An important question that is increasingly being addressed by international, regional as well as state and non-state actors is how digital technologies can fundamentally help us realise the sustainable development goals (SDGs)?
The most recent attempt to tackle this issue came from the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation that provides in its report ‘The Age of Digital Interdependence’ a set of recommendations intended to guide governments, companies, and individuals in making policy choices on our sustainable digital future. Other initiatives have also emerged in the past. In 2018, the annual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) tasked with the review and follow-up of the SDGs issued a Ministerial Declaration where it acknowledged that digitalisation and emerging technologies, in particular the ICTs could play a role in achieving the SDGs under review. It also highlighted the need to act proactively in order to address the (gender) digital divides. The impact of the Internet, data, artificial intelligence and other transformative technologies on the SDGs was also addressed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution A/RES/72/242 and A/RES73/17 adopted in 2017 and 2018 respectively while the 2018 Sustainable Development Goals Report dedicated an entire chapter to data as the accelerator behind the realisation of the SDGs.
Sustainable development is also a topic that has found its way onto the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) agenda. Over the years, roughly 320 sessions and workshops as well as official Forum themes (IGF 2016, IGF 2015, IGF 2012, IGF 2011, IGF 2007, and IGF 2006) explored how the Internet could support and promote sustainable growth.
Implementation of the SDGs is also tackled by the Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM). The TMF supports the SDGs through sharing of information, best practices and policy experience between multistakeholder actors, namely governments, scientific and research communities, the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders in the field of science, technology and innovation. The TFM consists of the following components:
- The Inter-Agency Task Team on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for the SDGs;
- Annual multistakeholder STI Forum for the SDGs;
- Online platform with STI with information and resources on initiatives, mechanisms and programs.
The latest edition of the STI Forum held from 14 - 15 May 2019 on the theme of ‘STI for ensuring inclusiveness and equality’ concentrated primarily on closing the digital divide between those who are connected to the Internet and those who are not. Analogous to the North-South divide, the digital divide is a consequence of rapid digitalisation that failed to ‘lift all boats’ and in turn caused economic and social exclusion of millions of individuals, in particular, vulnerable groups. As a phenomenon that exists at different levels i.e., within countries and between countries, between rural and urban populations, between the old and the young, and ultimately between men and women, digital divide does not only entail access to the Internet, but also encompasses a wider scope of issues such as affordability, awareness, and digital literacy. In 2018, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development adopted a framework ‘Targets 2025: Connecting the Other Half’ where it commits to, among other things, affordable broadband services, proficiency in sustainable digital skills and digital gender equality.