Global economic recovery – where are we at?

6 Dec 2021 10:00h - 11:00h

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The post-COVID-19 environment has underscored the concerted action to revive the global economy and promote growth.  It has also shown the importance of investing in ICT and making it available for all. Since the digital divide has become the most visible trace of global inequality, and since ICT is an accelerator of equitable and sustainable growth, closing the digital gap is of utmost priority.

The pandemic has accelerated digitisation of societies. Digital technologies are imperative for most activities, from working to shopping and socialising. As a consequence, Mr Boštjan Koritnik (Minister of Public Administration, Slovenia) highlighted the importance of investment in not only infrastructure, but also skills, so actors can actually benefit from technology. Moreover, as technology permeates the whole of society, it is vital to ensure that it is trustworthy, human-centric, and focused on fundamental rights and values.

Although investment in expanding digital infrastructure is needed, it is increasingly clear that digital technology can assist mankind in achieving many policy goals, including the sustainable development goals. According to Mr Janusz Cieszyński (Secretary of State for Digital Affairs at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister and Government Plenipotentiary for Cybersecurity, Poland), digital transformation will be highly relevant to accelerate the speed with which we move towards these goals.

Mr Liu Zhenmin (Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, UN) called attention to the unequal nature of the post-pandemic economic recovery. Although economic growth is projected to expand by 5.6 % in 2021, the level of growth of half of UN countries will not return to pre-pandemic standards this year. Vaccination, economic stimulus plans, and access to digital technology have played significant roles in economic recovery. Approximately 3.7 billion persons have no access to the internet and have been left behind in the transition to e-working and e-learning, for example. The acceleration of digitalisation requires international cooperation.

Ms Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana (Executive Secretary, UNESCAP) reminded the audience that the Asia-Pacific region remains the most digitally divided region in the world. While the region hosts world leaders in terms of technology development, more than half of its 4.1 billion people remain offline, and only 5% have access to high speed internet. With the pandemic, the digital divide could have widened. The challenges created by the pandemic have also created some opportunities, according to Alisjahbana. On the supply side, investment in connectivity and digital technologies is scaling up in the region. On the demand side, investment in digital literacy has also been enhanced. The pandemic has also strengthened partnerships between governmental and non-governmental actors.

The emphasis that the pandemic has given to the expansion of connectivity was corroborated by Ms Doreen Bogdan-Martin (Director, International Telecommunication Union (ITU)). According to figures from ITU, connectivity levels grew 17% in the last two years. At the same time, the social burden of exclusion from the internet became heavier than ever for the 37% of the world population who still do not have access to the internet. Bogdan-Martin also highlighted the importance of multistakeholder action in addressing the problems related to connectivity. An example of a spirit of collaboration was the way in which the industry kept up with the unprecedented level of demand for data and internet traffic. Just like the COVID-19 challenge, the global connectivity challenge is too demanding for any single entity to tackle.

Ms Simonetta Di Pippo (Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)) underscored the leadership of the UN Secretary General and the importance of the Digital Cooperation report; she also prepared the ground for the important discussions that will take place in the Common Agenda Summit in 2023.

Moving forward, investment in infrastructure, in the provision of public services online, and investment in skills are some of the priorities. Being connected is not a matter of choice or preference, but a necessity, as summarised by Koritnik.

By Marilia Maciel

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