The majority of speeches – mostly by representatives of developing countries – emphasised the impact of digital technologies on sustainable development (41). Their positive contribution in sectors such as healthcare and agriculture was emphasised by representatives of Djibouti and Ghana. That said, half of these 41 statements addressed the other side of the coin, highlighting the widening digital divide between the developing and developed world as one of the most pressing challenges of the digital transformation.
With regard to the application of innovative digital technologies in education systems, particular attention was given to e-learning and improving the quality of education.
More than a quarter of national delegations (23 speeches) expressed concern over cybersecurity, including the weaponisation of digital technology (10 of the speeches). The majority (14 speeches) came from Europe. In contrast, only 2 out of 54 African nations (Mauritius and Burkina Faso) and 1 out of 12 Latin American nations (Trinidad and Tobago) referred to matters of cybersecurity. Estonia referred to cyberspace as a new military domain, while Mauritius and the Holy See expressed concern about the militarisation of cyberspace. Seven countries acknowledged the threat cybercrime poses to security and underlined the transnational nature of the threat.
The trade rift between the USA and China was tackled by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his speech. He warned that the world is ‘splitting in two, with the two largest economies on Earth creating two separate and competing worlds, each with their own dominant currency, trade, and financial rules, their own Internet and artificial intelligence capacities and their own zero-sum geopolitical and military strategies.’
With regard to online violent extremism and terrorism, the Prime Minister of New Zealand noted that, four months after the launch of the Christchurch Call, a review was conducted on the progress made. The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) – an industry-led effort to disrupt terrorist abuse of members’ digital platforms – will become an independent body that will drive the tech sector’s work on implementing the Call. In addition, the crisis response protocol established on 24 September will coordinate and manage action between governments and tech companies on tackling the online impact of a terrorist attack in the future. In their statements to the UNGA, Senegal reiterated its support for the Christchurch Call, while Tajikistan, Norway, and Brunei Darussalam expressed concern about the spread of extremist and terrorist content on the Internet.
This year, fewer statements referred to digital technologies and human rights, which is a declining trend compared to previous years. Out of 11 speeches, nearly half of them referred to privacy and data protection whereas the other half covered topics such as freedom of expression and gender rights online.
A total of 8 countries touched upon the need to develop resilient telecommunications infrastructure. To illustrate, Papua New Guinea sees the building of resilient infrastructure, such as electricity and telecommunications, as a priority, whereas the Solomon Islands focus on providing access to broadband in remote areas.
The importance of the digital economy and trade was recognised in 11 statements, 4 of which brought to attention the fact that digital technologies will redefine the future of work. Spain underlined that future jobs may be different, but they must be decent, while Slovenia quoted estimates that as much as 80% of future work will be done by artificial intelligence (AI).
Countries also agreed that producing new rules and achieving legally binding agreements on pressing issues pertinent to digital technologies, such as information security, emerging technologies, digital economy, and trade, etc. are of utmost importance.