The Fourth Industrial Revolution has ushered in a new era of industrial growth across the world. In particular, the increased focus on digitisation – driven by disruptive technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, cloud computing and the Internet of Things – is shaking up production processes, supply chain operations and interactions between human and machines.
The convergence between the digital sector and manufacturing has been rapidly unfolding for several years and it has arguably accelerated every year, heralding greater intraregional trade and a shift to customised and local production. Evidently, companies displaying higher levels of digitialisation are recovering more quickly than traditional businesses from the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Given this ongoing technological transformation and the megatrends of our time, such as climate change, it is imperative that we seize the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to maximise industrial safety and efficiency while also paving the way towards a circular economy.
Using disruptive technology will also help us achieve the promise of the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly goal nine, which is promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation.
However, we must also recognise that a significant digital divide exists between high-income countries and developing countries in terms of their capacity to harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The UN's Industrial Development Report for 2020 demonstrates this gap clearly, with 10 economies (mostly in the global north) accounting for 90 per cent of patents and 70 per cent of exports associated with advanced innovation, while 88 countries (mostly in the global south) have little or no involvement in this sector, either as consumers or producers.
Moreover, there are large gaps in digital infrastructure, with figures from the UN's International Telecommunication Union showing that 85 per cent of households in Europe had access to the internet in 2019, compared with 14 per cent of households in Africa.
If such inequalities persist or widen, we will not be able to eliminate poverty worldwide, the overarching objective of the 2030 Agenda. This is especially worrisome given the continuing underrepresentation of women in digital industries.
Unido has consolidated its resources, expertise, partnership and convening capacity in pursuit of an inclusive and sustainable Fourth Industrial Revolution.
In 2019, we held our 18th General Conference in the UAE, a long-standing partner of Unido, to critically examine the role of inclusive and sustainable industrial development. The conference also witnessed Unido's member states adopt the landmark Abu Dhabi Declaration, which called on the private sector and governments to forge new coalitions and foster innovation across different areas, including job creation, infrastructure development, low carbon growth and technology transfer.
The declaration underscores the UAE’s commitment towards harnessing disruptive technology and promoting global partnerships to build a futuristic circular economy.
In 2020, we established a directorate of digitalisation, technology and agribusiness to support member states in their transition to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
We also initiated several technical co-operation projects. For instance, we helped to supply geothermal energy in Kenya by harnessing the Internet of Things; co-operated with partners in Ghana to trace cassava crop value chains using blockchain and used augmented or virtual reality to enable expert exchanges for quality infrastructure; harnessed satellite imaging to combat bush encroachment and enhance food supplies in Namibia and also worked with project partners to mobilise robotics to deliver food and emergency supplies to hospital workers in China.
Our staff are also currently finalising a methodology to evaluate blockchain readiness for value chains in developing countries.
In terms of policy support, the forthcoming Unido Industrial Development Report 2022 will focus on the recovery from Covid-19, while Unido’s Knowledge Hub and Industrial Analytics Platform will provide the latest policy research, with the Learning Knowledge Development Facility providing training on future skills.
Experts convening at events such as the Global Industrialisation and Manufacturing Summit enable us to create the coalitions necessary to tackle structural barriers to achieving inclusive and sustainable industrialisation. This year's conference, the fourth GMIS, will take place in Dubai from November 22 to November 27. It will tackle the future of manufacturing from a multi-stakeholder perspective, yielding insights from partners in national governments, the private sector, academia, international organisations and civil society.
Under the theme of "Rewiring societies: repurposing digitalisation for prosperity’, GMIS 2021 will catalyse new partnerships, actions and dialogue for an inclusive and sustainable future of manufacturing. There will also be additional elements on the agenda, such as thematic working group discussions, industrial exhibitions and open days for the general public.
As Fourth Industrial Revolution technology continues to transform the way we work, manufacture and engage with one another, governments must join forces to ensure innovation can promote inclusive and sustainable industrial development.
Both GMIS and Unido are excited about the future of digital transformation and the building of a more connected, intelligent and equitable world where no one is left behind.
Bernardo Calzadilla-Sarmiento is a director of the directorate of digitalisation, technology and agribusiness of the UN's Industrial Development Organisation