Accelerating Sustainable Development in the 4th Industrial Revolution

Harnessing today’s Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Scaling 4IR for the Global Goals

The technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution (e.g. Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and the Internet of Things, among others) are rapidly becoming mainstreamed, enabling transformation of entire systems and networks. Widespread change can be seen across companies, industries, countries and society as a whole. These profound shifts, touching nearly every sector, from incumbents being disrupted to entirely new 4IR-enabled business models, are creating new markets at an expedited speed and scale.

For all the potential that these technologies offer, however, they could also put greater stress on the Earth, its resources, and on our society. We should  ensure, therefore, that these technologies are harnessed in the right way, to fulfill their potential to revolutionize our world, transform the lives of people, and unlock new pathways to prosperity - fast-tracking sustainable development globally.

PwC is a knowledge partner to the World Economic Forum’s 2030 Vision initiative on how and where emerging technologies could tackle some of the world’s most pressing environmental, economic and social challenges, under the umbrella of the The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the accompanying 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This will include how to accelerate and scale 4IR for these goals as we embark on the decade of action to 2030. Our insight report with WEF launched at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos and looks in detail at the new technologies that can help meet the SDGs.

Read the insight report

Read the WEF/PwC report

New technologies have the potential to contribute significantly towards achieving the Global Goals

Through research, analysis and interviews with a range of stakeholders at the forefront of applying 4IR technologies across industry, technology firms and research, PwC has mapped over 300 technology applications across the Global Goals. This provides both public and private stakeholders with a broad understanding of technology applications that are currently being deployed to tackle the Global Goals - which they can use to help guide investment decisions, R&D efforts and technology governance.

PwC has identified some of the most prominent 4IR applications that are being implemented in practice today for each of the Global Goals.

Barriers to realising the full potential

The value of data can be unrealised and data access barriers are numerous. Data quality, volume and interoperability are significant bottlenecks to scaling innovations.

Technology maturity can vary greatly between technologies, across different Global Goals, from country to country and even within borders. In areas where infrastructure to support digital and other 4IR technologies is either underdeveloped or non-existent, implementation of new technological solutions is unsurprisingly a lot more challenging.

Technology advancement is also currently driven by a concentration of companies, which are headquartered predominantly in larger, more technologically-advanced economies. This puts into question the relevance of many technologies when used in differing contexts.


A wider pool of individuals with 4IR expertise will be important to develop the correct technology at scale. In addition to this, silos in public and private organisations are still prominent and may not adequately address the interconnected nature of the Global Goals and emerging technologies.

Inadequate financing models, coupled with investment gaps in developing countries, are limiting SDG progress. These are posing particular difficulties in areas less directly linked to private sector markets, or in more challenging geographies, hindering the maturation and scaling of solutions.

Furthermore, rapid technological advancements are regularly, and increasingly, outpacing governance and regulation, a gap that must be bridged.

Key considerations for business leaders and governments

Both public and private stakeholders are critical to realise the full potential of the 4IR -  without action from both, technology will not be scaled to achieve the Global Goals. Business as usual is not an option: choosing to “wait and see” will put impossible environmental and social strains on people and our planet. PwC works with both businesses and governments to help enable sustainable scaling of technology.

Explore the corporate leadership framework

Explore the government leadership framework

  • Responsible technology governance - How can responsible tech policy and management systems be developed that contain downside risks while not slowing the rapid pace of innovation?
  • Leadership - How can company- and country-level commitments be mobilised?
  • Partnerships - How can partnerships be formed to create impact and systemic change at scale?
  • Public policy - How can an enabling policy environment be created, which is agile, coherent and cuts across technology, sectoral, social and environmental domains?
  • Finance mechanisms - Which finance mechanisms enable scaling of 4IR solutions?
  • Breakthrough innovation - How can technology be prioritised, developed, and deployed to tackle society's biggest challenges?
  • Data and tools - What models of data collaboration and/or democratisation of data are required for public benefit?
  • Skills - How can the talent required to enhance value from the 4IR be developed?
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Contact us

Louise Scott

Louise Scott

Chief Operating Officer, Global Sustainability, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7734 958 942