Internet Governance Forum calls for bridging digital divides, harnessing the Internet to support human resilience and build solidarity amid COVID-19

Never before has the Internet proven to be such a vital lifeline in maintaining economic and social ties, as the world is battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The high-level segment of the Internet Governance Forum opened today, with participants underlining the critical importance of digital technologies in supporting human resilience and building solidarity to respond to the challenges posed by the coronavirus.

Convened under the overarching theme of ‘’Internet for Human Resilience and Solidarity,” the 15th Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) heard today leaders and experts from all parts of the world discussing the critical and central role of the Internet in keeping businesses afloat, maintaining family ties and friendships, and enabling global coordination in the efforts to tackle the pandemic. At the same time, the increased reliance on connectivity must be accompanied by stronger efforts to bridge the alarming digital divide that threatens to leave some people behind economically and socially, the participants stressed.

“In the least developed countries, only 19 per cent of individuals were online in 2019. We are leaving a large majority behind,” noted UN Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin in his opening remarks, while also pointing to rifts when it comes to gender, affordable access and digital literacy. “We need solutions that help bridge the digital divides so that the benefits of digital technologies can reach those being left behind, unconnected.” 

The multistakeholder high-level opening panel noted that people are living through times of intense digital transformation and that it was imperative for leadership in all sectors to invest more in a safe and secure, open Internet that is accessible to all. 

Many echoed that action is required to reach those who are commonly left behind, to ensure they walk the path of progress with everyone: girls and women, young and older populations, refugees, migrants, and displaced persons, indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities. Small island developing states as well as least developed and landlocked developing countries also face a widening digital gap with developed countries.

The President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, said: “The SDG target of achieving universal connectivity by 2020 has not been met. In fact, 3.6 billion people continue to lack access to the internet.” Drawing attention to the existing inequalities, he said that the digital divide was exacerbating the situation and “eroding development gains in countries and communities that are disconnected from the rest of the world”. Pointing to the Decade of Action, he stressed that its delivery had been derailed by the pandemic and called for action. “We can use this moment to fast track progress globally, to invest in a sustainable recovery that is guided by the SDGs. Addressing the digital divide is a significant part of this.”

The President of the Economic and Social Council, Munir Akram, noted that the ongoing digital revolution had led to the creation of enormous wealth in record time, concentrated predominantly in just a few countries. He called for urgent action to allow developing countries to benefit from digital and other cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and robotics.‎

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University pointed out that the  ‘era of e-everything’ brought immense opportunities for progress only if everyone was connected and equipped with skills and knowledge on how to safely use the Internet. Youth representative Pamela Cretu emphasized the importance of investing in young people.

Other speakers joining the Opening Leaders dialogue were the representatives from the Governments of Germany and Fiji; former Swiss President Ms. Doris Leuthard; Mr. Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of ITU; Ms. Victoria Grand from Whatsapp; Ms. Chat Garcia Ramilo from the Association for Progressive Communications; and Mon. Paul Tighe, Secretary from the Vatican.

The high-level segment of the Forum will continue through 17 November,  with multi stakeholder roundtable discussions between heads of Governments and business leaders, technical communities, academic and not-for-profit initiatives. Five high-level sessions will focus on health, economy, security, social development, and environmental aspects of the role that Internet governance plays in emergencies and times of uncertainty.

A roundtable with members of Parliament from various countries will examine ways of building trust through the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery. 

For the full IGF 2020 schedule, please visit: https://igf2020.intgovforum.org/

About the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

The IGF was established by the United Nations Secretary-General in 2006 as a Forum for multi-stakeholder dialogue on public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance, such as the Internet’s sustainability, robustness, security, stability, and development. The Forum meets annually for an open and inclusive dialogue on Internet governance issues; to share best practices and experiences; identify emerging issues and bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public; as well as to contribute to capacity development for Internet governance. This year marks the 15th annual edition of the Forum, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will be hosted online by the United Nations.

All sessions will be streamed live via IGF YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/igf). The High-Level Leaders Track will also be streamed live via UN Web TV (http://webtv.un.org/)

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