The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Sustainable Development: The View of the United Nations


This article is about the UN resolution on "seizing the opportunities of safe, secure and trustworthy artificial intelligence systems for sustainable development".

Challenges and risks of AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become an integral part of numerous industries and areas of society, with uses ranging from automation in manufacturing and optimising supply chains to personalising educational opportunities and medical diagnostic procedures. The rapid development of these technologies offers enormous opportunities for growth and innovation, but it also raises questions about the long-term impact on society and the environment. Above all, ethical aspects must be taken into account to counteract any discrimination or reinforcement of social inequalities caused by AI. Implementing AI systems without adequate safety precautions can have serious consequences.

Goals and impact of the UN resolution

In this context, the United Nations (UN) has undertaken intense work regarding the importance of safe and trustworthy AI systems and the opportunities they present for society. In March, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution dealing with this issue. The aim is to take deliberate advantage of the benefits of AI and to limit the risk of AI being misused. AI should be used to contribute to sustainable development and ensure that human rights are protected.

Importance of AI for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The UN considers AI to be a key technology for achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Adopted in 2015, these comprise 17 main goals ranging from ending poverty to protecting the environment. AI can play a decisive role in this context by accelerating decision-making processes, offering new solutions to old problems and making systems more efficient. AI can also help by bridging digital divides and providing support for developing countries so that they can fully benefit from the digital transformation.

The future of AI and sustainable development

The UN resolution emphasises the need for continuous adaptation and discussions regarding governance of AI to keep pace with the rapid development of technologies. A flexible, adaptable approach is needed that takes the different needs and capacities of industrialised and developing countries into account. The resolution also emphasises the importance of collaboration between all stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society and academic institutions, to shape an inclusive and sustainable AI future.

Non-binding character

In contrast to the AI Act, which was also adopted in March 2024 by the EU Parliament and sets binding regulations for the EU Member States, the UN General Assembly resolution is not binding under international law and only is a political recommendation lacking enforcement mechanisms. However, it has a broader audience and must take the different stages of development in the implementation of AI in the various countries into account. Accordingly, the resolution mainly contains little more than general intentions and hardly any specific instructions for action. The AI Act, by contrast, is based on categorising systems into risk classes and provides for specific legal consequences such as fines. Other national regulations, such as those in the USA or Japan, are not binding to date.


The UN's initiative makes it clear once again that the role of AI in the future of sustainability is not just a technological issue, but a profoundly ethical one. Even if the UN resolution itself is non-binding, it can be seen as an important first step towards a coordinated and responsible global approach to the technology. It supports countries in establishing common basic principles and standards and, not least, raises awareness of the challenges and opportunities that AI offers worldwide. 

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