UNGA 77 in brief: digital and beyond
UNGA 77 final report
Diplomacy returned to New York in its pre-pandemic form, with almost all country leaders addressing the UN General Assembly in person between 20 and 26 September 2022. Statements reflected the gloomy times in global politics by and large. Yet, certain signs of hope are featured in statements from, in particular, small and developing countries.
Digitalisation featured prominently in those statements looking beyond the rather dismal geopolitical reality shaped by the Ukraine war and the climate, food, and energy crises. The internet still is a global communication network that crosses various ideological and policy divides.
This retrospect on the UNGA 77 will provide summary of the covering of digitalisation and Our Common Agenda in national statements.
You will also find UNGA in Numbers, prepared by Diplo’s AI and Data team. As illustrated below, there is a clear upward trend with more and more countries referring to digital issues each year, with the exception of 2020, when the virtual UN General Debate focused almost exclusively on the imminent threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. With 91 countries and the EU addressing digital in 2022, the number of countries mentioning digital issues has almost doubled in 5 years' time.
Diplo’s researchers have divided the numerous digital topics into 3 main categories described below:
- Digital economy and governance
- Digital rights
Cybersecurity: peaceful cyberspace in demand
Cyber vulnerabilities reflect our growing dependence on new technologies, as highlighted by India and Nepal. For example, as noted by Albania’s Prime Minister, this country experienced a large-scale cyberattack in July targeting the entire government's digital infrastructure where 95% of services to citizens and businesses are offered online. Moldova and Serbia also noted that they face ‘hybrid threats, from disinformation and propaganda, to cyberattacks and energy pressures’, and ‘hybrid war’, respectively.
‘Trust and transparency are legitimate expectations of a more digitised world’, India noted. The importance of trust was also stressed in the statement by Singapore, which pointed out that ‘erosion of trust and an atmosphere of confrontation will only breed cyberthreats and malicious cyber activities’. Monaco and Latvia underlined that cyberspace must not be turned into a battlefield, while Estonia noted it already has: ‘Russia has demonstrated how state-provided malicious cyber tools are used alongside conventional weapons,’ specifically making reference to the Viasat cyberattack of 23 February 2022.
Monaco underlined the need for a set of common rules to keep cyberspace from spiralling out of control and destroying our democracies. Nepal and Finland called for necessary safeguards to curb the malicious use of new technologies. Jamaica underscored that steps to protect cyberspace and its physical infrastructure must be taken, to ensure the availability of the internet to all users. The Philippines highlighted the formation of legal rules which would prevent the weaponisation of AI, while Rwanda noted the potential of emerging technologies such as AI in the area of peace building and counter-terrorism.
The need for cooperation and multilateral efforts of the international community to enhance cybersecurity were stressed by Nepal, India, Tonga, Samoa, and Bulgaria.
Albania urged the UN to focus more seriously and concretely on cybersecurity issues, by investing in prevention and by helping member states build resilience. Cybersecurity is an essential component of the UN international peace and security agenda, according to Estonia. Slovakia, Argentina, Russia, Togo, and the USA welcomed the work of the UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security. The USA also stated that it is working to hold accountable those who use cyberattacks to threaten international peace and security. Slovakia noted that the efforts towards a so-called Digital Geneva Convention are ‘justified and needed’.
Sri Lanka, which is implementing the nation’s first Information and Cyber Security Strategy, has identified the importance of establishing a partnership-based approach to protect cyberspace and to confront multinational cyber threats. Cyber defence was also noted as one of Israel’s priorities. Togo underscored its contribution to regional cybersecurity efforts by clarifying that it had hosted the first Pan-African Cybersecurity Summit in Lomé in 2022; this summit resulted in the Lomé declaration on cybersecurity and the fight against cybercrime.
Cybercrime was identified as a threat by Czechia, Kenya, Jamaica, and Zimbabwe. Uruguay underlined that the primary responsibility for the fight against cybercrime lies with the UN. Support for the work of the Ad hoc committee to elaborate an international convention on countering the use of ICT for criminal purposes was voiced by several countries, including Jamaica, Togo, Russia, and the Holy See. Uruguay has also formalised its request to the Council of Europe to adhere to the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, currently the most widely spread cybercrime legislation.
Violent extremism was spotlighted at the Christchurch Call Leaders’ Summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The signatories spoke about incident response, the ongoing challenge of terrorist and violent extremist content, algorithms, radicalisation, gender, and the future focus of the call.
The topic was further mentioned during the general debate by Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates, Russia, and New Zealand. UAE underlined that it is imperative to adopt international rules and regulations that prevent terrorists from obtaining advanced weapons and technology. As one of the co-sponsors of the Christchurch Call, New Zealand urged countries to join the Call, noting that the Call Community has improved crisis response, prevented live streamed attacks, and put in place crisis protocols to prevent proliferation. It has also made efforts to understand those interactions between the online environment and the real world that can lead to radicalisation. New Zealand also mentioned the launch of the Christchurch Call Initiative on Algorithmic Outcomes, which aims to understand the consequences of algorithms on people’s online experiences.
Digital economy, governance, and society
The interplay between digital transformation and economy has appeared time and again in national statements of the UN member states, who saw digital as an important agent of economic growth.
Inequalities arising from the uneven distribution of digital technologies have been addressed by and large. ‘[A] country’s economic resilience is often a reflection of how digitally advanced it is’, noted Jamaica, highlighting the need to ensure a level playing field in the digital economy, along with Malta. Numerous countries, such as Cambodia, Samoa, Lesotho, Namibia, Guinea-Bissau, Bhutan, and Kenya, prioritised investment in digital infrastructure, inclusive digital policies and regulatory frameworks, and concerted efforts to enable citizens worldwide to make the most of digital technologies. According to Kenya’s president, the driving force behind these efforts is the conviction that these measures will provide ‘a viable shortcut to poverty reduction and the promotion of inclusive development’. Empowering women and youth for the digital age is paramount as well, as noted by St Kitts and Nevis, who will continue to put women and youth at the forefront of the country’s social development programs and advancement of the digital economy.
Digitalisation as the key driver of change
To advance the use of science, innovation and science diplomacy, Switzerland has created the GESDA Foundation, the Geneva Science Diplomacy Anticipator, which anticipates the challenges posed by new technologies to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks for humanity.
Digital government, i.e. the digitalisation of public services, is an ambitious initiative that many countries embarked on, especially following the COVID-19 outbreak, to preserve the continuity of public services delivery. Latvia, Mongolia, and Malta are among the countries that shared their e-government experiences and best practices. They also pointed to the need for enhanced cooperation in these areas at the regional and international levels.
Digitalisation is an important driver of other services, such as agriculture and healthcare. Samoa uses e-agriculture applications for information sharing among farmers, while Guyana is investing in new technologies and smart agriculture which in turn could position it as a leading food producer in Caricom.
E-health is also a priority for Samoa, which recently launched an e-health system to improve medical record keeping and strengthen health information and vital statistics. A number of countries, including Nauru, Bhutan, and Togo, underlined the need to develop an e-health system in preparation for future health risks.
To achieve the promises of digital transformation, universalising access to digital technologies is critical, as noted by Argentina and the Republic of Korea. The UN’s role in mobilising support for these initiatives is essential.
Many countries shared best practices and positive results from developing and adopting digital technologies. We have observed several ‘national champions’:
- The Central African Republic, which is the first in Africa to adopt bitcoin as a reference currency and the first in the world to adopt the bill governing digital currencies.
- Brazil shared that it is the 7th most digitally advanced country in the world and a pioneer in 5G deployment in Latin America.
- Korea is implementing an ambitious e-government initiative and supporting developing countries in adopting digital government solutions.
- Panama undertook several ambitious projects to ensure the continuous provision of services during the COVID-19 pandemic, being the first Latin American country to implement a centralised traceability and monitoring system for communicable diseases.
- Malta ranks first in the EU in terms of e-government, and 5th in the EU Digital Economy and Society Index.
Investing in digital citizenship
While digital technologies offer vast opportunities, many countries recognise the importance of preparing their citizens for the digital age and equipping them with the necessary skill set. Most of them (Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Singapore, to name but a few) addressed the gap between digital haves and have-nots within and between countries. Several countries like Lesotho and St Kitts and Nevis pointed to the need for digital empowerment of citizens.
Kenya, Guyana, Namibia, Georgia, and Monaco also drew emphasis on digital capacity development, spotlighting the need for transforming education and preparing the workforce for 2030 and beyond. Referring to the latter, Fiji, Malta, and Rwanda stressed the importance of increasing the number of high-quality jobs in the technology sector, whilst the Philippines touched on the possible downsides of all-encompassing automation, considering the possible displacement of human labour.
Digital rights and related challenges
The discussion on the challenges of digital rights raised concerns over the increase in the spread of disinformation, propaganda, hate speech, and internet shutdowns. Additionally, states demonstrated that access to education is greatly affected by its dependence on technology and digitalisation. Therefore, states called for an immediate response to combat such challenges, while ensuring human rights protection and equal distribution of technical resources.
Spread of disinformation and online hate speech
Latvia stated that the COVID-19 pandemic and the current geopolitical challenges show the necessity to increase society’s resilience through the combat of disinformation, promotion of media literacy, and enhancement of media freedom. As such, Latvia is preparing for the 11th Global Media and Information Literacy, aiming to enhance critical thinking and ‘build immunity to disinformation.’ Mauritius and Bulgaria highlighted the need to create a safe digital world, combat the spread of disinformation, and ensure the online protection of human rights. Nigeria and Monaco drew attention to the rise of hate speech and the spread of divisive disinformation and have thus called the international community to come together and take steps, while also ensuring the protection of the freedom of speech.
Slovakia addressed how the rise of social media platforms has affected the increase of propaganda and disinformation and stated that such platforms should be guided by the same democratic rules that apply offline. New Zealand mentioned that disinformation poses an equal threat to norms it values and thus aims to understand more about this issue through Christchurch Call Initiative on Algorithmic Outcome.
Lastly, Belgium, Moldova, and North Macedonia stated that the international community faces hybrid threats from disinformation, propaganda, and illegal interference with free elections, to cyberattacks.
Latvia emphasised the importance of ensuring that the internet is open, reliable, and secure. This was also addressed by the Czech Republic, where attention was drawn to the increase in internet shutdowns and the need to ensure a free, open, safe, secure, and stable cyberspace, where human rights are protected. Additionally, the Czech Republic noted that digital space carries risks that infringe human rights and democracy, and that the misuse of technology, especially the spread of disinformation, is something to beware of.
Access to technology and the right to education
Rapid technological changes, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, have had a great impact on students’ access to education, Guinea, Sri Lanka, and Kenya noted. The absence of technical resources and access to the internet has disrupted students’ learning process. As such, Bangladesh and Jamaica emphasised the need to ensure equal and fair access to technologies.
Guinea explained how COVID-19 demonstrated the world’s dependency on technology and digital connectivity. It called for urgent action, including the restructuring of the international financial architecture and the building of digital infrastructure. This was also demonstrated by Vanuatu, as students in this country could not have online classes due to the lack of connectivity. Vanuatu highlighted the need to ensure the prioritisation of digital inclusion.
At the same time, Spain aspires to play the leading role in the digital transformation of education, as the UN Technology Centre for the digitalisation of education (GIGA) will be established in Barcelona, following Spain’s collaboration with UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union. Spain also stated that it participated in the Transforming Education Summit, where the session touched upon the consequences of the pandemic in education and how technology has helped to overcome the barriers to making in-person lessons impossible. The Republic of Korea, Panama, and Georgia also stated that they have been investing in digital education to ensure equal and fair access to education for all students.
With the help of Diplo’s AI and Data team, we observed the prevalence of various technology-related prefixes. The dominance of 'digital' (125 instances) comes as no surprise as most countries referred to concepts containing digital, e.g. digital divide, digital economy, digital transformation, etc. As somewhat expected, 'cyber' came in second place with 66 mentions, in terms such as cybersecurity, cybercrime, cyber threats, cyberspace, and the like. Other prefixes were used to a much lesser extent.
The map below shows the use of various prefixes worldwide.
Beyond digital – other important issues addressed at the UNGA 77
Our Common Agenda
There was an overwhelming support for 'Our Common Agenda' (OCA) expressed by the member states during the UNGA 77, with a focus on multilateralism, UN reform, and the holistic approach of OCA in the broader context of the 2030 Agenda and the upcoming Summit of the Future. Out of the 190 UN members who delivered high-level statements, nearly one quarter (24.7%), or 47 members, mentioned OCA in their respective speeches. UN Permanent Observers – the Holy See and the State of Palestine – did not refer to OCA.
Moreover, Secretary-General António Guterres, in his opening remarks, also referred to his report, and expressed hope that the UN member states will seize the opportunity to turn the ideas outlined in the report into concrete solutions. While the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, stated the EU's support for the agenda, linking it with the Summit of the Future, and underlined that these processes must serve as 'a game changer'.
With the two high-level representatives, 49 speakers addressed this landmark report. The map below shows mentions of OCA worldwide.
European nations showed the greatest interest in this report. Reform focus, modernisation of the UN, and strengthening multilateralism were the main focal points of European support for the OCA. Eight nations focused on reform. In support of Our Common Agenda, Estonia described this work as ‘a Herculean task, because the world is torn apart; we witness the constant brutal violation of the core principles of the UN Charter on every continent’. Sixteen European countries referred to the OCA.
Africa looked to the future. For it, the OCA represents the blueprint for creating a better world where we will all thrive – a world based on multilateralism and solidarity in addressing pressing issues that await current and future generations. According to Benin, the world is at a crossroads, either to remain passive and favour the continuation of disintegration or to act resolutely to build a better, greener, and safer future. Six nations expressed support for the UN 'Our Common Agenda' with linkages to the upcoming Summit of the Future, while four nations focused on reform in their speeches. Interestingly, countries from eastern Africa did not mention the OCA. Fifteen African countries referred to the OCA.
For Asia, the course set forth in the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda should not vary in the world's current and future challenges. In that light, Asia welcomes the OCA report. Commitment to the sustainable development goals and the 2030 Agenda remains integral to their national and global agenda. Most Asian countries underlined their dedication to multilateralism and an international system founded on the rule of law that supports peace and stability. In seven statements, the reform was highlighted, with Bhutan and Japan addressing it the most. UN 2.0 was the term used by the Maldives and Kazakhstan in their calls for UN reform. Ten Asian countries referred to the OCA.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, only 4 out of 33 nations referred to the OCA. Youth and future generations aspects of the OCA featured highly in statements by the Caribbean states. Saint Lucia called for comprehensive youth empowerment via political representation, transforming education, and skills training. The Bahamas called for youth engagement. The Bahamas support the 2030 Agenda, while Peru noted that the OCA provides a blueprint for a more effective multilateralism, and underlined that the OCA must be linked to compliance with the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. Chile welcomed the report, as well.
Two Oceanian countries, Samoa and Papua New Guinea, voiced their support for the Secretary-General’s call for transformation and global solidarity in the report ‘Our Common Agenda’ – with linkages to the SDGs and 2030 Agenda. Papua New Guinea also called for formulating ambitious, yet realistic and workable solutions to the multiple crises we are now facing at the Summit of the Future.
The OCA, in the wider context of the 2030 Agenda and SDGs, was supported, in particular, by many small states. This is no surprise as small states recognise the valuable role of multilateralism, the rule of law, and international cooperation. Our research classified every country with fewer than 1 million citizens as a small state. A total of 24.3%, or 9 out of 37 small states mentioned the OCA. These include Andorra, the Bahamas, Bhutan, Cape Verde, Iceland, the Maldives, Saint Lucia, Samoa, and San Marino. For small island states such as the Bahamas, Cape Verde, Maldives, Seychelles, Saint Lucia, and Samoa, the OCA is tightly linked to the urgent issue of climate change. Kuwait was the only member of the Arab League that referred to the OCA. While, when it comes to the wealthiest nations in the world, those that make up the G20 group, only Japan, the EU, and South Africa supported the OCA.
Regarding Youth and future generations aspects of OCA, besides the already mentioned Caribbean states, the Maldives, Sweden, and Saint Lucia encouraged the formation of a UN Youth Office. Saint Lucia supported the appointment of a Special Envoy for Future Generations. Andorra called for greater involvement of younger generations in decision-making. Bulgaria, Bhutan, Chad, Estonia, Iceland, Kuwait, Namibia, Slovenia, South Africa, and Thailand also made reference to future generations. When it comes to the OCA aspect of placing women and girls at the centre, 28 out of 47 nations referenced the term 'women', 3 'woman', 18 'girl', and, lastly, 14 referenced 'gender' in their statements. Andorra called for gender equality and empowerment of women. Belgium urged to keep fighting for the right of women to equally participate in all domains of decision-making rights. Bulgaria underlined that it firmly promotes the rights of children, women, and girls. ‘Women deserve an equal seat at the table’ the Maldives stated and noted that they are advancing many legislative and executive initiatives to promote women’s representation. Sierra Leone believes ‘we must therefore garner multilateral support to achieve and sustain gender equality and the empowerment of women in our lifetime’. The EU expressed its solidarity for all women experiencing suffering, especially those in Afghanistan, Iran, and Ukraine.
UNGA in Numbers
Below are some of the most frequently addressed non-digital terms and concepts from this year's UNGA.
African participation at the UNGA 77
Africa has been and continues to be Diplo’s key focus area in achieving its mission of improving the role of small and developing states in international affairs. We have therefore observed the participation of African countries at UNGA and the issues that were high on their agenda.
African countries expressed continued support for achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and Africa Agenda 2063. Recognising the global threat to peace and security presented by various challenges, in particular, the climate change, terrorism, and armed conflict, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, African countries called for collective action utilising regional and international mechanisms and strengthening multilateralism. Benin called for multidimensional partnerships as means of achieving the SDGs, while Algeria called for the activation of multilateral action in the face of common challenges.
The statements by African leaders called for mobilisation and equitable access to resources, with 24 countries mentioning the use of digital technologies for sustainable socioeconomic development. Botswana, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Namibia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan see digitalisation in the delivery of services as a solution and effective means of delivery of SDGs. Consequently, the need to address the challenges of hate speech and disinformation is now more in focus with Equatorial Guinea, Mauritius, Togo, and Nigeria calling for an international joint effort to do so. Innovation and the use of new technologies have captured the attention of the Central African Republic considering cryptocurrency, and Sierra Leone, Namibia, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe considering innovative financing and technical models in facilitating inclusive access to digital technologies in education, agriculture and health services.
77th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 77)
13 Sep 2022 09:00h - 27 Sep 2022 17:00h
New York City, US