Assessing the role of internet governance in the sustainable development goals (SDGs)

6 Dec 2016 11:00h - 14:00h

Event report

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The session started off with introductory remarks by Host Country Chair Mr Victor Lagunes, CIO, Office of the President, Mexico, highlighting Mexico’s efforts in making progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs), by strengthening local activities while supporting a multistakeholder dialogue in the long run. Brazil Ambassador Benedicto Fonseca Filho stated how the country is keen on supporting the ecosystem of Internet governance and is firmly committed to reaching the SDGs. Ms Karen McCabe, Senior Director of Technology Policy and International Affairs Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) explained the session format: open consultations, with comments and questions of in situ and remote participants being welcome. The stakeholder groups have been organised through the sitting arrangement as government and IGOs, technical community, civil society and academia, to be given the floor in a rotating fashion.

Mr Leni Montiel, Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) started by mentioning that the 2030 SDG, which consist of 17 goals and 169 targets, had their first anniversary in September this year. The UN motto ‘Leaving no one behind’ was underlined, along with the role that the Internet and ICTs can play in reaching the SDGs. Montiel mentioned that 53% of the world population and 3.9 billon women have no Internet access, while within the following year in least developed countries only 1 in 7 people would have Internet access. Touching on the gender divide, lack of online skills and content in native languages, Montiel pointed to the need for increased efforts in achieving universal access and taking bold steps to bridge the digital divide.

Ms Megan Richards, Principal Advisor in DG Communications Network, Content and Technology of the European Commission, talked about initiatives taken in Europe which will have implications worldwide. Highlighting the importance of the digital single market, she stated that these efforts would make Europe a better trading partner and a better global citizen. Mentioning the fact that EU is the primary aid donor worldwide, Richards also underlined how the EU has increased efforts to integrate digital technologies in development programmes and in achieving the SDGs. She said that ‘The goals aren’t only for the developing world, but for all countries and regions.’ Richards concluded her words by pointing at of the fact that Internet governance can be used as a model in other areas such as SDGs, where there are many topics which overlap with each other and call for collaboration between stakeholders.

Mr Daniel Sepulveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, US State Department, stressed how the USA believes the Internet and the multistakeholder model of governance are natural partners for the fulfilment of SDGs, that rely heavily on private-public cooperation. He highlighted the need for stakeholders to be committed to actions and not just agreements and discussions. He also touched on the need to meet the promise of transparency and accountability in a world where more developing nations have a seat at the table. Stating the commitment to overcome the digital divide (including its gender dimension), he continued by underlining the direct support thatSDGs can have from the Internet governance’s multistakeholder model. The example of achieving zero hunger through smart agriculture and satellite monitoring, the use of ICTs in closing the gender gap, increasing social inclusion and connecting poorer and rural areas – were also among the points made. Sepulveda concluded his remarks with stating the importance of ensuring that people had the skills and freedom to use ICT tools and the Internet, and how any of these goals could not be reached by further centralisation of the Internet.

Ms Doreen Bogdan, Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership Department of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), started by stating how the SDGs could not be fulfilled until universal and affordable access to ICTs and Internet is achieved. She continued with emphasising the need to create more effective, strategic multistakeholder partnerships to achieve the goals. Bogdan noted that ‘Universal, affordable access by year 2020 is an ambitious goal but not impossible by using strategic partnerships.’ She talked about real life stories from around the globe regardingmeaningful progress towards first five goals, and displayed how shortcomings are overcome using ICTs. She concluded by introducing a new multistakeholder initiative: a global partnership between ITU and UN Women launched to address the gender digital divide.

Mr Patrick Ho Chi Ping, Deputy Chair and Secretary General of China Energy Fund Committee, drew attention to the fourth industrial revolution seeing a rising tension between advancements in new technologiesand those being left behind. Even though basic needs are met, the Internet can expand horizons and help people lift themselves out of poverty. Ping underlined how this would not be easy since current estimates show the world will need at least 10 trillion dollars to invest in the Internet infrastructure by 2030. He mentioned that the development of Internet infrastructure was one of the key elements of China’s initiatives aimed to bridge the digital divide. He summed up by stating that no nation or society could succeed alone in reaching the goal of universal connectivity and innovation, and technology must put people first, since only this way sustainable growth and inclusive development could continue.

Mr David Souter, Managing Director of ICT Development Associates, started by pointing to the need to address the real challenges. He underscored how the 2012 Earth Summit’s outcome documents had very few references to the Internet, and the Internet seems to have been treated not as important as we think it is. Souter mentioned how human development problems are rooted in structural issues of economic resources and inequality, and that we need to understand why the least developing countries seem to be falling adrift in technological developments. He also suggested having development practitioners on related panels to hear real experiences and suggestions in reaching SDGs.

The session continued with participants sharing comments, suggestions, and best practices.

During the final part of the session, participants posed questions:

  • How can an open and free Internet be built if the only model is the market model?

  • If we cannot use ICTs properly as the ones who already have access, how can we expect the next billion to use them efficiently once they are connected?

  • Are we talking about Internet governance or the Internet itself?

Topics and issues touched upon by participants from all stakeholder groups included:

  • ICTs roles in achieving universal access

  • ICTs being a tool and not an end

  • Putting humans at the core of developmental challenges

  • The need to look at development through the perspective of individual countries

  • The importance of access to knowledge and how it can enable people to make better decisions for themselves

  • Marginalisation of labour and sustainability of employment in the age of digitisation

  • The importance of human capabilities for an open, secure, and stable Internet

  • Measuring the impact of ICTs in reaching the SDGs

  • Supporting governments in reaching the SDGs

  • Need for inclusion of development experts in the dialogue.

by Su Sonia Herring, Internet Society Turkey