IGF 2021 – Opening ceremony

7 Dec 2021 09:00h - 10:30h

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The topic for this year’s UN IGF, a United Internet, means an accessible, friendly internet for all, an internet connecting all its users into one community, responsible for its shape and functioning. Poland’s President, Mr Andrzej Duda, in his welcome celebrated the power of the internet to facilitate the ability to connect in large numbers.

During the COVID-19 crisis the internet has proven to be enormously helpful in organising our lives to an extent that we could have never have foreseen just a few months ago, Ms Agata Konarska, a TV journalist, remarked. This confirms how precious and valuable a part of our lives it actually is. We are simply living in a digital world. Duda remarked that a digital transformation is simply a must for our global well-being; however, crucial questions still needed to be answered, such as:

    • How does digitisation change our lives?
    • How can we fully benefit from it globally?
    • What is our vision for future education?
    • Can we fully trust emerging technology?
    • How can we harvest its benefits?
    • How do we preserve human rights in digital space?
Konarska showed that in the two years from 2019, 782 million new users have used the internet. That is more than twice the population of the United States. Ms Doreen Martin-Bogdan (Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau) expanded on this, making reference to new data released by ITU last week that showed that the internet uptake dramatically accelerated during the pandemic with almost 800 million new users. However, 2.9 billion people or 37% of the world’s population remain without access to the internet. Mr Ralph Mupita (President and CEO of the MTN Group) stated that at best 40% of subscribers utilise smartphones, so 60% of subscribers are not fully utilising the internet.

The global pandemic has definitely accelerated the process of digitisation of individual areas of economic, political, and social life. It requires appropriate funding and the involvement of the younger generation. The organisers of IGF 2021 are aware that young internet users play a significant role in the development of the internet. Therefore, an important part of this year’s IGF is the youth IGF Summit.

Mr Liu Zhenmin (United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs) thanked the Polish Prime Minister, Mr Mateusz Morawiecki, for his timely participation as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts our lives and affects how we live, work, and interact with each other. Zhenmin introduced the pre-recorded address by the UN Secretary General from the UN headquarters in New York.

Mr Antonio Guterres (UN Secretary General) emphasised the life-changing power of the internet, a digital technology that is saving lives by enabling millions of people to work, study, and socialise safely online. Both Guterres and Zhenmin highlighted how the pandemic is also expanding the digital divide, leaving the unconnected behind. Morawiecki and Guterres spoke about the nature of the internet as a double-edged sword, positively improving lives through enhancements to health care; however, the dark side of technology is seen through the fast spread of misinformation and the manipulation of people’s behaviour.

Guterres called for unity and cooperation to address these challenges, along with the establishment of real rules to safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms. He hopes that by gaining control over our data, by eliminating hate speech, and by connecting everyone to the internet by 2030, these challenges may be confronted. Morawiecki highlighted the use of the internet as a weapon for state-sponsored cybersecurity attacks. He compared today’s challenges to the period of the establishment of the UN after World War 2 and the intent at that time to protect peace and stability.

Guterres underscored the crucial role of the IGF in shaping the conversation and highlighted the vision of an open, vigilant, secure future as described in the UN Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. Zhenmin echoed this, calling on the IGF to deliver on its promise to shape a digital future for the world during the COVID-19 crisis.

Ms Anna Kossiwavi Akpawu-Kamassa, a student at university in Togo, representing the IGF youth, hopes that through the pandemic the internet will address human rights issues; she has become committed to doing her part as an IGF youth representative to spread the benefits of the program to young people.

Ms Mirjam Kuhne (Chair of the RIPE Community), speaking on behalf of the technical community, indicated that the internet has kept us connected during this pandemic and, despite the additional load, it has kept running undisturbed because of the collaboration and coordination of the technical community and especially of those who operate and maintain the internet’s underlying infrastructure. This it includes the data centres and network operators who shared contact information and helped other operators even though they were competitors, especially at the beginning of the pandemic where many were in quarantine, or lockdown and could not go to work. Kuhne called for greater internet access for societies and advocated for more to be done to protect users online to ensure their security and privacy through public policy and legislative and regulatory authorities.

The Republic of Poland Plenipotentiary for UN IGF, Mr Krzysztof Szubert, summarised the first day of activities of the IGF, for which a very diverse community gathered, with 5,000 participants registered online and 8,000 participants registered in total. Discussions ranged from infrastructure, access to modern 5G and 6G infrastructure, digital services offered by the worlds of administration and the world of business. The competences of the digital world were discussed. The more we live in the digital world, the more we are affected by a number of concerns related to the digital world. Another area discussed was cybersecurity as seen from the perspective of enterprises, citizens, and members of the administration.

By Andre Edwards

Session in numbers and graphs

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Automated summary

Diplo’s AI Lab experiments with automated summaries generated from the IGF sessions. They will complement our traditional reporting. Please let us know if you would like to learn more about this experiment at ai@diplomacy.edu. The automated summary of this session can be found at this link.