IGF: Access to internet key for strong COVID-19 recovery

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Advancing digital inclusion and narrowing digital divides will build a strong recovery as the world strives to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, the 15th annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) heard today as it concluded after a series of high-level roundtable discussions. 

With record participation of over 6,000 participants from 173 countries, the Forum has provided an opportunity to discuss building a people-centered Internet and unleashing the power of digital technologies as a true equalizer and enabler.

In his closing remarks, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, “the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of digital technologies and transformation, and on the urgent need to enhance the role of the IGF as a platform for dialogue on proposed solutions.”

“Those without access to digital technology – almost half the world – are denied opportunities to study, communicate, trade, shop, work and participate in much of modern life,” the Secretary-General recalled. In that regard, he welcomed the Forum’s focus on digital inclusion, which he said was essential to building a strong recovery.

The two-week event featured discussions on a number of topics, including the world’s increased reliance on the Internet during the pandemic, as well as exacerbated long-standing inequities such as various forms of digital divides and gender inequality.

The 2020 edition of the IGF took place in the year the UN Secretary-General has released his Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, setting out a way forward through the vision to connect, respect and protect all people online.

On that point, Mr. Guterres said: “We need an Internet Governance Forum that is responsive, relevant and impactful,” adding that the Forum had a vital role in connecting the dots on the global digital map. “But, it cannot fulfil this role unless it reaches decision-makers. We must now act decisively and urgently to strengthen the IGF, so that it can enhance its unique role in the digital cooperation architecture.”

Reflecting on the Forum, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Mr. Liu Zhenmin, emphasized that the global community can no longer separate the development tracks of digitalization and sustainable development. “More than ever, we need cross-fertilization and cooperation. These are critical for governance issues in data, environment, inclusion and trust – across borders, sectors, disciplines and generations.”

During the event, the Forum participants underlined the importance of global unity – across borders, sectors, disciplines and generations – in achieving inclusive, meaningful access for everyone and bridging digital divides. Online safety and security were also central to the Forum discussions, especially in the face of growing cyber-attacks.

This year for the first time, the Internet Governance Forum took up environmental issues as a thematic focus. Amid climate change, environmental instability, and the challenges in meeting the 2030 Agenda targets, IGF participants called for the deployment of digital technologies to serve the planet’s wellbeing and tackle these global emergencies. Internet and digital technologies have proven vital in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the lessons learned from this emergency could be applied to helping the world accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, participants echoed, while stressing that this would require stronger international cooperation.

Also this year, participants set commitments for the first time on how they could contribute to a more prosperous online environment. These commitments included supporting global digital cooperation through concrete action and announcing projects to connect the unconnected, with an aim to help developing countries and vulnerable groups.

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