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Focusing ICT On The New UN Development Goals

How can ICT best be deployed to advance the new Sustainable Development Goals? M-H Carolyn Nguyen and Paul Mitchell review the history and current position.

Focusing ICT On The New UN Development Goals

The internet and advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) have revolutionised our lives – the way we find information, the way we communicate, how
we run our businesses, how we entertain ourselves, how we share knowledge – the list is endless. They have also transformed global economies. It is estimated that the internet accounted for 21% of GDP growth in mature economies from 2004 to 2009 and is worth 3.4% of GDP across the large economies that make up 70% of global output. There is clear evidence of a correlation between the maturity of the internet ecosystem and several other measures, including increased innovation, entrepreneurship, creation of new business models, and a general rise in standards of living.

Technologically, the internet is a network of networks that serve as a platform for other technological innovations. Cloud computing builds on the internet to make available services and applications globally, democratising access to information, knowledge, and computing resources around the world. This has the potential to transform the 95% of businesses in the world which are small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and which are responsible for about 60% of private sector employment. Healthy local SME ecosystems directly impact sustainable economic development as they can develop locally relevant content and services more quickly, provide faster responses to local market demands, and have more immediate impact on local job growth. For entrepreneurs and SMEs, the cloud lowered the cost of capital investments and IT skills required, enabling them to compete on an equal footing with larger and much better resourced entities – IT-enabled SMEs increase revenues 15% faster and create jobs almost twice as fast as other SMEs. Availability of cloud resources in turn drives a number of other opportunities. Data analytics and machine learning bring the promise of an intelligent cloud that enables more effective and efficient solutions in a wide range of sectors, including healthcare, disaster response, agriculture, sustainability, and transportation. The internet of things (IoT) can help the farming industry meet the demand to increase food production by 70% by 2050 to feed an estimated population of 9.6 billion people, while also addressing the anticipated challenge of climate change and potential impact of intensive farming practices. For crop farmers, for example, the IoT will mean being able to prepare the soil, plant, and harvest at precisely the optimal time given predicted weather.

It was in recognition of the fast pace of the ICT evolution and potential impact on development that in 2001 the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (GA) agreed to convene the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to define and realise a vision of what should be achieved in two phases: the Geneva Summit in 2003, and the Tunis Summit in 2005.
The Geneva Principles declared the common vision of the information society as “a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society, where everyone can create, access, utilise and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purpose and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Declaration of Human Rights.” 

It recognised that ICT and the internet must be integrated into national and regional strategies to advance sustainable development. The principles also raised the need for internet governance, and called for a working group that would make appropriate proposals for actions in the 2005 summit.

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