UN Secretary-General issues policy brief for Global Digital Compact

As part of the process towards developing a Global Digital Compact (GDC), the UN Secretary-General has issued a policy brief outlining areas in which ‘the need for multistakeholder digital cooperation is urgent’: closing the digital divide and advancing sustainable development goals (SDGs), making the online space open and safe for everyone, and governing artificial intelligence (AI) for humanity. 

The policy brief also suggests objectives and actions to advance such cooperation and ‘safeguard and advance our digital future’. These are structured around the following topics:

  • Digital connectivity and capacity building. The overarching objectives here are to close the digital divide and empower people to participate fully in the digital economy. Proposed actions range from common targets for universal and meaningful connectivity to putting in place or strengthening public education for digital literacy. 
  • Digital cooperation to accelerate progress on the SDGs. Objectives include making targeted investments in digital public infrastructure and services, making data representative, interoperable, and accessible, and developing globally harmonised digital sustainability standards. Among the proposed actions are the development of definitions of safe, inclusive, and sustainable digital public infrastructures, fostering open and accessible data ecosystems, and developing a common blueprint on digital transformation (something the UN would do). 
  • Upholding human rights. Putting human rights at the centre of the digital future, ending the gender digital divide, and protecting workers are the outlined objectives in this area. One key proposed action is the establishment of a digital human rights advisory mechanism, facilitated by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to provide guidance on human rights and technology issues. 
  • An inclusive, open, secure, and shared internet. There are two objectives: safeguarding the free and shared nature of the internet, and reinforcing accountable multistakeholder governance. Some of the proposed actions include commitments from governments to avoid blanket internet shutdowns and refrain from actions disrupting critical infrastructures.
  • Digital trust and security. Objectives range from strengthening multistakeholder cooperation to elaborate norms, guidelines, and principles on the responsible use of digital technologies, to building capacity and expanding the global cybersecurity workforce. The proposed overarching action is for stakeholders to commit to developing common standards and industry codes of conduct to address harmful content on digital platforms. 
  • Data protection and empowerment. Ensuring that data are governed for the benefit of all, empowering people to control their personal data, and developing interoperable standards for data quality as envisioned as key objectives. Among the proposed actions are an invitation for countries to consider adopting a declaration on data rights and seeking convergence on principles for data governance through a potential Global Data Compact. 
  • Agile governance of AI and other emerging technologies. The proposed objectives relate to ensuring transparency, reliability, safety, and human control in the design and use of AI; putting transparency, fairness, and accountability at the core of AI governance; and combining existing norms, regulations, and standards into a framework for agile governance of AI. Actions envisioned range from establishing a high-level advisory body for AI to building regulatory capacity in the public sector. 
  • Global digital commons. Objectives include ensuring inclusive digital cooperation, enabling regular and sustained exchanges across states, regions, and industry sectors, and developing and governing technologies in ways that enable sustainable development, empower people, and address harms. 

The document further notes that ‘the success of a GDC will rest on its implementation’. This implementation would be done by different stakeholders at the national, regional, and sectoral level, and be supported by spaces such as the Internet Governance Forum and the World Summit on the Information Society Forum. One suggested way to support multistakeholder participation is through a trust fund that could sponsor a Digital Cooperation Fellowship Programme. 

As a mechanism to follow up on the implementation of the GDC, the policy brief suggests that the Secretary-General could be tasked to convene an annual Digital Cooperation Forum (DCF). The mandate of the forum would also include, among other things, facilitating collaboration across digital multistakeholder frameworks and reducing duplication; promoting cross-border learning in digital governance; and identifying and promoting policy solutions to emerging digital challenges and governance gaps.

UNESCO to train media in West Africa to use digital tools to cover environmental issues

UNESCO will implement a project in four African countries – Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon – to train news teams from leading media organisations to use digital tools for investigating and reporting on environmental issues.

Given the numerous presence of international and national extractive companies in Africa, Tawfik Jelassi, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, highlighted local media’s role in monitoring these companies’ activities and holding them accountable in case of environmental violations.

In addition to equipping media teams with skills to use technologies such as satellite imagery, databases on climate indicators, 3-D modelling, digital maps and others, UNESCO will also instruct them on researching public records for their coverage, including environmental laws and regulations.

After completion of the project, participants are expected to be able to expose actors who are not complying with environmental laws and commitments, identify discrepancies between officially released data and reality and dispute statements made by politicians.

World Economic Forum issues ‘State of the Connected World 2023’ report

The World Economic Forum and the Council on the Connected World published the State of the Connected World 2023 report exploring governance gaps related to the internet of things (IoT). The report outlines the findings of a survey conducted with 271 experts worldwide to understand the state of IoT affairs. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased IoT demand in health, manufacturing, and consumer IoT. However, there is a lack of confidence when it comes to matters such as privacy and security.

Two main governance gaps are identified: (1) a lack of governmental regulation and implementation of industry standards and (2) IoT users are more susceptible to cyber threats and cyberattacks.

One recommendation is for businesses and governments to develop and implement practices to improve privacy and security and create a more inclusive and accessible IoT ecosystem. The need to improve equal access to technology and its benefits is also underscored.

Lockheed Martin will work with NVIDIA to build an AI-driven Earth Observations Digital Twin for NOAA

Lockheed Martin, a global security and aerospace company, and NVIDIA, a global leader in accelerated computing, will collaborate to build an AI-driven Earth Observations Digital Twin for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It will provide NOAA with a centralised approach to monitoring global environmental conditions, including extreme weather events.

The project will use satellite and ground-based observations, which will be ingested, analysed, shared and visually represented by various platforms developed by the two companies.

Sci-Tech Empowering Rural Transformation 2022 Report: Digital Technology Empowers Agricultural Value Chain Development

The Sci-Tech Empowering Rural Transformation 2022 Report: Digital Technology Empowers Agricultural Value Chain Development, released at the 2022 International Forum on Digital Technology Empowering Rural Transformation, was prepared by the China Internet Information Center (CIIC), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Representation in China, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) China Office, the World Food Programme (WFP) China Centre of Excellence, the Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP-CSAM), AliResearch, and the Chinese Academy of Financial Inclusion.

The report outlines development trends linked to utilising science and technology for rural areas empowerment, and highlights best practices, focusing on those that are innovative, sustainable, and replicable. One key finding is that smart farming solutions and e-agriculture platforms and applications are contributing to optimising production, reducing costs, increasing knowledge sharing, and promoting sustainable development of agriculture.

Also included in the report are case studies in which the application of digital agricultural technologies helped farmers increase productivity with fewer resources while safeguarding the environment and reducing carbon emissions. It further looks at how digital technology has empowered Chinese value chains and supported the development of rural e-commerce and digital finance, thus alleviating poverty in the western and eastern regions of the country.

Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency launches digital system for environmental inspection and compliance evaluation

The Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD) launched ‘Eltezam’, a digital system for environmental inspection and compliance evaluation. The new system allows EAD inspectors to review any aspect of an organisation’s activities regarding potential environmental harms (regardless of whether the activities are listed in the organisation’s environmental licence).

The system is built on algorithms that connect industrial sectors with production processes and conditions.

Faisal Al Hammadi, Acting Executive Director of the Environmental Quality Sector at EAD, noted: ‘The agency has developed modern technological tools and programs that ensure compliance by industrial facilities and development projects with environmental laws and requirements.’

The Unit Head, Compliance and Enforcement at EAD, Ahmed Al Waheebi, said that this new digital system aims to strengthen EAD’s inspection role and expand its coverage to all industrial sectors, infrastructure projects, and commercial activities under its jurisdiction.

Nigeria revises enviornmental legislations to tackle e-waste crisis

A large amount of electronic waste
Nigeria revises enviornmental legislations to tackle e-waste crisis 4

On January 5, 2023, the Nigerian government announced a review of national environmental regulations to address the country’s long-lasting e-waste crisis. Nigeria is the largest gateway to the African continent for imports of electrical and electronic equipment. Annually, the country disposes and processes more than half a million tons of electronics and nearly 100,000 people make their living working in the electronics recycling sector.

The changes in the legislation were enabled by the Circular Economy Approaches for the Electronics Sector in Nigeria project, an initiative funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), led by UNEP and implemented by the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency of Nigeria (NESREA).

According to NESREA Director General, Prof. Aliyu Jauro:

“The revised regulations bind all manufacturers and importers of electrical equipment, e-waste collection centres, and recycling facilities to register with the E-waste Producer Responsibility Organization Nigeria (EPRON), marking an essential step towards the operationalization of a financially self-sustaining circular electronics network.”

Click here to find more information.

The UN CTCN is hosting a 3-day capacity building programme on the applications of digital agriculture technology

Between 14 and 16 December 2022, the UN Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), in collaboration with the Seoul National University Global R&DB Centre, is holding a 3-day capacity building programme on ‘Digital Technology Applications in the Agriculture Sector’ for National Designated Entities and officers from concerned Ministries of Agriculture.

The application of digital technologies in agriculture can help transform food systems, contributing to the three stages of sustainability, namely efficiency, substitution, and redesign. The workshop will introduce digital technology enhancements in sustainable agriculture and food systems. Technology, climate finance and policy experts will present current information regarding CTCN technical assistance projects focused on enhancing national capacities and sector-specific climate challenges. Participants will have the opportunity to co-design these projects.

EU lawmakers: Batteries produced in Europe to be the most sustainable in the world

The European Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement to revise EU rules on batteries. The new set of rules is to account for the current technological development and future challenges and will cover the entire battery life cycle: from the extraction of raw materials, to industrial production, to end-of-life disposal.

Once approved, the new regulation will be applied to all batteries sold in the EU, from portable batteries in electronic devices, to batteries used in electronic vehicles, e-scooters, and e-bikes. Moreover, all batteries must display a ‘carbon footprint declaration’, outlining the carbon expended in production. Batteries will also be required to contain QR codes that link to the information related to their capacity, performance, durability, and chemical composition.

The agreement, which is yet to be formally approved by the Council and Parliament, relates to a proposal for a regulation on batteries and waste batteries put forward by the European Commission in December 2020.

Bridging the digital divide with Public ICT Access Centres for access to free ICT literacy training and online education

In September 2022, the Ministry of Digital Transformation committed itself to the unveiling of up to 50 ICT Access Centres across the country by the year’s end. The commitment came on the heel of the release of the UNDP’s Digital Readiness Assessment Report in March 2022, which highlighted key problem areas for the country in its quest for whole-of-government, whole-of-society digital transformation as including:

1. The lack of access to broadband internet in public spaces and schools, regardless of area within the country.
2. Older residents and those outside of urban centres receive reduced digital benefits.
3. The effects of COVID-19 exacerbated digital divides on education level.

The Access Centres allow visitors to Connect and Create, Educate and Innovate, while the government has partnered with key organisations such as the Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA) Online Programme, YTEPP, and the Microsoft Philanthropic Group to bring these goals to fruition.

To this date, twelve centres have been installed, while five are open and ready to serve.