Globally, people are faced with social justice, human rights, and environmental protection issues. In order to address these problems, the United Nations (UN) developed “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” in 2015 (Yin 3). This framework comprises 17 global goals intended to help the world achieve a more sustainable future. In particular, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 9 is concerned with innovation, industry, and infrastructure. Its objectives are to “build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation” (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica 146). This goal is linked to sustainability because it encourages countries to build adequate infrastructure to support the necessary services such as healthcare and education, develop the industry to ensure high employment rates and living standards, and invest in research and development. This paper aims to compare Italy and China in terms of where they stand with their SDG 9 issues.
The first element of SDG 9 is infrastructure. According to the 2019 Agenda, countries should “develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure,” as well as make it sustainable, resource-efficient, affordable, and accessible (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica 147). One way to assess the country’s infrastructure is by evaluating the population’s access to communication technology and transportation. In Italy, more than 70% of households have a fixed or mobile broadband connection, and over 65% of individuals aged six and older use the Internet (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica 157). The Italian transport infrastructure meets SDG 9, particularly because different population categories use its public transport, and its share of rail and inland waterways is 1,92 in total freight transport (Giovannini et al. 47).
In China, a broadband connection is reported to be provided on the “village level,” implying that even the rural population has access to communications technology (China’s Progress Report 43). The total number of mobile communications base stations is 6.48 million, of which 3.72 million are 4G stations (China’s Progress Report 43). As for transportation, the national railway operates over 131,000 km; rural highways amount to over 4 million kilometers, and more than 97% of roads in towns and administrative villages are hardened (China’s Progress Report 43). Thus, one may conclude that both countries meet SDG 9 by providing accessible infrastructure.
Another element of SDG 9 is innovation, which refers mainly to countries’ investments in research and development. In China, the total spending on R&D was 2.18% of the country’s GDP in 2018 (China’s Progress Report 44). The R&D workforce in full-time equivalent reached 4.19 million person-years, and the contribution of technological and scientific advances to economic growth was estimated to be 58.5% (China’s Progress Report 44). In Italy, the R&D employees in full-time equivalent amounted to 22 per 10,000 inhabitants. The spending on R&D reached 1.37% of GDP, which is lower than the European target of 3% (Giovannini et al. 65). Overall. However, the Italian research system is developing, it still lags behind other European countries in terms of the number of employees occupied in R&D (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica 159). Therefore, one may conclude that China performs better regarding innovation than Italy.
The industry is another important element of SDG 9, and, according to the 2030 agenda, countries should upgrade their industry sectors to make them more sustainable. In Italy, the value added by medium and high-technology manufacturing was 32.2% of the total manufacturing value added as of 2016 (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica 156). In China, this percentage was 13.9% for high-technology manufacturing and 32.9% for equipment manufacturing in 2018 (China’s Progress Report 43). Yet, in Italy, value added is spread unevenly among geographic regions; the North-East appears to have the most developed industry, while the South, Center, and islands experience less development (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica 156). No such distinctions were reported for China. Therefore, Italy has an issue of unequal industrial development, with some regions developing more than others.
Finally, an important challenge related to SDG 9, which is faced by both countries, is the intensity of CO2 emissions. Italy had one of the lowest levels of CO2 emissions among European countries in 2007-2017 and met SDG 9 regarding the amount of CO2 emissions per value added (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica 160). However, in 2020, the intensity of emissions compared to value-added decreased because of the crisis caused by COVID-19 (Giovannini et al. 65). Thus, Italy is currently experiencing the negative impact of the pandemic, which is reflected in its fulfillment of sustainability goals. China, it managed to decrease the energy intensity of its industrial enterprises by 13.18% in 2018 compared to 2015, resulting in a reduction of 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions (China’s Progress Report 43). Yet, another environmental concern is related to Chinese investments and infrastructure development activities. Under the Belt and Road Initiative, China aims to construct infrastructure to connect countries along the historic Silk Road (Yin 5). The country is faced with a significant challenge of whether it will be able to implement the planned construction projects without causing considerable damage to the environment.
In conclusion, Italy and China have successfully met SDG 9 aimed at building sustainable and resilient infrastructure and industry and fostering innovation. Both countries provide the population with accessible infrastructure, invest in R&D, and address environmental concerns. However, Italy is faced with the issues of a lack of human resources in R&D and unequal distribution of medium and high-tech manufacturing throughout the country. The main issue faced by China is sustainability since its international infrastructure projects can cause much environmental damage if the problem of pollution and energy efficiency is not addressed during their implementation.
China’s Progress Report on Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2019). Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, Web.
Giovannini, Enrico, et al. Italy and the Sustainable Development Goals: ASviS Report 2020. Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development, Web.
Istituto Nazionale di Statistica. 2019 SDGs Report: Statistical Information for 2030 Agenda in Italy. Istat, Web.
Yin, Wei. “Integrating Sustainable Development Goals into the Belt and Road Initiative: Would It Be a New Model for Green and Sustainable Investment?” Sustainability, vol. 11, no. 6991, 2019, pp. 1-22.