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  How tech helps us reach the Sustainable Development Goals

Recently, frontier technologies have opened up possibilities for monitoring and improving the health of our planet. They form crucial ingredients for reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Technology can help reach the SDGs: it allows for accurate risk assessment and prediction, higher transparency and accountability in natural resource management, and an improved capacity to inform consumers and markets. To ensure sustainable development, however, collaboration is key. Therefore, the UN has called for a global digital ecosystem. We at Google are deeply committed to drive sustainable change. So how is our technology contributing to a sustainable future? Please read along to find out.

Digital ecosystem

Quite ironically, 68% of the 93 environmental SDG indicators cannot be measured due to a lack of data. Imagine the progress to be made. Although our data generation has skyrocketed, we have no global common strategy or governance framework to monitor our natural resources. Therefore, the latest UNEP Foresight Brief calls for public-private collaboration to build a global digital ecosystem for our planet.

By connecting individual data sets with rapid analysis, a global digital ecosystem can create reliable, real-time environmental insights and intelligence. It will ultimately provide actionable evidence on the state of our environment. By creating and deploying data and frontier technologies, a global digital ecosystem can guide the political and corporate action needed to resolve the environmental and climate crises and shape a sustainable future. 

As parts of this digital ecosystem, Google’s AI (artificial intelligence) and cloud technologies help monitor, detect, and predict threats. This fits Google’s mission like a glove: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Google technologies can unlock novel insights that contribute to the protection and sustainable use of our natural resources. Let’s take a look at two examples.

Data-driven global wildlife conservation

Biodiversity is under pressure globally. Currently, we are on the verge of a sixth mass extinction event. Conservationists worldwide are using camera traps to capture wildlife, but most images do not get analyzed or shared efficiently. Reliable data to monitor and act upon the changes in wildlife populations is lacking. Enter Wildlife Insights, a Google Cloud-based AI-enabled platform that uses artificial intelligence to automatically identify the captured species, saving valuable time. Further, Wildlife Insights unites the images into a global database. Anyone can explore data from projects and use this to influence policy and corporate actions. By allowing for near real-time analysis, Wildlife Insights leverages Google’s technology for effective wildlife monitoring. The video below explains how.

Monitoring freshwater change

Droughts are an issue affecting everyone. Yet, SDG 6, to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, proves difficult to measure. 80% of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) member countries were unable to provide national statistics in 2017. Therefore, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), Google, and UNEP joined forces to design the sdg661.app for water ecosystems. The app enables everyone to access detailed data on the changes in surface water everywhere in the past thirty years. The app features tables and maps at both national and water body levels, which are more easily manageable than data from the previously-released Global Surface Water Explorer. Both solutions rely on AI to automatically detect the presence or absence of water. Currently, this data is used as a global baseline for SDG indicator 6.6.1: change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time. The app provides scientifically sound, free data to inform environmental policies. An excellent example of how technology supports a globally consistent way of monitoring the SDGs and addressing water scarcity challenges.

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