Widening Digital Gap between Developed, Developing States Threatening to Exclude World’s Poorest from Next Industrial Revolution, Speakers Tell Second Committee
A widening digital divide and severely lagging Internet-use in developing countries threaten to leave those States in the technological wake and preclude progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a senior United Nations official and Member States told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) today as it took up information and communications technology (ICT) questions.
Angel Gonzalez Sanz, Head of Science, Technology and Innovation in the Division on Technology and Logistics of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), introduced the Secretary-General’s report on Progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society at the regional and international levels (document A/78/62−E/2023/49), spotlighting three key aspects: the changing context of digital cooperation; the impact of conflict and the risk of cyberconflict; and data governance.
Stressing the need to fully integrate the digital dimension into addressing poverty, gender equality and climate change, he noted that although 63 per cent of the world’s population is connected, least developed countries still only count 27 per cent of their populations as Internet users. “There is a risk that the data economy will be permanently dominated by a few stakeholders from a handful of technologically advanced economies,” he warned.
Turning to the Secretary-General’s report on Science, technology and innovation for sustainable development (document A/78/232), he stressed its emphasis that the digital divide and the associated inequalities in technology diffusion affect people’s access to the benefits of technologies and risk further exacerbating social divides. Developing countries should cultivate and empower local research and innovation ecosystems by providing local actors with the necessary knowledge resources and creating an enabling institutional and regulatory environment.
In the ensuing debate, most speakers deplored that the digital gap between developed and developing countries is widening rather than closing as new technologies emerge and advance — threatening to leave the world’s poorest permanently excluded from the fourth industrial revolution.
The representative of Nepal, speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries, noted that digital technologies have the potential to bridge economic and educational disparities. However, while developed countries are phasing out older-generation networks to adopt advanced networks like 5G, low-income countries have to work with 2G and 3G networks because of the barriers to 5G deployment, including high infrastructure costs, unreliable electricity and regulatory constraints. He estimated that only 36 per cent of the population in the least developed countries use the Internet, compared to the 66 per cent average for the world.
Echoing that concern, Brunei Darussalam’s delegate stressed that digital inequity “leaves 2.7 billion people still offline”. With the shared goal of “leaving no one behind”, the growth of ICT should not only be sustainable, but inclusive. She noted that ICT transcends geographical boundaries — connecting people from various ends of the world and creating a network of endless opportunities: “This experience should be available to all,” she emphasized.
The representative of South Africa observed that one of the fundamental ICT tools available to all to accelerate implementation of the SDGs is digital public infrastructure. “We from the Global South are calling for closing the gap in the international and intranational digital divide through the transfer of technologies and the requisite financial resources,” he said, adding that data should be classified as a global public good.
Still other Member States noted their efforts to turn the tide, with India’s representative citing the “success story” of the India Stack — as this open interface means that its principles, technologies and functionality can be applied in any country. She stressed that through its Group of 20 (G20) presidency, India has laid strong emphasis on investing in safe, accountable and inclusive digital public infrastructure, particularly in the Global South.
In concrete terms, the representative of El Salvador recalled that his delegation is co-facilitating, with Mexico, a resolution on “Science, technology and innovation for sustainable development”, calling for support and collaboration from all Member States. The Committee must advance concrete actions to measure development gaps in each country, he stressed. His Government recently reached an agreement with Google to digitize the State and services linked to the education and health sectors.
On a separate but related topic, Navid Hanif, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on Development cooperation with middle-income countries (document A/78/224), stressing that coordinated actions were needed to progress towards the SDGs for middle-income countries. He called for immediate action by the international community on fronts including: solutions for sovereign debt challenges, including the long overdue reforms of the international debt architecture; and support for financing and capacity-building for middle-income countries’ green transitions, with multilateral development banks well placed to provide such support.
The representative of the Philippines highlighted that middle-income States like his make up more than half of UN membership, accounting for about 30 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 75 per cent of the world’s population — underscoring the significance of including them in global efforts to achieve the SDGs. “Our collective action is powerful enough to reshape the contours of the global economy,” he stressed.
Morocco’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Like-Minded Group of Supporters of Middle-Income Countries, said the challenges they face are multidimensional and cannot be measured based on income alone. She called for exploring measures to ensure further support to leveraging SDG financing, namely through global initiatives such as the SDG stimulus and reform of the international financial architecture.
A report was also presented by the Director of the New York Liaison Office and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Before concluding its debate on ICT for sustainable development as well as globalization and interdependence, the Committee took up the remaining speakers for its debate on macroeconomic policy questions and financing for development of 5 October.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 9 October, to take up sustainable development.
Introduction of Reports
ANGEL GONZALEZ SANZ, Head of Science, Technology and Innovation in the Division on Technology and Logistics of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), introducing the Secretary-General’s reports on the progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society at the regional and international levels (document A/78/62-E/2023/49), highlighted three key aspects of the report: the changing context of digital cooperation; the impact of conflict and the risk of cyberconflict; and data governance. “We still need to fully integrate the digital dimension into actions to address poverty, gender equality and climate change,” he stressed, adding that cybersecurity, including cybercrime, raises increasing concerns. Although 63 per cent of the world’s population is connected, least developed countries still only count 27 per cent of their populations as Internet users, he noted. “There is a risk that the data economy will be permanently dominated by a few stakeholders from a handful of technologically advanced economies,” he warned.
Introducing the report of the Secretary-General on science, technology and innovation for sustainable development (document A/78/232), he said that it emphasizes that the digital divide and the associated inequalities in technology diffusion affect people’s access to the benefits of technologies and risk further exacerbating social divides. “A key message of the report is that while developing countries should cultivate and empower local research and innovation ecosystems by providing local actors with the necessary knowledge resources and creating an enabling institutional and regulatory environment, concerted international efforts, including research collaboration, capacity-building activities and financial assistance, are needed to strengthen the capacity of national innovation systems for inclusive and sustainable development,” he concluded.
ELIOT MINCHENBERG, Director of the New York Liaison Office and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), presenting the note by the Secretary-General on culture and sustainable development (document A/78/217), said it reviewed the implementation of the resolution on culture and sustainable development. The global recognition of culture for sustainable development has gained traction in recent years, a policy commitment borne out by, among other developments, the UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development — MONDIACULT 2022. The report covers progress made in several major areas, he said, pointing to the renewed commitment voiced by Member States towards the protection of cultural rights, with an expanding international dialogue on the return and restitution of cultural property; increased commitment to linking culture and education; strengthened support to the cultural and creative economy; and the increased adaptation of the cultural sector to the digital transformation worldwide.
NAVID HANIF, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introducing the Secretary-General’s report on development cooperation with middle-income countries (document A/78/224) said coordinated actions were needed to progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for middle-income countries, in the face of surging inflation triggering a cost-of-living crisis, the war in Ukraine exacerbating economic problems and climate change imposing a heavy toll. His report called for immediate action by the international community on many fronts: reforming nations’ debt to work for the SDGs and climate costs; solutions for sovereign debt challenges, including the long overdue reforms of the international debt architecture; inclusive green transitions of middle-income countries, in tandem with international efforts led by high-income countries to bring down greenhouse gas emissions; and support for financing and capacity-building for middle-income countries’ green transition, with multilateral development banks well placed to provide such support.
ADIEL GUEVARA RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said information and communications technology (ICT) has yielded advantages in education, health care and financial inclusion, among others, but its use has been limited for developing countries due to lack of required infrastructure, computer capacity and human resources and expertise. “The digital divide persists with 2.7 billion people still offline worldwide,” he said, stressing that: “The first step must be to bridge that divide and turn it into a digital opportunity for all.” Underscoring the need for an inclusive digital economy and literacy, he said Internet content must consider local specificities and needs, including local languages. Moreover, access to digital networks and connectivity, as well as capacity-building and technology transfer, must be on viable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms.
“The United Nations needs to play a key role in advancing a more balanced global data governance,” he emphasized, recalling that at the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Group of 77 and China on “Current Development Challenges: the Role of Science Technology and Innovation” held in Havana, the bloc had reaffirmed the vision of building an inclusive, people-centred and development-oriented information society and urged the creation of necessary conditions to provide developing countries with affordable and reliable connectivity. Moreover, the global digital compact, for which the Group has sent its contributions, must focus on the pressing need to address the major structural impediments that developing countries face in engaging with and accessing new and emerging technologies.
PURUSHOTTAM DHUNGEL (Nepal), speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries, noted that digital technologies have the potential to bridge the economic and educational disparities still prevalent in many parts of the world. However, while developed economies run ahead with the technologies associated with the fourth industrial revolution, least developed countries still struggle hard to catch up with the first- and second-generation technologies. Although developed countries are phasing out older-generation networks to adopt advanced networks like 5G, low-income countries have to work with 2G and 3G networks because of the barriers to 5G deployment, including high infrastructure costs, device affordability, unreliable electricity and regulatory and adoption constraints. He estimated that only 36 per cent of the population in the least developed countries use the Internet, compared to the 66 per cent average for the world.
He emphasized that ICTs can play a transformative role in helping least developed countries address the significant challenges they face — as “leveraging the power of science, technology and innovation to fight against multidimensional vulnerabilities and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” is one of the priorities of the Doha Programme of Action. He therefore urged development partners and the UN development system to support least developed countries in significantly improving their science, technology and innovation infrastructure and innovation capacities by 2031. Further, he called for universal and affordable access to and meaningful use of the Internet in all least developed countries by 2030, and expansion of broadband connectivity to bridge the digital divide. The international community should also help develop competitive digital innovation ecosystems in least developed countries that are resilient to future pandemics and fit for purpose.
BRIAN WALLACE (Jamaica), speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), highlighted the potential of ICT to transform his subregion. Noting that over half the residents in small island developing States die prematurely from non-communicable diseases, he said that ICT can create a more robust and resilient health-care system that can directly benefit women and girls. He also underscored the need to invest in advanced early warning systems and real-time data collection, to save lives and minimize the impact of hazards. Expressing support for the work of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, he called for the reform of the international financial architecture to support small island developing States as they invest in ICT.
Also emphasizing the need for universal Internet accessibility, he highlighted the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)’s efforts in bridging the digital divide. Acknowledging the potential risks of conflict and cyberconflict, he stressed the need for resourcing and training to protect digital domains. The international community must implement robust policies to strengthen cybersecurity defences and empower small island nations to safeguard their digital sectors. In the post-COVID-19 pandemic world, there is an urgent need for support to leverage science, technology and innovation, including frontier technologies, for resilient recovery, he said.
LORATO MOTSUMI (Botswana), speaking on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said that new breakthroughs in technology are important especially for developing countries. “ICT development is especially crucial to LLDCs [landlocked developing countries] because it generates economic and social benefits that will drive the growth of ICTs and ICT-related industries to facilitate economic diversification and restructuring,” she stressed, highlighting considerable challenges like infrastructural gaps, high cost of access and usage, limited skills, inadequate regulation and an unsupportive environment.
“Since LLDCs depend on neighbouring coastal countries to have access to undersea cables and international Internet bandwidths, this has huge impact on the ICT costs for our countries,” she said. “In 2022, only 36 per cent of LLDC populations had Internet access, in stark contrast to the global average of 66 per cent,” she emphasized, specifying that 36 per cent means 40 per cent of men and just 33 per cent of women. “LLDCs require stronger partnerships to facilitate technology transfer, knowledge sharing and capacity-building,” she said, calling for digital literacy programmes and targeted interventions.
JOAQUÍN PÉREZ AYESTARÁN (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, stated that globalization and interdependence have posed enormous challenges for developing countries, as its benefits are unevenly distributed, deepening disparities between countries of the Global North and South in terms of income, finance, economic growth and technology access. To overcome such gaps, he called for increased international cooperation and financing for development; for serious macroeconomic imbalances to be corrected; and for the consolidation of a new just, equitable and inclusive international economic order, starting with the long overdue reform of the international financial architecture.
He rejected all unilateral and protectionist trade practices that impact the functioning of multilateral organizations and global responses to threats and challenges, particularly those faced by developing countries. He went on to voice concern over the continued, systematic, relentless, unprecedented and ever-increasing promulgation, implementation and expansion of unilateral coercive measures, actions that decouple and sever supply chains, disrupt the market order and violate the tenets of the Charter of the United Nations.
AHMAD FAISAL MUHAMAD(Malaysia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that deepening ASEAN regional cooperation in the digital space is a priority. He said that ASEAN is aiming to enhance interconnectivity for the benefit of businesses, and to accelerate digital transformation and combat cyberthreats. ASEAN continues to engage with the Global Digital Compact and wants to ensure digital inclusion to accelerate achieving the SDGs, he said.
ASEAN also wants to tackle climate change and food and energy insecurity, he added. The Association has a strategy for a low carbon future and is committed to achieving energy sustainability. It’s efforts to combat food insecurity include working to enhance the productivity of agrifood systems and ensuring the unimpeded trade and flow of food products, he added. He said that ASEAN believes that no nation can solve transboundary problems alone, and that it is dedicated to boosting cooperation among its member States, and with external partners, to bolster regional economic resilience, including prioritizing digital sectors to solidify ASEAN’s role as a growth hub.
MERYEM HAMDOUNI (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the Like-Minded Group of Supporters of Middle-Income Countries, said the challenges they face are multidimensional and cannot be measured based on income alone. She called once again for a review of the development cooperation with middle-income countries to advance towards a more inclusive and fair approach that is informed by development gaps, multidimensional vulnerabilities and capabilities to mobilize financial resources. She also called for exploring measures to ensure further support to leveraging SDG financing, namely through global initiatives such as the SDG Stimulus and reform of the international financial architecture, as well as developing integrated national financing frameworks. All UN entities, funds and programmes must further align to her group’s priorities through the UN system development cooperation framework, she added, encouraging them to develop specific strategies to engage and provide tailored support, including for leveraging and mobilizing finance for development.
Her group also calls for building and exploring the results of the mapping exercise conducted by the Secretary-General, in view of the elaboration of a specific inter-agency comprehensive system response plan, she continued. This should be aimed at better addressing the multidimensional nature of sustainable development for middle-income countries and facilitate development cooperation, considering their specific challenges and diverse needs. Also needed is further coherence in providing support to forge partnerships within and among middle-income countries, supporting innovation and fostering South-South and triangular cooperation. The regional economic commissions have a crucial role to play in this regard, she added.
WALTER JOSÉ MIRA RAMIREZ (El Salvador), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Like-Minded Group of Supporters of Middle-Income Countries, noted his State has launched an ambitious digital transformation programme, developing digital infrastructure and advancing the use of new and emerging technologies. His Government is promoting initiatives for Internet access in public spaces, and recently reached an agreement with Google to digitize the State and services linked to the education and health sectors. He noted his delegation is co-facilitating, with Mexico, a resolution on “Science, technology and innovation for sustainable development”, calling for support and collaboration from all Member States. The Committee must advance concrete actions to include a broader development perspective, and to measure development gaps in each country, multidimensional vulnerabilities and the specific challenges faced by middle-income States, he stressed.
MANUELA RÍOS SERNA (Colombia), stressing the importance of new technologies and infrastructure investment, called for international cooperation in facilitating financial resources, transfer of technology and capacity-building. Generating capacity for digital tools and platforms will require an inclusive and cross-cutting environment, she said, underscoring that these tools and platforms must be made accessible and must consider traditional practices, including those of Indigenous peoples and local communities. Highlighting the importance of addressing the digital gender divide, she also called on the international community to collaborate on legal frameworks that ensure that emerging technologies and artificial intelligence do not repeat discriminatory patterns. Also drawing attention to the multidimensional challenges faced by middle-income countries, she said the international community must implement measures to help them achieve the SDGs.
ARAKSYA BABIKYAN (Armenia) said that the deepening digital divide poses serious challenges for developing countries. “In this regard we support the development of the global digital compact to be presented at the Summit of the Future, as well as Secretary-General’s latest initiative to establish the High-Level Advisory Board on Artificial Intelligence,” she said, adding that ICT and science, technology and innovation, as enablers of the accelerated implementation of the SDGs, are of paramount significance especially for the middle-income countries. “Armenia attaches utmost importance to the elaboration and introduction of the comprehensive set of criteria going beyond the gross domestic product which will promote a more efficient response to the priorities of the middle-income countries, including access to the concessional finance,” she stressed, highlighting the role of the Like-Minded Group for Middle-income Countries in advancing its agenda within the United Nations.
NOOSHIN TEYMOURPOUR (Iran), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, observed that the existing gap between developed countries and developing countries in network access and ICT use risks further widening with the advent of new technologies such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence. Therefore, she called for the digital divide to be bridged, through the full implementation of the development orientation of the World Summit on the Information Society. In this context, she underscored the need for multilateral action, calling on developed countries to fulfil their commitments on provision of financial resources, transfer of technology and capacity-building, without politicizing the process. She emphasized the role of the United Nations and the ITU in enhancing cooperation to this end, stressing the need for the UN to take real steps towards advancing the unfulfilled mandate of the Tunis Agenda.
ELENA CURZIO VILA (Mexico) said that the international community must encourage knowledge-sharing, technology transfer and access to digital public goods, to ensure a more equitable distribution of benefits. Creating synergies between multilateral organizations, development agencies, the private sector and other relevant actors, to identify challenges and opportunities for Member States must be a priority. She added that it is essential that efforts at the international level are matched at the national level by developing policies that promote learning and innovation. She highlighted the need for a reduction in the digital divide and the priority of bridging structural gaps, including the gender digital gap.
FRANCISCO JOSE DA CRUZ (Angola), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, also recalled the Group’s summit in Havana, noting that the final declaration of the meeting underscored the importance of South-South cooperation as a complement to, but not a substitute for, a broader cooperation, including with the North, particularly in the field of science, technology and innovation for sustainable development. For his country, strengthening ICT is crucial to meeting the challenges of economic diversification, increased productivity, economic growth, global competitiveness and the digital and green transitions. At the third edition of the International Forum of Information and Communication Technologies of Angola held in Luanda, in June, President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, highlighted the role of ICT as a lever for Angola’s technological modernization. Further, he pointed to the significance of the initiative to create a global digital compact to improve global electronic governance.
Mr. SHAKER (Saudi Arabia), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, noted that his country is working tirelessly to ensure quality digitalization, having launched the Digital Cooperation Organization assembling ministries of ICTs in Member States, and making efforts to empower women, young people and entrepreneurs. Emphasizing the importance of innovation, he pointed to an agreement signed between Saudi Arabia and the ITU — led by that agency and funded by his Government — to analyse preparations for the use of artificial intelligence and determine if States are ready to fight the associated risks and decide on best practices. He also noted the country’s work with the World Bank on its digital partnership programme, bringing together partners from the private and public sectors to promote digital solutions in developing countries, including bridging the digital divide with developed States.
AUDREY FAY GANTANA (Namibia), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China as well as the Like-Minded Group of Countries Supporters of Middle-Income Countries, recalled that the Addis Ababa Action Agenda emphasizes the importance of official development assistance (ODA) and other concessional forms of finance. Calling for a comprehensive measurement of progress beyond gross domestic product (GDP), she emphasized the importance of a systematic assessment of middle-income countries. The international community must consider ways in which the United Nations development system can strengthen middle-income countries, she said. The assessments should focus on identifying development gaps and the disaggregation of data to clearly classify inequality levels, as well as analysing investments in education, health care and skills development. It is also essential to examine the state of physical infrastructure and technological capabilities. “The broader context matters,” she said, adding that it is important to understand each country’s geopolitical dynamics, trade relationships and participation in international agreements and organizations.
CELINA RUBIO (Dominican Republic), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China and the Like-Minded Group of Countries Supporters of Middle‑Income Countries, said that her country recognizes the importance of adopting a comprehensive approach that addresses the environmental, social and economic challenges faced by the global community. “ICT offers unprecedented opportunities for education and training, directly contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” she stressed, adding that digital inclusion and access to online information are essential to ensure that no one is left behind. “From water quality monitoring to efficient energy management, these technologies can help reduce our environmental impact and move towards a more sustainable future,” she underscored. She also said that her country has prioritized the use of technology to improve governance and combat corruption through the digitalization of government processes and the promotion of citizen participation online.
ALENA KAVALEUSKAYA (Belarus) said that the sustainability challenges faced by middle-income countries are multidimensional and cannot be measured by income-based indicators alone. “It is necessary to use indicators that go beyond gross domestic product,” she said, calling for immediate and systemic reforms to develop long-term solutions to ensure the right to development, improve the ability to mobilize financial resources, especially concessional finance and strengthen social and economic resilience. “Middle-income countries also need enhanced international technical support and partnerships to ensure that donor status is not abused based on their political preferences,” she said, reminding that this is the only category of countries that does not have a strategic document for cooperation with the United Nations system. She called for the development of a comprehensive United Nations action plan for cooperation with them, as mentioned in the 2008 Windhoek Ministerial Declaration on Development Cooperation with Middle-Income Countries.
BRAIMA BARRO (Burkina Faso), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, the African Group, the Group of Least Developed Countries, and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, emphasized the role of science and technologies in driving sustainable development and fuelling structural transformation. Investment in emerging technologies can deliver innovative solutions to crises, he said, noting that, however, progress remains unequal, with developing countries lagging due to the high cost of technology transfer and skills. In this context, he highlighted efforts taken by his country to increase investment in science and education, and to apply them to critical sectors like health, agriculture and renewable energy, spotlighting its national digital economy development strategy. He urged Member States to step up international cooperation efforts to facilitate the integration of science and technology in national policies.
ZHAO HAIBO (China), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said implementation of the 2030 Agenda must be accelerated. Stronger, greener, and healthier global green development is required. The international community must enhance mutual trust and create an open and fair environment for science, accelerate the bridging of the digital divide, and make sure no country is left behind in digital transformation, he added. He called for the strengthening of governance of the digital sphere. He noted that artificial intelligence will have a profound impact on human development and, regarding this, said that the international community should ensure rules and standards that balance the interests of all countries, especially developing countries, and ensure all can share in its benefits.
MARTHA CHING (Singapore), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China and ASEAN, noting her country’s efforts in providing digital access, literacy and skills, said the Digital for Life movement encourages Singaporeans to embrace digital learning as a lifelong pursuit. The SG Digital [Singapore Digital] Office augments these efforts, reaching out specifically to seniors and small businesses, she added. At the international level, its Digital Forum for Small States provides capacity-building for small States on digital issues. She underscored the importance of a future-oriented approach to digitalisation, noting that the Digital Connectivity Blueprint outlines the country’s strategic priorities for digital infrastructure for the next decade. Her country has also launched a National AI Strategy and leveraged AI to deal with the most pressing challenges, including in health, climate, and food security. She called for strengthened governance of the digital commons, based on a set of shared principles and norms, highlighting that: “ASEAN has taken the momentous step of launching negotiations on a region-wide digital economy agreement — the ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement.”
DK NUR MASELEIANA RAHIMAH PG IBRAHIM (Brunei Darussalam), aligning herself with ASEAN and the Group of 77 and China, estimated that 66 per cent of the world’s population is using the Internet; “However, this leaves 2.7 billion people still offline,” she stressed. With the shared goal of ‘leaving no one behind’, the growth of ICT should not only be sustainable, but inclusive. The Government is fostering a ‘smart nation’ with its Digital Economy Masterplan 2025, fuelling a digital transformation with an 88 per cent Internet penetration rate. She noted that the rapid development of ICT has improved health-care services, enhanced the economy, and created new capabilities for education and welfare. Noting that ICT transcends geographical boundaries — connecting people from various ends of the world and creating a network of endless opportunities — she emphasized: “This experience should be available to all.”
PETAL GAHLOT (India), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said that digitalization has the potential to bridge gaps in public service delivery, particularly when it comes to quality education and primary health services. “The India Stack has been one such success story that has much to offer thanks to its publicly available application programming interface (API),” she said, adding that this open interface means that the principles, technologies, and functionality of the India Stack can be applied in any country. She stressed that through its Group of Twenty (G20) Presidency, India has laid strong emphasis on investing in safe, secure, trusted, accountable and inclusive digital public infrastructure, particularly in the Global South, including the plan to build and maintain a global digital public infrastructure repository.
Mr. ALKHURAIBET (Kuwait), noting that science, technology and innovation enhance progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and in realizing the 2030 Agenda, highlighted steps taken by his country in advancing the use of science and technology, including through digitalization. In this context, he highlighted the setting up in 2019 of a Government Communication Centre, which enhanced communication and coordination between sectors of the Government and the media. Such technologies are effective in responding to crisis, he said, pointing out that the COVID‑19 pandemic was a “warning bell” on the need to enhance science, technology and innovation, as well as digitalization.
Mr. ADENOPO (Nigeria) aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said his country has committed to investing more resources into digital infrastructure and literacy programmes to bring Internet connectivity to an additional 10 million Nigerians, focusing on rural and underserved communities. But he warned about the need for continual adaptation to keep pace with rapid technological advancements. Therefore, he said, his country is in the process of revising its national digital strategy to align with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He added that his country, as a middle-income country, is committed to fostering South-South cooperation, for example agricultural partnerships and intra-African trade. He called upon the international community to adopt a holistic, multistakeholder approach to address the digital divide, sustainable development and global interdependence challenges.
MS. ALATAWI (Bahrain) said that since the announcement of the Bahrain Economic Vision 2030, her country has made significant efforts to integrate sustainability in its programmes. Noting its focus on improving the digital infrastructure of Government services, she reported that 229 Government services were converted to electronic services from 2019 to 2022. The shift increased the efficiency of services provided to citizens and enhanced digital skills among the younger generation. This was achieved through the provision of modern technological and digital tools in education, as well as partnerships with the private sector, she added. Detailing her country’s digital transformation initiatives, she said the adoption of the Cloud First policy in 2017 sets clear guidelines for the adoption of cloud technology in the public sector. The Government has been able to reduce operational costs and increase security and productivity, leading to more than 70 per cent of operations and systems of 72 Government entities joining the cloud, she added.
MD FARUK HOSSAIN (Bangladesh), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Least Developed Countries, noted that despite recent progress, nearly 43 per cent of the population of developing countries has no Internet access — and in the least developed countries, only 19 per cent of women use the Internet, compared with 31 per cent of men. The cost of access is prohibitively higher in developing countries in relation to average household income; thus, “Barriers limiting the use of ICT in the countries in the Global South need to be urgently addressed,” he stressed. He called for transfer of technologies that facilitate economic growth, sustainable production and industrial transformation, such as green and low-carbon technologies — as well as early warning systems to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Further, the Global South needs investment in digital infrastructure to benefit from artificial intelligence and the data-driven wave of frontier technologies.
MS. SAHFIQ (Pakistan), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said that the digital age presents both opportunities and challenges. “The digital divide remains a stark reality,” she said, calling for investments in sustainable ICT-related infrastructures and a revision of the intellectual property regime. “Technologies that are essential for developing countries to achieve the SDGs should be made global public goods,” she emphasized, urging to explore how to better leverage open-source technologies and digital goods, as well as to reach an international technology agreement aligned with the SDGs and offering preferential access for developing countries to relevant advanced technologies.
CAROLYN RODRIGUES-BIRKETT (Guyana), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, the Alliance of Small Island States and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), called for the harnessing of opportunities that technologies such as artificial intelligence provide to advance development, while putting in place mechanisms to address their harmful uses. She emphasized the need to address the widening gap between the countries that are the sources of such innovations and those that struggle to achieve even sustained, affordable access to the Internet, pointing out that nearly 3 billion people remain offline, with only 36 per cent of the population of least developed and landlocked developing countries having Internet access. Therefore, she called for intensified efforts to address these gaps, and for steps to be taken to ensure digital inclusion. She outlined efforts by her country to this end, highlighting the legislative and regulatory framework it put in place to accelerate digitization and incorporate science, technology, engineering and mathematics into the school system.
RENATA CHIVUNDU (Malawi), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, the Group of Least Developed Countries and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, highlighted the digital divide between developed and developing States. But she said that ICT plays a critical role in addressing climate change impacts. She called for the international community to strengthen early warning and early action systems through digitalization and efficient dissemination of weather forecasts. She encouraged the adoption of climate smart technologies. Her country is launching an inclusive digital transformation project to bridge the digital divide and improve digital governance.
DMITRY S. ARISTOV (Russian Federation), associating himself with the Group of Friends in Defence of the Charter of the United Nations, said that his country is implementing capacity-building programmes through United Nations development system organizations, in particular in the area of strengthening digital skills among young people in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Africa. “The accelerated development of scientific and technological progress also carries risks of increasing technological dependence of the States of the Global South and erosion of their digital sovereignty,” he said, highlighting a growing need for big tech companies to behave transparently and responsibly. States are the guarantors of the rights and freedoms of citizens and their security, so they should play a central role in governing the Internet, he stressed. “Russia will continue to finance projects that combine culture and sustainable development in Armenia, Belarus, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan,” he pledged, adding that Belarus, Zimbabwe, Iran, Cuba and Nicaragua are the targets of Western sanctions.
Conclusion of Macroeconomic Policy Debate
AHMED HOOSEN SEEDAT (South Africa), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and the African Group, called for a reassessment of developed countries’ monetary and fiscal policy that have a negative impact on developing States. Detailing several key areas for action, he said multilateral development banks are well placed to improve aid coordination, address financing gaps and channel climate finance to developing countries. Any reform process undertaken by the World Bank Group cannot be successful without giving developing countries a greater voice, he stressed, voicing support for increasing multilateral development banks’ lending capacity by billions of dollars over their current exposure ceilings. Moreover, a strong and adequately financed International Monetary Fund (IMF) must be at the centre of the global financial safety net. As the IMF Board of Governors conducts the sixteenth general review of quotas, the IMF’s current lending capacity must be, at the very least, maintained, he added.
Mr. MUKTAR (Ethiopia), aligning himself with the Group of 77, the Group of Least Developed Countries, the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries and the African Group, said that trade offers fresh market opportunities in facilitating the transition to clean energy. However, there remains a lack of alignment between trade, energy transition and environmental concerns within multilateral trade regulations and international conventions. He noted Ethiopia’s efforts at domestic resource mobilization have been hampered by the global economic downturn and geopolitical tensions, while financing for developing countries continues to be both unequal and inadequate — especially for climate adaptation. He further stated that many African countries are preoccupied with managing their debt burden rather than advancing their development agenda. Warning that such trends risk stalling or even reversing progress on the SDGs, he called for intensified efforts to offer concessional loans and grants from multilateral development banks, and reallocate unused special drawing rights (SDRs).
T'SEAN MOTT (Bahamas), associating himself with CARICOM, the Alliance of Small Island States and the Group of 77 and China, called for establishing a global system that effectively addresses emergency relief, debt financing and development requirements, as well as enhances climate resilience while promoting trust in multilateralism to strengthen the rules-based international order. “Most of our debt is directly tied to climate change. The Bahamas is no exception, with 50 per cent of our national debt stemming from climate change consequences and the need for recovery financing,” he stressed. For the past 62 years, the international tax policies as formulated and dictated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) neglected the inherent challenges and the differences in development dynamics faced by the Global South. “Decades of inconsistent, contradictory tax and financial service policies now make it clear that, in the interest of the universal right to development, a United Nations Convention on Tax should be created,” he said.
Andreas Løvold (Norway) noted that developing economies have massive and growing financial needs, amid cascading crises facing the world, including the Russian Federation’s war on Ukraine, which has led to high food and energy prices. Many such hurdles are in the way of achieving the SDGs, he said, underlining the need to step up efforts to make resources available to finance the SDGs, in line with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Despite that pledge to do more to alleviate the debt burden of developing countries and create fiscal space, gaps remain, he said, highlighting the fourth International Conference on Financing for Development as an opportunity to redouble efforts to this end. Norway provides 0.7 per cent of its gross national income (GNI) in development assistance and is a reliable partner and donor. Turning to illicit financial flows, which lock developing economies in poverty and erode transparency and trust, he called for them to be combated through a complementary approach that builds on efforts by OECD and UN architecture.
Mr. KLOSE, of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), said that to advance on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, developing countries need to make effective use of available policy space. “Only then they will be able to pursue sustainable transformations, build domestic productive capabilities, create decent jobs and gender equality, along with productivity and economic growth,” he said. He added that modern industrial policies in developing countries need to facilitate clean energy transition, allowing them to leapfrog traditional energy sources and become leaders in sustainable energy and the creation of low-carbon economies. Additionally, he called for developing policy and regulatory regimes for digital transformation to increase competitiveness and establish new sectors tailored for advanced manufacturing. To ensure such benefits, “we need a combination of future-ready industrial development propelled by modern industrial policies, public-private cooperation, and effective SDG investment and financing,” he said.
Conclusion of Debate on ICTs for Sustainable Development
FRANCESS PIAGIE ALGHALI (Sierra Leone), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, as well as the Group of Least Developed Countries, noted the challenges faced by least developed States in harnessing ICT to achieve the SDGs, the consequence of which “can be a major hindrance to improving service delivery and bridging the inequality gap between urban and rural communities”. She highlighted the efforts undertaken by her country towards boosting digital innovation to include increasing the national fiber network, access to Internet services, connectivity and mobility. Her country calls for increased investment and development of partnerships on ICT in countries in special situations to not only develop associated infrastructure but to address global inequity, particularly for women, girls, the elderly and people with disability.
DENNIS BORROMEO BREGALA (Philippines), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, ASEAN and the Like-Minded Group of Supporters of Middle-Income Countries, highlighted that middle-income States, like his own, make up more than half of the UN membership, accounting for about 30 per cent of the world’s GDP and 75 per cent of the world’s population. “This underscores the significance of the role, inclusion and engagement of middle-income countries in global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Our collective action is powerful enough to reshape the contours of the global economy,” he stressed. Ongoing efforts to redesign the current approaches to development must include addressing the structural barriers in the international financial architecture, as well as going beyond GDP as measures of development and to inform access to concessional financing. The international community must start the groundwork for institutionalizing the “beyond GDP” process through intergovernmental discussions and establishment of an independent high-level expert group to develop a value dashboard, as elaborated in the Secretary-General’s policy recommendations, he added.
BILLUR AHMADOVA (Azerbaijan), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, cited the introduction of broadband Internet, transition to digital television and application of fourth-generation mobile communication technologies — allowing Azerbaijan to take its place in the global information infrastructure, and provide transformative solutions to achieve the goals set by the World Summit on the Information Society. Over a decade since becoming a member of a global space club, the country now has two telecommunication satellites and one Earth observation satellite — and provides services to 45 other States. She noted that it hosted the seventy-fourth International Astronautical Congress under the theme “Global Challenges and Opportunities: Give Space a Chance”. Azerbaijan attaches great importance to promoting multiculturalism, paying particular attention to encouraging intercultural and interreligious dialogue at the national and international levels.
SIBUSISO QETELLO MPAMA (South Africa), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that one of the fundamental ICT tools available to all to accelerate implementation of the SDGs is digital public infrastructure. “We from the Global South are calling for closing the gap in the international and intranational digital divide through the transfer of technologies and the requisite financial resources,” he said, adding that data should be classified as a global public good in its own right. “South Africa is of the firm belief that women and young people should be placed at the heart of our struggle to ensure universal connectivity within the context of emerging and frontier technologies,” he stressed, adding that these two groups will take one giant step closer to expediting implementation of the SDGs.
SAŠA MART (Serbia) outlined steps taken by his country to harness science, technology and innovation for sustainable development, including its introduction of the Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs Roadmaps, with the help of the European Commission Joint Research Centre and UNIDO, and its smart specialization process launched in 2017. Serbia participated in the development of a pilot methodology for mapping Sustainable Development Goals in the context of Smart Specialization Strategies, which prioritize ICTs, food for future, machines and manufacturing systems and creative industries. He also noted the General Assembly’s adoption by consensus of the resolution “International Decade of Science for Sustainable Development, 2024–2033” on 25 August 2023, which his country proposed.
DWI WISNU BUDI PRABOWO (Indonesia), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, and ASEAN, recognized that the digital divide has exacerbated inequalities, for example, in education and finance. But the acceleration of inclusive digital transformation could happen via improved digital infrastructure, he said. Transferring capacities and increasing digital skills and literacy must be encouraged to realize the full potential of digital transformation, he added. He noted that debt stagnates many countries’ economies and called for facilities to help them finance development plans. He said that digital transformation can contribute to new sources of economic growth and help achieve sustainable development. This needs participation from varied fronts, including the private sector and academia, he added.
THANOUPHET XAIYAVONG (Lao People's Democratic Republic), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, ASEAN, the Group of Least Developed Countries and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, called on developing countries to seek innovative ways to ensure sustainable recovery from socioeconomic impacts as well as utilize ICT “to transform and accelerate progress and achievement in the implementation of SDGs as scheduled”. He stated that his Government has adopted the National Digital Economy Development Vision and Strategy towards the digitalization of its economy, government and community, adding that in order to achieve this, Lao People's Democratic Republic closely collaborates with other Governments and international organizations so as to share best practices and promote technology transfer. It also believes that incorporating advanced technologies like blockchain, AI, Internet of Things, big data and cloud computing, will not only create exciting possibilities, but also foster rapid progress in socioeconomic development. However, clear regulations and reliable measurement strategies need to be established.
CHOLA MILAMBO (Zambia), associating himself with the Group of Least Developed Countries, the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries and the Group of 77 and China, said that the global community must help developing States harness technologies to better their citizens’ livelihoods. While artificial intelligence is opening new frontiers for achieving the SDGs, the global community must cooperate to mitigate the ethical issues and human security risks that it poses. Turning to his country’s initiatives, he said Zambia is implementing policies and instruments aimed at promoting digitalization through the roll-out of digital communications infrastructure, including satellite technology. This has resulted in increased Internet penetration and countrywide coverage, especially in rural areas, as well as enhanced digital skills, services, innovation and entrepreneurship platforms. He highlighted that just yesterday, low-Earth orbit Internet service was launched in Zambia, in collaboration with the private sector, and will soon provide service to millions of people, including those in rural areas — an important step in enhancing his country’s digital economy.
Mr. MUKTAR (Ethiopia), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, the Group of Least Developed Countries and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, noted that progress towards sustainable development “is alarmingly off-track,” in part due to limited access to information and communications technology and science technology. That uneven landscape reaffirms the importance of inclusive and efficient digital cooperation to bridge the divide and address cybersecurity, cybercrime and disinformation. He called for an inclusive intergovernmental system prioritizing the needs and interests of developing countries, and for the international community to implement the outcome document of the seventeenth Internet Governance Forum held in 2022. He lamented that unilateral coercive measures continue to impede the ability to develop ICTs, whereas developing countries should be “the next frontier of the technological revolution, especially in the digital sphere.”
LETICIA MARÍA ZAMORA ZUMBADO (Costa Rica) said that her country has prioritized its national development plan and public investment in compliance with the SDGs. “We are discussing a constitutional reform that would guarantee universal access to telecommunications and information technologies throughout our territory,” she stressed, adding that culture also has a key role to play in social development and peacebuilding. She went on to support Morocco’s statement on behalf of the Like-Minded Group for Middle-Income Countries and called for meeting the needs of these countries by developing an interinstitutional plan with a comprehensive response.
Pahala Rallage Sanathana Sugeeshwara Gunaratna (Sri Lanka), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that, while the COVID‑19 pandemic demonstrated that “we all live in one big house”, the SDGs aim to make that house more genial for all its residents. In this spirit, Sri Lanka participated in the Summit of Heads of States and Governments of the Group of 77 and China in Havana last month, he said, affirming the “new Havana Declaration” adopted there. As part of this declaration, Sri Lanka advocates for increased investment in the science, technology and innovation (STI) fields, and calls for inequalities in access to data and artificial intelligence to be addressed. Emphasizing the role of science and technology in the restructuring and recovery process of his country, he outlined steps taken to create a new technologically-skilled workforce, including through plans to set up a technological and innovation council, and to create five new universities offering technical education.
DIEGO PARY RODRÍGUEZ (Bolivia), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, and the Group of Friends in Defence of the United Nations Charter, noted that digital gaps are increasing, including in the use of broadband, digital financing and investment. He said his country has promoted digital literacy and capacity-building, and stated the need to reach people in remote areas with digital access. Focus should not just be on expanding digital markets but also on promoting communities’ wellbeing and respecting their cultural contexts. He added that artificial intelligence is important in ensuring equitable access to ICT especially for developing countries, and said digital exploitation needs to be guarded against.
URSULA WYNHOVEN, ITU Representative to the United Nations, said that the SDG Digital Acceleration Agenda launched by ITU and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) shows that digital technology can accelerate progress on 70 per cent of the SDG targets. “As the UN agency for digital technologies, ITU is committed to making digital a central part of the global rescue plan for the SDGs,” she said, calling for bringing online the 2.6 billion people worldwide who are still unconnected. “We find ourselves in a moment of profound significance for technology, with new advancements in artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies,” she stressed, adding that the Global Digital Compact, next year’s Summit of the Future and the 20-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society provide crucial opportunities to recalibrate the digital agenda.