From 10-19 July, New York was the center of attention of the international development community, as it hosted the yearly High Level Political Forum (HLPF), this year themed ‘Eradicating Poverty and Promoting Prosperity in a Changing World’.
The HLPF adopted a thematic focus on 6 goals:
- Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
- Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
- Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
- Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation
- Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
In addition, the HLPF conducted and discussed 44 voluntary national reviews. At the end of the Forum, a Ministerial Declaration was adopted.
Although the HLPF discussed development in a holistic way, there were a number of references to digital policy. The most obvious case was the discussion on Goal 9, of which one of the targets is to significantly increase access to the Internet. Throughout the discussion, panellists and participants mentioned the trade potential of the Internet, building Internet infrastructure, access to information for disabled persons, and the future impact of automation and artificial intelligence. The session on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs also contained a number of references to the role of digital technology for development. Examples include the need to address the digital divide and increase digital literacy, the potential of mobile technology for farmers, the possibilities of big data and machine learning, as well as Internet as a global good.
Digital technologies were also referred to in sessions that were not directly linked to the Internet. In relation to agriculture, one participant talked about access to innovation as a way to reduce production costs for farmers. The discussion on health included a comment about the need to provide women and girls with access to information about health services. A number of country representatives mentioned their efforts in the area of e-government. A representative from Estonia emphasised the potential of e-government initiatives and the creation of a digital society to ensure progress towards the SDGs. Zambia’s Minister for National Development Planning referred to the country’s e-voucher system as an example of a measure to accelerate development efforts. Slovenia’s Minister for Development explained the government’s ‘digital solutions’.
Although discussions on digital technologies did not necessarily take center stage during the main sessions, the overwhelming number of side events (147) did provide an opportunity for discussion on the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs). For example, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) presented the report Fast-forward progress: Leveraging tech to achieve the global goals, which provides an analysis on the risks and opportunities in using ICTs for the SDGs. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched Spark, Scale, Sustain: Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals, which include a number of examples on the ways in which digital technologies can be leveraged for sustainable development.