Sustainable Development Goals and the Internet

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  • 15-17 May 2017: The second Multistakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs considered how it can expedite delivery of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, noting financing challenges.[link] During the High-level Event on SDG Innovation (17 May), technologists from Silicon Valley presented ideas for achieving the SDGs, and urged UN Member States to foster a culture of risk-taking.[link]
  • 8-12 May 2017: the Commission on Science and Technology for Development discussed innovative approaches to support the implementation of the SDGs. 
  • 1-3 March 2017: The Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development was held between 1-3 March. The conference, hosted by the UN SDG Action Campaign and the Overseas Development Institute, discussed the latest innovations, tools and approaches to SDG implementation. This included sessions on data and technology in humanitarian crises, virtual reality, digital safety nets, and fake news.
  • 27 February 2017: At the Mobile World Congress, the United Nations Foundation and GSMA announced the ‘Big Data for Social Good’, which focuses on ‘amplifying and accelerating [the mobile] industry’s impact in achieving the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]’. Alongside increasing the impact on SDGs, the project aims at reducing the toll of humanitarian crises through insights from anonymised meta-data, and delivering a scalable response to crises by building common processes and mechanisms for planning and response.
  • 24 November 2016The ITU launched the Measuring the Information Society Report 2016, which includes a chapter on the role of ICTs in monitoring the SDGs. The chapter outlines each of the six indicators that are explicitly related to ICTs, explores the availability of data, and examines their current progress. These indicators include:
    • Proportion of schools with access to computers for pedagogical purposes & Proportion of schools with access to the Internet for pedagogical purposes (target 4.a - upgrade education facilities)
    • Proportion of youth/adults with ICT skills, by type of skills (target 4.4 - promote relevant skills)
    • Proportion of individuals who own a mobile phone, by sex (target 5.b - enhance enabling technologies to empower women)
    • Percentage of the population covered by a mobile network, by technology (target 9.c - increase access to ICTs)
    • Fixed Internet broadband subscriptions, by speed (17.6 - enhance cooperation on science, technology and innovation)
    • Proportion of individuals using the Internet (17.8 - enhance the use of enabling technologies, particularly ICTs)
      ​While there is a substantive availability of data to measure ICT infrastructure and adoption, data on other topics, such as ICT’s in education, skills, and gender equality, is often less substantial.
  • 19 September 2016: Sustainable development goals cannot be achieved without affordable and universal access to ICTs and broadband connectivity, members of the Broadband Commission said during their annual meeting, held on the eve of the opening of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly. During the meeting, the Commission addressed two issues: how broadband can support the equitable provision of health and education in all countries, and how to achieve the investment levels required for the rollout of global broadband infrastructure that connects everyone, everywhere.
  • 11-20 July 2016: The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development met for the first time in New York since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. Among other things, the Forum discussed the science-policy interface, and in particular the utility of ICT tools, forums and platforms. Furthermore, the UN's Global Sustainable Development Report, which assessed the progress made so far, confirmed that technology is essential for achieving the SDGs and for minimising trade-offs among goals; at the same time, it has also continuously added new challenges. 
  • 6-7 June 2016: The Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs took place in New York. To forum addressed the following questions:
  1. Why are science, technology and innovation essential for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?
  2. What are the main opportunities and challenges for maximising the contribution of science, technology and innovation to the achievement fo the Sustainable Development Goals?
  3. What are the key elements that countries and international organisations may need to take into account in formulating action plans?
  4. How can we deploy existing knowledge and new, innovative solutions and technologies and make them more relatively available to those who need them?
  5. What would be success criteria for the STI Forum in the coming years?

The Sustainable Development Goals

On 25-27 September 2015 in New York, governments unanimously adopted the resolution Transforming our World: Agenda 2020 for Sustainable Development. Among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is Goal 9.c, which aims to ‘significantly increase access to ICT and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020’. The Internet will also be essential for the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs. The next step will be to see how the goals can become reality in an increasingly digitalised world.

The new SDGs will create a new context for the negotiation of future global digital policy conducted in the context of the WSIS+10. The link between the two processes – SDGs and WSIS – has been analysed in several studies and publications, including the policy study Internet and Sustainable Development by the Internet Society, and the International Telecommunication Union's mapping between the 17 SDGs and the WSIS Action Lines.

Learn more about the UN Summit on the post-2015 development agenda.

The Internet and SDGs

The main concern before the launch of the SDGs was the lack of direct references to the Internet in the 17 SDGs. One explanation for this omission was that digital is ‘tacit’ and ‘assumed’ and touches on all SDGs. Starting from this assumption, many participants tried to map this ‘tacit’ SDG to the 17 actual SDGs by indicating how digital will a­ffect health, infrastructure, trade, and other specific SDGs. The most critical view was expressed during the WSIS Forum Interactive Session on E-health and Social Media (25 May 2015):

...there is deep disappointment in the health community that there are no ICT-related goals among the SDGs. ICT is as relevant today as during the time of the MDGs development, and its vital role is increasingly recognized in all sectors. To argue that ICT is cross-cutting and therefore not needed in the SDGs minimizes ICT’s contribution to development. It will be seen in the years to come as a fundamental omission and lack of leadership that cannot be rectified with governance forums and action lines.

This critical reflection opened real debate. The Internet is so instrumental for achieving the SDGs that any disruption or malfunction of the Internet will affect the overall development agenda. It does not need to be a technical failure (cutting of Internet cables, virus attack); it could also be a policy issue. For example, if Internet service providers filter access to a limited number of websites, it could affect access to the Internet in its full richness and, ultimately, affect most of the SDGs. Excerpt from Digital Watch 1 | page 3 (June 2015)

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September made, however, reference to the Internet. Goal 9.c. is to ‘significantly increase access to ICT and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020’. 

The Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) 

Paragraph 123 of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, as well as Paragraph 70 of the Post-2015 Development Agenda Outcome Document, called for the establishment of a Technology Facilitation Mechanism. This mechanism has the following components:

  1. The Inter-Agency Task Team on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for the SDGs. The Task Team works on 7 Work Streams and is comprised of entities that work on technology facilitation, including UNDESA, UNESCO, UNCTAD, the ITU, WIPO, UNIDO, UNEP and the World Bank.
  2. A collaborative annual multistakeholder forum on STI for the SDGs. The first edition will take place on 6-7 June 2016 in the UN Headquarters in New York.
  3. An online platform with information and resources about STI initiatives, mechanisms and programmes.
  4. 10-Member Group to support the TFM, comprised of representatives of civil society, the private sector, and the scientific community, to prepare the meetings of the multistakeholder forum.
On 3-4 March 2016, the first meeting between the 10-Member Group and the IATT on STI took place to discuss the organisation of the STI Forum.

IGF 2015: Agenda 2030 for sustainable development and access to the Internet

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provided the overall context for discussions at this year’s Internet Governance Forum held in Joao Pessoa on 10-13 November.  In the Opening Session, most speakers emphasised the fact that an open, free, and neutral Internet would empower sustainable development. In particular, Goal 9 of the agenda sets an ambitious target to ‘significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020’.

Access to the Internet is the main operational issue on sustainable development and the Internet. Technical infrastructure is necessary but is not a sufficient condition for full access to the Internet. As was indicated during Freedom of Expression Online: Gaps in Policy and Practice (WS 153), full affordability and accessibility requires a proper legal, economic, and social context. Users need skills in order to benefit fully from access to the Internet. On the economic aspect, the Broadband Commission’s 2015 targets suggest that the Internet is affordable if the cost of the access is not more than 5% of average monthly income.

The lack of data on the volume and cost of international traffic is a major problem for many policymakers in developing countries, as was indicated during Economics of the Global Internet (WS 112). Access has a high gender aspect as the World Wide Web Foundation’s recent report shows that women in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America are 50% less likely than men - with the same education, income, and age - to have access to the Internet.

The Roundtable on Small Island Developing States (WS 21) discussed innovative solutions for access to typically geographically remote small island states. The cost of laying undersea cables to serve low populated communities makes access to the Internet not particularly attractive to the corporate sector. The Roundtable discussed the possible use of zero rating services and the impact on small markets.

Learn more about IGF 2015, and read our comprehensive report on the annual meeting.


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