Against a backdrop of growing geopolitical tensions, proliferating crises and widening inequalities, the challenges facing the global community in reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are vast, the UN said on Monday.
With the Internet holding a critical role in navigating these complexities, the 18th annual Internet Governance Forum hosted by the Government of Japan is under the overarching theme, ‘The Internet We Want – Empowering All People.”
Mitigating the risks
Considering the rapid tech advances, including in Artificial Intelligence (AI), risking exacerbating existing inequalities, the Forum focuses on how we leverage the benefits of digital technologies, while mitigating the risks.
While technology is moving at warp speed in a select group of countries, the reality is that 2.6 billion people are still offline, mostly in the Global South and vulnerable communities.
According to the UN, digitalization is a whole-of-society phenomenon, impacting connected and unconnected populations alike, yet the distribution of its benefits remains highly uneven.
Harnessing digital technologies
In his opening message to the Forum, UN Secretary-General António Guterres underscored the need to work together to close the connectivity and digital governance gap, and to re-enforce a human right, human-centered approach to digital cooperation.
“We need to keep harnessing digital technologies enabled by the Internet to help deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals, take climate action and build a better world,” Mr. Guterres said in a video message on Sunday.
The Secretary-General also highlighted the importance of the UN Global Digital Compact which aims to set out principles, objectives and actions to secure a human-centred digital future, which will be taken up at the Summit of the Future next year.
He said “Governments, the private sector and civil society must come together regularly to ensure that the commitments enshrined in the Compact are followed up.”
The internet we want
The opening day of the Forum also saw the release of the ‘The Internet We Want’ vision paper by the UN Secretary-General-appointed IGF Leadership Panel Chair, Vint Cerf, who is recognized as one of the “fathers of the Internet”, and Vice-Chair, journalist Maria Ressa, a 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Winner.
The paper reiterated that digital governance is critical for economic, social and environmental development, and is a crucial enabler of sustainable development.
It further elaborated what it means for the Internet to be whole and open, universal and inclusive, free-flowing and trustworthy, safe and secure and rights-respecting.
“The Internet We Want is: Whole and open, Universal and inclusive, Free-flowing and trustworthy, Safe and secure and Rights-respecting,” The IGF Leadership Panel added.
Navigating global challenges
Highlighting the integral role of the Internet in navigating global challenges, moving towards a better and more resilient future, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Li Junhua cautioned: “But this requires responsive policies that leverage the benefits of digital technologies while mitigating the risks.
“The Forum needs to further strengthen its role as being the global digital policy forum, in finding points of convergence and consensus and in identifying digital solutions in reaching the 2030 Agenda,” he said.
Internet Governance Forum (IGF)
The Internet Governance Forum, convened by the United Nations Secretary-General and hosted this year by the Government of Japan, is the global multistakeholder forum for dialogue on Internet governance issues.
The IGF annual meeting brings together stakeholders from around the world to discuss the most pressing Internet governance trends and challenges. The IGF meetings facilitate the exchange of information and the sharing of good policies and practices related to key elements of Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet.
Held from 8 to 12 October, this year’s IGF is bringing together more than 8,000 registered participants from over 170 countries, making it the largest and most geographically diverse Forum to date. Representatives from governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical community and international organizations, are participating.
The programme features over 300 sessions, with eight sub-themes: (1) AI & Emerging Technologies; (2) Avoiding Internet Fragmentation; (3) Cybersecurity, Cybercrime & Online Safety; (4) Data Governance & Trust; (5) Digital Divides & Inclusion; (6) Global Digital Governance & Cooperation; (7) Human Rights & Freedoms; and (8) Sustainability & Environment.
The outcomes of the IGF, including from its High-level, Parliamentary and Youth tracks, will also serve as a concrete framework for the Global Digital Compact that will be agreed on at the UN Summit of the Future next year.