is set to launch the world's first scientific satellite dedicated to achieving the sustainable development goals in October, called SDGSAT-1, Guo said.

The satellite aims to provide detailed data on traces of human activities and movements on a planetary scale, which will be important for analyzing the goals that are related to interaction between humans and nature, he said.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin said that big data is at the heart of revolutionary advances in science, technology and innovation, which will help address common global challenges.

"It is time to harness the power of big data to help solve the multifaceted challenges faced by countries and meeting the SDGs, and to do so in a spirit of international cooperation," he said.

Ibrahim Thiaw, UN under-secretary-general and executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, said China has made considerable advances in Earth observation and big data to support climate change studies, and manage biodiversity and natural resources.

He urged the international community to use big data and other technologies to identify patterns and correlations too subtle and complex for humans to notice.

"This will help achieve land degradation neutrality and other objectives related to desertification, land degradation and drought, but will also achieve so much more for all of humanity," he said.

Alessandro Annoni, president of the International Society for Digital Earth, said big data analytics allow scientists to monitor and assess what is happening on Earth and make the right decisions.

"In this context, this new international research center is becoming even more relevant, and I hope it will act as an aggregator and facilitator for all researchers and government that spent efforts in sustainable development," he said.

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