ITU, SDGs & Future Of Global Development

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Sonny Aragba-Akpore
Sonny Aragba-Akpore

Global development faces numerous challenges, with shortcomings plaguing communities worldwide. Food security is elusive, healthcare remains a significant concern, particularly in developing economies, and access to development opportunities is critically lacking, with limited connectivity. Alarmingly, nearly a third of the global population lacks access to telecommunications, especially the internet, and approximately 2.7 billion people worldwide are without internet access.

So, what is the path forward? This is where the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) steps outside the conventional boundaries of thinking. The creation of a template for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) becomes a resounding call to action for ITU. Embracing the SDGs is imperative if we wish to avoid being left on the periphery of globalization.

On September 18 and 19, ITU and its partners will provide a comprehensive update on the progress made regarding the SDGs. This event will take place at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, United States of America (USA), under the tag “SDG Global”. ITU, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and partners, will convene for SDG Digital at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, with support from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) as the knowledge partner.

SDG Digital aims to assess global achievements, identify gaps and opportunities, and explore how digital technologies can support the 2030 Agenda. The event will be hosted by the secretary-general of ITU, Doreen Bogdan-Martin and administrator of UNDP, Achim Steiner. President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame will serve as the chair of the event, which will bring together leaders from government, civil society, industry, academia, and the UN system, along with special guests.

The 2023 SDG Summit is poised to shape the future of global development and initiate a phase of accelerated progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. It will provide high-level political guidance on transformative and expedited actions leading up to 2030. According to ITU documents, “this event is Convened by the President of the General Assembly, the Summit will mark the half-way point to the deadline set for achieving the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. It will be the centerpiece of the high-level Week of the General Assembly. It will respond to the impact of multiple and interlocking crises facing the world and is expected to reignite a sense of hope, optimism, and enthusiasm for the 2030 Agenda”.

On the eve of this global gathering, ITU, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and partners will convene for SDG Digital at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 17. ITU firmly believes that digital technologies are pivotal in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As we approach the 2023 SDG Digital Summit, it is essential to assess achievements, identify gaps, and catalyze action to bolster digital support for the 2030 Agenda.

As part of the SDG Action Weekend, this event concentrates on scaling digital SDG solutions, including the introduction of new High Impact Initiatives for sustainable and inclusive digital transformation. ITU takes an active role in promoting and addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This includes addressing Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, Goal 12: Responsible Production and Consumption, and Goal 13: Climate Action through its climate change program, which guides member states, the ICT sector, and academia on climate change adaptation and mitigation. ITU also commits to achieving Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities through the United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) initiative.

ITU adopted the Connect 2030 Agenda for global telecommunication and information and communication technology, including broadband, for sustainable development. This reaffirms a shared global vision for the development of the telecommunication/ICT sector, envisioning “an information society empowered by the interconnected world, where telecommunications/ICTs enable and accelerate social, economic, and environmentally sustainable growth and development for everyone”. Targets under Goal 3: Sustainability directly relate to addressing challenges stemming from telecommunications and ICT development.

This paper aims to illustrate the potential of ICT in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals declared by the United Nations in 2015, binding for all nations, both developing and developed. ICT must play a significant role if the SDGs are to be achieved as projected in 2030. The paper provides an overview of existing efforts in this area and serves as an appeal to all professionals, scientists, IT professionals, and their organizations to take a holistic approach. It underscores the importance of including and monitoring the effects of their work on the SDGs. The impact of ICT on sustainability is twofold. On one hand, it may have negative effects, such as the generation of electronic waste, while on the other hand, ICT is undoubtedly an enabler for more efficient resource usage, education, and business operations—a critical success factor for achieving the SDGs.

The ITU’s commitment to ICT for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, declared by the United Nations in 2015 as binding for all nations, both developing and developed, is a pivotal document for advancing global development. ICT must play a substantial role if the SDGs are to be achieved as envisioned by 2030.

Earlier this year, ITU reported that 2.7 billion people remain unconnected to the Internet, roughly equivalent to one-third of the global population. Pledges have been mobilized, particularly to support developing countries where connectivity lags and the digital gender gap is most pronounced. According to ITU’s Facts and Figures 2022, only 26 per cent of people in lower-income countries use the Internet, with 21 per cent of women in those countries online, compared to 32 per cent of men.

ITU secretary-general, Doreen Bogdan-Martin emphasised that, “The digital divide is no longer just a technology divide; it is an opportunity divide.” Partner2Connect’s success in mobilising commitments will be central to global efforts to get every person online.

Access to the Internet is a critical element of global development efforts, including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The funding, services, technical support, and other assistance detailed in the pledges will improve access to—and preparedness for—digital technologies. The Partner2Connect initiative focuses on four key areas: connecting people everywhere (access), empowering communities (adoption), building digital ecosystems (value creation) and incentivising investments (accelerate).

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