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Digital on Day 3 of UNGA78

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Digital on Day 3 of UNGA78: Bringing a digital focus to SDGs

Welcome to our daily coverage of the General Debate of the 78th UN General Assembly (UNGA). This summary provides a comprehensive overview of how digital issues were tackled during day three of discussions on 21 September 2023. For real-time updates and in-depth reports on UNGA78, follow our live coverage on the Digital Watch Observatory‘s dedicated page through DiploAI reports, written by our AI reporting tool.

Development: Bringing a digital focus to SDGs

Countries underscored the central role of sustainable development goals (SDGs) in their development agendas. These statements resonated with a broader interpretation of the SDGs in connection to ‘digital’, emphasising the critical importance of addressing digital transitions, reducing inequalities, promoting gender equality, and harnessing technology for sustainable development and well-being. Several countries recognised the profound significance of integrating digital advancements into their development strategies to achieve broader global goals. 

As we summarise what countries said, we also link their statements with the relevant SDGs.

President of Timor-Leste, José Ramos-Horta, emphasised the challenges faced in the digital age, particularly by women and children who continue to experience extreme poverty and deprivation of basic freedoms. This aligns with SDG 5 (gender equality), which aims to empower women and girls and promote their rights. Ensuring equal access to digital opportunities can contribute to achieving this goal.

Serbia acknowledged the importance of the fourth industrial revolution and new technologies for development. The country is actively investing in infrastructure, economic reforms, and improving the business environment, focusing on digitisation and education. The emphasis on digitisation and reform aligns with SDG 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure), which promotes technological progress. The focus on investment in infrastructure and education aligns with SDG 4 (quality education), which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education.

President of Dominica, Luis Rodolfo Abinader Corona, highlighted the role of ICTs in accelerating the realisation of the 2030 Agenda. This relates to SDG 9. Effective use of ICTs can facilitate progress in multiple SDGs.

President of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, pointed out the widening North-South digital divide, financial crises, and energy transition. This is connected to SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and bridging the digital divide can contribute to reducing other disparities as well.

President and Head of State of Nauru, Russ Kun, emphasised the need for support and technical expertise in utilising digital technologies for healthcare. This aligns with SDG 3 (good health and well-being), which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. Using e-medicine and digital technologies can improve healthcare access and outcomes. Nauru also discussed the potential of reviewing education delivery models and improving ICT infrastructure in schools; which is directly connected to SDG 4 – which also aims to ensure inclusive education. Integrating technology into education can enhance learning opportunities and prepare students for the digital future.

President of Albania, Bajram Begaj, recognised the need for comprehensive policy commitments to drive various transitions, including digital. This aligns with multiple SDGs, including SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 2 (zero hunger), and SDG 9. Comprehensive policies can facilitate progress across these areas.
Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, highlighted the importance of investing in infrastructure, education, and the green and digital transition. This aligns with SDG 4, SDG 7, and SDG 9. These investments can contribute to sustainable development in various aspects.

AI: Balancing challenges and opportunities

Our world is marked with complex realities, and disruptive technologies like AI that need to be tackled,  Federal Minister for European and International Affairs of Austria, Alexander Schallenberg, noted. AI, particularly in military contexts, has evolved into a focal point for global geopolitical rivalry, President of the European Council of the European Union, Charles Michel, noted. Prime Minister of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, underlined that the dual nature of AI demands informed discussions on its potential misuse. The technology must be regulated in a multilateral way, he underscored.
Nevertheless, amidst these challenges, there are positive developments to consider. President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, highlighted that Serbia has established an AI institute, which aims to assist the growth of the knowledge-based economy in the field of AI.

Security: Less focus on cyber threats

Only two counties mentioned cybersecurity during Day 3 of the discussions, which is a slight decline from 5 countries on Day 2 and 6 countries on Day 1. Prime Minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, acknowledged new risks in cybersecurity and highlighted the need for a collective approach to addressing security issues, underscoring the Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and Togolese Abroad of Togo, Robert Dussey, acknowledged that the African cyberspace is vulnerable to cybercriminals.

Digital behemoths China and France: Curiously silent

Upon noticing that the two digital behemoths, China and France, did not address digital issues during the General Debate, we decided to delve into our database of General Debate reports, dating back to 2017 to check if this silence is curious or to be expected.

2022: China acknowledged that societies are becoming increasingly digitalised. France did not mention digital issues.

2021: China expressed its commitment to advancing cooperation in the digital economy. France underlined that universal human rights must be upheld in the digital realm and highlighted plans for the EU’s Digital Markets Act. The country invited partners to join the Christchurch Call to Action and establish a new digital order.

2020: China did not mention digital issues. France emphasised the need for new governance to protect the digital space from capture, piracy and manipulation, highlighting its involvement in initiatives like the International Partnership for Information and Democracy and the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI). France stressed the importance of concrete actions from major operators and platforms and a commitment to regional legislation and regulation if these commitments are not met. The country also reflected on the significance of the post-Cold War era and the necessity to rethink global value chains, particularly in strategic sectors like health, digital technology, and AI.

2019: China did not mention digital issues. France expressed concern about rising trade tensions and the impact of technological changes. France also highlighted the unprecedented global scientific collaboration to identify and tackle challenges, including those associated with technological revolutions.

2018: China acknowledged the UN’s role in addressing non-traditional security challenges, particularly in areas like cyberspace. The country further emphasised the importance of upholding state sovereignty, following rules, and honouring responsibilities in the realms of cybersecurity. It strongly condemned terrorism and insisted that Security Council resolutions are diligently enforced to combat cyberterrorism, terrorist financing, and disseminate radical ideologies, addressing the roots of terrorism. France emphasised the importance of collective action in establishing contemporary rules for the digital transformation era, particularly in reconciling AI development with ethical guidelines. It pointed out that we can only maintain sovereignty and equality among nations through such collective efforts. France also called for the involvement of major non-state actors, particularly digital giants, in addressing issues like taxation and responsibility in countering information manipulation.

2017: China did not mention digital issues. France underlined the importance of combating terrorist use of the internet and their funding sources. France also announced plans to host a conference in 2018 to address this issue.

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