Nº 4 2014 > WSIS+10 High-Level Event
The importance of ICT in the Post‑2015 Development Agenda
With the rapid development of information and communication technologies (ICT) and their mainstreaming into everyday life, the link between these technologies and human development has never been clearer. It has therefore become necessary to consider the development of an inclusive information society in the broader context of the Post-2015 Development Agenda that will succeed the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) next year. The way to do this is outlined in two documents endorsed in June 2014: WSIS+10 Vision for WSIS Beyond 2015 and WSIS+10 Statement on Implementation of WSIS Outcomes.
These two documents were developed in an open and inclusive multistakeholder preparatory process comprising six phases that begun in June 2013, culminating in the World Summit on the Information Society + 10 (WSIS+10) High-Level Event, held in Geneva from 10 to 13 June 2014. Pre-events were held on 9 June, where over fifty workshops and interactive sessions brought together global stakeholders from government, the private sector, international organizations and civil society. The pre-event sessions demonstrated the open, collaborative and transparent nature of the WSIS process.
More than 1600 participants took part in the WSIS+10 High-Level Event itself, including around 100 government ministers and deputy ministers, ambassadors, heads of international organizations, chief executive officers from the ICT industry, leaders from business, civil society and academia. They discussed and endorsed these documents.
Participants also reviewed progress made in implementing the outcomes of the two phases of the World Summit on the Information Society. At the first phase in Geneva in 2003, world leaders issued a Declaration of Principles and a Plan of Action (with 11 action lines). These were complemented in 2005 by the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society. Participants took stock of achievements in the past ten years, based on reports from WSIS stakeholders, including those submitted by countries, by WSIS action line facilitators from United Nations agencies and by UN Regional Commissions.
“Information and communication technologies have long been recognized as key enablers for bridging the digital divide and achieving the three dimensions of sustainable development — economic growth, environmental balance and social inclusion”, said Ban Ki‑moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations in his video message to participants in the WSIS+10 High-Level Event. “We must do everything in our power to increase access to information and communication technologies and broadband connectivity across the world, including reaching people in remote areas, landlocked countries, small island developing States and the least developed countries. This will empower millions of people and enable us to meet our development goals in the post-2015 era,” Mr Ban added.
ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré recalled that “World leaders at the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003 agreed to promote the use of information and communication technologies for the achievement of internationally agreed development goals and targets”. Dr Touré added that “Today almost everyone on Earth lives within reach of a mobile cellular network and nearly 3 billion people are online; we must now ensure that everyone also has access to broadband connectivity. We are here to pave the way for the future and set the road map for sustainable development in the post-2015 era.”
The High-Level Track of the WSIS+10 High-Level Event was particularly successful, welcoming over 100 policy statements. Government ministers and representatives from business and civil society examined key strategic matters — such as measuring and monitoring the information society, building trust in cyberspace, inclusive knowledge societies, securing cyberspace in a borderless world, how youth can shape ICT policies, and WSIS+10 and the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
The Forum Track of the WSIS+10 High-Level Event was conducted in more than 150 sessions in the form of high-level dialogues, thematic and country workshops, showcasing theatres, World Cafés, interactive sessions, including a ministerial round table. A range of topics were discussed, including ICT infrastructure, cybersecurity, enabling environments, accessibility, capacity building, e‑learning, m‑health, e‑agriculture, climate change, empowering women, child online protection and multistakeholder approaches to Internet governance.
Essentially, the WSIS+10 Vision for WSIS Beyond 2015 and the WSIS+10 Statement on Implementation of WSIS Outcomes highlight the importance of the Post-2015 Development Agenda process. The WSIS+10 Statement on Implementation of WSIS Outcomes reaffirms the importance of ICT in the further development of the information society, stimulating innovations, empowering different groups of people in developed and developing countries, providing access to information, and fostering economic and social growth. The statement invites United Nations system organizations and stakeholders to take full advantage of information and communication technologies in addressing the development challenges of the 21st century and to recognize these technologies as cross-cutting enablers for achieving the three pillars of sustainable development (economic growth, environmental balance and social inclusion).
Participants discussed crucial issues such as human rights, both online and offline, and emphasized the need to expand access to ICT to all, particularly to vulnerable and marginalized people. In that context, participants stressed the need to develop and make available simplified devices to facilitate digital inclusion.
Capacity building to keep pace with advancing technology, multilingualism in the use of ICT, preserving cultural heritage in the digital age, addressing environmental challenges with green ICT, along with promoting a digital economy and e‑commerce are also considered priorities.
Governments are encouraged to implement appropriate national strategies and policies that make information and communication technologies enablers for social and economic development, and to promote enabling regulatory and legal environments that spur investment to facilitate ICT for development.
The importance of building confidence and security in the use of ICT was emphasized, notably to protect personal data and privacy and to strengthen the security and robustness of networks. Participants called for the strengthening of national and regional capacity to address cybersecurity challenges by encouraging a culture of responsibility and joint efforts of all parties involved. They noted that greater cooperation between all stakeholders at the national, regional and international levels is required.
United Nations Group on the Information Society
During the WSIS+10 High-Level Event, the United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) held its 11th meeting, where it reiterated its commitment to continue promoting policy coherence and programme coordination in the UN system and providing guidance on ICT-related matters in support of internationally agreed development goals. In this context, UNGIS reiterated the importance of the Joint Statement it made at the annual WSIS Forum in 2013 staking a claim for ICT to play a central role in post-2015 development. That statement was addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to the United Nations System Task Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. UNGIS, currently chaired by Dr Touré, has recommended that the two WSIS+10 High-Level Event outcome documents be used as reference and background in the drafting of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.
Review reveals mixed results in bridging the digital divide
With a special focus on developing countries, ten targets were adopted at WSIS with the aim of encouraging connectivity in villages, schools, libraries, post offices, national archives and governments, as well as adapting school curricula to meet the challenges of the information society, support the development of multilingualism and content on the Internet, and ensure ICT access for more than half of the world’s inhabitants.
A report on Final WSIS Targets Review was launched on 10 June 2014. The report was prepared by the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, of which ITU is a founding member. According to the report, a lot of progress has been made in ICT use, access and infrastructure development, but with mixed results in bridging the digital divide. “This report is a major milestone in tracking the information society worldwide,” said ITU Deputy Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “It shows that while significant achievements have been made in the last decade, the digital divide remains a major barrier to an inclusive information society. We are determined to continue to plan, develop and implement large-scale ICT projects as we accompany countries on their development journey.”
According to the Final WSIS Targets Review, remarkable progress has been made in increasing mobile cellular coverage, with all rural communities in the world likely to be covered by 2G mobile cellular signals by 2015. However, Internet connectivity remains a challenge and access to broadband continues to be unequal, with penetration rates around four times higher in developed countries as compared to developing ones. While some countries have successfully integrated computers in schools, less than 10 per cent of schools in many of the world’s poorest countries are connected to the Internet. The proportion of teachers trained to use ICT in the classroom is increasing, but fewer than 10 per cent of teachers in low-income countries have been trained to effectively use ICT in their classrooms.
Almost all scientific and research centres have broadband Internet access, and the total number of national research and education networks has grown — with the majority of universities now connected. While libraries, museums and archives are important providers of online content related to culture, a lot remains to be done in terms of digitizing cultural heritage and making it available online.
There is a growing divide in broadband access between enterprises in developed and developing countries and it is clear that, within developing countries themselves, there are wide differences in ICT use between large and small companies, between enterprises in different industries, and between rural and urban enterprises. Unsurprisingly, mobile phones have become the most commonly used ICT tool among micro and small enterprises, and in the informal sector.
The number of websites has grown exponentially between 2003 and 2013, and the number of web pages even more substantially, with developed countries in Europe, the Americas and parts of Asia generating the majority of web content. More than 300 languages are now available on Wikipedia and more than 100 on major social networks, while the proportion of Internet users whose primary language is English has fallen significantly as access to the Internet has become more widespread.
Results show that information and communication technologies are becoming central to the effective operation of health systems and services although progress is uneven across countries. The WHO Global Observatory reports that the number of countries with e‑health strategies is showing a steady rise.
Central governments in all 193 United Nations Member States have an online presence, with online information and services increasing threefold on government portals in the last decade. By 2012, a one-stop portal was provided in 70 per cent of countries, compared to 26 per cent in 2003. By 2014, almost all of the countries in Europe, in the Americas and in Asia provided online information on education, health, finance, social welfare, labour and the environment, but the proportion was lower in other regions, such as Africa.
According to available data, 50 per cent of households in developing countries have access to radio and about 72 per cent have access to television. Most developed countries have completed — or are on track to complete — their transition to digital television, while developing countries have begun that transition or are committed to it.
The WSIS Stocktaking Report 2014 features key achievements by different stakeholders worldwide.
WSIS Success Stories provides a key reference point to WSIS projects which were awarded the 2014 WSIS Project Prizes.
The outcomes of the WSIS+10 High-Level Event have set the stage for further discussions on WSIS+10, including at the United Nations General Assembly and at the upcoming ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, to be held in Busan, Republic of Korea, from 20 October to 7 November 2014.
The WSIS+10 High-Level Event, held as an extended version of the WSIS Forum, was hosted and coordinated by ITU, and co‑organized by ITU and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
A number of agencies played a facilitating role: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations; International Labour Organization (ILO); International Trade Centre (ITC); United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA); United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); Universal Postal Union (UPU); UN Women; World Meteorological Organization (WMO); World Health Organization (WHO); World Food Programme (WFP); World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), as well as the United Nations Regional Commissions.
The WSIS High-level Event was supported by governments and the private sector. The United Arab Emirates and Intel were strategic partners. Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland provided support. Côte d’Ivoire, Tunisia, the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP), the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) also contributed to the event.
Dr Touré said he was “delighted to see this year’s High-Level Event culminating with such strong commitment and support for the WSIS review process (WSIS+10) — from governments, from the private sector, from civil society, from academia, and from international organizations”. He expressed the hope to see the same spirit next year at the 2015 edition of the WSIS Forum, to be held in Geneva.