If only sustainable development had moved as fast as ICT

Smriti Mallapaty
Freelance journalist from Nepal, SciDev.Net

Reminiscing about the quaint information communications technology (ICT) used at the last Earth Summit, Nitin Desai, former Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at Rio +20, was speculating yesterday what life would be like now if sustainable development had changed in as radical a way.

Flickr/ Fora do Eixo

Desai described how in 1992, the World Wide Web was still an emerging technology, with the web browser Mosaic, credited with popularising the World Wide Web, only launching a year later. Although conference organisers “were quite ahead” and used the Internet two decades ago, it involved using a huge computer with servers occupying half the room. “If you caught connection speeds of 14.4 you were doing wonderfully,” he added, and document transfers would go on through the night.

By those standards, technological transformation has been extraordinary.

At the same venue today, and locations across Rio, 67,000 users can simultaneously access the wifi network set up by the Brazilian company Oi, the official sponsor and supplier of telecommunications services for the conference.

Oi have also installed 1800 broadband access points, 180 internet kiosks to access the conference, and the latest 4G mobile internet service is on demonstration at a side booth. The company also equipped organisers with cloud computing, smartphones and tablets – not that this would distinguish them from the tech-loaded conference attendants.

Paper is on the decline, with PaperSmart services printing only ‘essential’ documents, and only by request. More often than not, it’s easier just to browse through the five official websites dedicated to communicating the latest discussions.

“If sustainable development had moved at the same pace as ICT had, we probably wouldn’t even need this conference,” said Desai, suggesting that sustainable development hitches a ride with speeding technologies.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.

2 Responses to If only sustainable development had moved as fast as ICT

  1. Jonathan Odhong' says:

    Great post Smriti! A great article talking about the ‘what ifs’ of sustainable development. Bigger questions abound about the strategy used in advancing development especially from the developed world to the 3rd world… is there need for a shift from the modernization theorists approach?

  2. Laxmi Santoshi says:

    Keep up the good work! We are following your very interesting analysis and information posts on Rio+20!

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