This side event, organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), explored the potential of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in making societies more sustainable and resilient. The moderator of the session, Ms Ursula Wynhoven (Head of the ITU Liaison Office to the United Nations) played a short video with practical examples of how ICTs help drive progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs), after which she invited Mr Chaesub Lee (Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau) to deliver the opening statement. According to Lee, advances in new technologies have ‘extraordinary potential’ for sustainable development and the vast amount of data generated by such technologies can help ‘make giant leaps forward’. He stressed the importance of partnerships for these technologies to make a meaningful contribution towards the goals, which require a common understanding and mutual trust.
Next, Mr Juan Sandoval Mendiolea (Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN and Co-Chair of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum on STI for the SDGs) argued that rapid, accelerated, technological change is affecting communities, societies, governments, and everyday lives with great magnitude, adding that this ‘is a global challenge that demands shared solutions’. Such multifaceted and unavoidable changes require awareness and innovation in order to mediate potential negative impacts. While new technologies can accelerate progress towards the 169 targets, they also risk increasing inequalities. Yet, ‘only those who are prepared to face the change will be the ones who will succeed’; the achievement of the goals is impossible without innovation. According to him, through partnerships, a cross-cutting approach towards the SDGs can be ensured, while avoiding trade-offs, and bridging silos.
Reiterating the integration of ICTs in daily lives, Mr Saud Hamad Ghanem Hamad Alshamsi (Deputy-Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the United Nations) recommended that stakeholders embrace technologies, as ‘time is running out’. Alshamsi highlighted examples of strategies taken by the UAE and emphasised that every part of society needs to be included in digital strategies if we are to leave no one behind. Furthermore, he spoke about the need for cybersecurity mechanisms and the importance of governance in the digital world.
The panel then moved on to two representatives from the private sector. First, Mr James Gowen (Chairman of the GeSI Board, VP Global Supply Chain and Chief Sustainability Officer at Verizon) explained that the ICT industry could play a key role in the SDGs, enabling individuals to reach their potential and ‘do truly remarkable things’. Gowen identified the lack of awareness as the biggest challenge to overcome, as consumers are often unaware of how to protect themselves online. The ICT industry needs to work with other sectors to address cybersecurity challenges and to innovate in a way that no one is left behind.
Second, Ms Dominique Lazanski (Director of Public Policy and International Relations at GSMA) emphasised that mobile technology is underpinning the lives of everyone and can therefore be an important building block in enabling progress towards the SDGs. Lazanski presented several initiatives of the GSMA, including their Big Data for Social Good and Mobile for Development programmes. Finally, she stressed the importance of partnerships to be able to extend the impact of these programmes.
Mr Takeshi Nagasawa (Senior Programme Management Expert, UNIDO Department of Energy) provided insights into the relevance of ICTs – and ‘industry 4.0’ more broadly – for the energy sector, such as by integrating renewable energy sources and digitalising manufacturing processes. This generates ‘tremendous opportunities’ for developing countries, especially when underpinned by partnerships. UNIDO assists this process through technical co-operation, policy analysis, collaboration, standardisation, and knowledge sharing.
Finally, the panel shared the work of two WSIS Prize winners. First, Ms Shuli Hallak (Executive Director of Internet Society’s New York Chapter) spoke about Internet Society’s Chaptherthon initiative, which encouraged Internet Society chapters to develop projects in the context of Internet and education. The initiative demonstrated the importance of collaboration and community efforts; regardless of their size, ‘each effort contributes to making a difference.’ Second, Ms Chantal Line Carpentier (Chief of UNCTAD’s New York office) presented UNCTAD’s e-Trade for all initiative, which is meant to scale up co-operation in the field of inclusive e-commerce, making technical assistance available to member states and fostering collaboration among stakeholders.
The session concluded with a lively discussion. Questions were raised about the ways to involve young people, the need to include ICT projects in humanitarian contexts, the integration of digital rights into the discussion, and the inclusion and incentives of industry actors. Hallak closed the session by calling for a ‘boots on the ground’ attitude and engagement with individuals and end users.