Technology can strengthen sustainable development and peace

Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

Development through digital transformation has gained significant traction over the last two years. United Nations agencies and other stakeholders have relied substantially on the digital component in their ongoing assistance to countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their ability to leverage digital progress has helped build resilience – and will remain crucial as the world recovers and, hopefully, builds back better.

But the pandemic is not the only crisis where information and communication technologies (ICTs) have come to play a fundamental role. Just a few months ago, the UN Country Team in Ukraine was finalizing its Digital Development Country Profile, broadly analysing the country’s digitalization status, providing updates on national and regional projects and activities, equipping decision-makers to advance digital development, guiding UN engagement in the country.

According to the latest International Telecommunication Union (ITU) data, 75 per cent of people in Ukraine used the Internet in 2020. Although this falls below the European average of nearly 85 per cent, Internet use grew steadily over the past decade. But what is Ukraine’s digital and ICT situation now?

The ITU Council recently adopted a resolution on “Assistance and support to Ukraine for rebuilding their telecommunication sector”. I was very pleased to see this reaffirmation of how ICTs can drive development and peace, and we at ITU look forward to implementing it in collaboration with UN partners once the war is stopped.

Expanding information and knowledge societies

Almost 20 years ago, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) laid out a vision for a world where everyone can create, access, utilize, and share information and knowledge online.

Since then, more people have had access to ever more promising technologies. As the recent UN progress report on the implementation of the WSIS outcomes notes, many expectations relating to technology and services have been exceeded—and successive waves of innovation in digital technology have shown significant development potential.

During my tenure as ITU’s Deputy Secretary-General, I have seen the WSIS community grow in diversity and strength. It now includes innovative thinkers, policy-makers, mayors, civil society, and business leaders from developed and developing countries alike – each bringing new perspectives.

The WSIS Forum is exemplary in bringing people together from around the world with the simple but powerful objective of sharing good ideas on practical ways to bring the benefits of the Information Society to people everywhere, making a real difference to people’s lives. Initiatives like the WSIS Stocktaking Repository of Women in Technology, the WSIS Multi-stakeholder Alliance on ICTs and Older Persons, and the WSIS Youth Campaigners embody this collaborative spirit, and seek the widest and most equitable distribution of digital assets and benefits.

The Forum’s interactive and far-reaching agenda highlights the benefits of ICTs in education, health, financial inclusion, climate change, accessibility, cybersecurity, smart cities, and more. This diverse and inclusive dialogue has been a driving force in extending global connectivity.

What’s next for WSIS?

The annual Council session over the past two weeks reaffirmed ITU’s leading role in the WSIS process in line with the wider pursuit of UN Sustainable Development Goals. The Council also appreciated the roadmap proposed by ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao for a 20-year review, with a focus on implementing the WSIS Action Lines for future global digital development beyond 2025.

Implementing WSIS outcomes is a collective effort. ITU looks forward to working closely with the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD), the UN Group on the Information Society (UNGIS), and other UN Agencies involved, as we continue advancing digital collaboration for social good.

Towards a sustainable digital future

Now, more than ever, the keywords are collaboration, coordination, and cooperation – nationally, regionally, and internationally. These objectives are on prominent display at ITU this year, with three of our global conferences happening in the span of a few months.

The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly in early March highlighted how digital technical standards can help create a more prosperous and sustainable future for all. The World Telecommunication Development Conference – set to take place in Kigali, Rwanda, in June – promises to mobilize unprecedented partnerships for global connectivity.

The proposed roadmap on the 20-year WSIS review, looking beyond 2025, will be submitted for consideration at the Plenipotentiary Conference, ITU’s highest decision-making body, which is to meet in Bucharest, Romania in September and October.

Discussions on the roadmap will continue at this year’s WSIS Forum, with weekly virtual sessions now underway. WSIS Forum 2022 will conclude with a week of both online and physical sessions at ITU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, between 30 May and 3 June. By participating actively in either format, you can help us shape a more sustainable digital future.

Let us focus on what unites us and not what divides us. Together we can build peaceful, sustainable societies and economies, where everyone, everywhere enjoys the many opportunities digital technologies can bring.

Based on Mr. Johnson’s remarks at the 25th session of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development.

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