IGF 2019 Main Session Achieving the SDGs in the Digital Age

Mr. Liu Zhenmin Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs


14th annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum

Main Session – Achieving the SDGs in the Digital Age

27 November 2019, Berlin

Thank you Madam Moderator.

Distinguished Participants,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to share some reflections on the issue of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the Digital Age, four years after its adoption.

Commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – our shared blueprint for a fair globalization – remains steadfast at the highest level of government.

The SDG Summit convened at the United Nations in September gave us an opportunity to reflect on our achievements and take stock of the challenges we face in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Many countries have been proactively implementing the SDGs. We continue to see achievements in poverty decline and improvements in health and education outcomes. Yet the shared view is that the global response is not sufficiently transformative. Slowing economic growth, rising inequality and climate change are squeezing the prospects of sustainable development.

At the same time, technologies and the Internet have transformed information sharing, revolutionized industries, saved lives and advanced development. There is no doubt that new technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G and the Internet of Things can help us achieve the Goals and improve the lives of all.

We need to continue to showcase how they can make meaningful contributions to the SDGs. The IGF is one such important platform. There are many others, including the STI Forum organized by my Department of Economic and Social Affairs, or the WSIS Forum organized by ITU.

I believe each Forum has a unique role to play and that they complement each other. I also believe that you have heard many times in each of these fora: The Internet and ICTs are cross-cutting enablers for SDGs.

Yes, this is true – but these enablers come with many challenges and in most cases, they create new ones. Some of the pressing issues and challenges facing the Internet ecosystem, include:

  • digital divides,
  • capacity building,
  • cybersecurity,
  • the privacy of Internet users, and
  • online protection of human rights.

There are also unforeseeable risks – which we are only just beginning to appreciate – that impact the future of work, global security, and people’s trust and well-being in a digital society.

But how do we overcome the challenges and risks? How do we ensure that no country and no one is left behind?

The positive power of the Internet and ICTs can only be harnessed if people have a real sense of public trust, security and stability in the digital space. It is also critical to prioritize technologies that are most needed for sustainable development.

To follow up the recommendations by the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, we must strengthen cooperation and harness the full potential of technological breakthroughs.

Distinguished Participants,

The IGF must respond, through the UN’s convening role, to bring everyone together – regardless of the stakeholder groups or backgrounds. The aim is to find points of convergence and consensus, while also acknowledging the points of divergence.

Clearly, the IGF needs to further strengthen its role as being the global policy forum for Internet governance related issues.

In Berlin, we see an increased engagement of high-level decision-makers from Governments and the private sector, as well as technical experts and civil society. They come to the Forum to find innovative policy solutions to the challenges affecting the Internet and technologies. We should keep up this momentum in future meetings of the IGF.

I understand that there is a now a network of over 120 National, Regional and Youth IGFs – or NRIs in short – that has expanded over the past two to three years. Indeed, multistakeholder engagement on a local level is critical if we want to understand the nature of issues and availability of resources in all communities.

The complexity of the Internet does not allow for siloed approach or the unification of problems and solutions. This is why we are fortunate to have these community-led, open national and regional IGF processes. And we are even more fortunate to have them as partners to guide our vision towards safe and accessible Internet for all.

We need to optimize these partnerships and capacity development opportunities.

Distinguished Participants,

In conclusion, let us remember that sustainable development is a global endeavour, both at inception and in its outcomes. So is the IGF.

The challenges we face today – rising inequality, uneven growth, climate change and fast-paced technological change – among others, demand a collective effort and a stronger multilateral response.

As you have heard many times, the Internet and technology are critical for achieving SDGs. But there are also many challenges. We must continue to come together to discuss everyone’s concerns. In doing so, I believe we can turn the advancement of these technologies into the benefits of humankind and, together, make sustainable development a reality.

I thank you for your attention and I wish you a very fruitful discussion.