Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development

Acronym: BCSD

Established: 2010

Address: Place des Nations, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland

Website: https://www.broadbandcommission.org/Pages/default.aspx

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Broadband Commission is a high-level public-private partnership fostering digital cooperation and developing actionable recommendations for achieving universal meaningful connectivity as a means of advancing progress on the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Established in 2010 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), HE President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and Mr Carlos Slim Helú of Mexico, its mission is to boost the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda and expand broadband access to every country. Today, the Commission is composed of more than 50 Commissioners who represent a cross-cutting group of top CEOs and industry leaders; senior policymakers and government representatives; and experts from international agencies, academia, and organisations concerned with development.

The Commission acts as a UN advocacy engine for the implementation of the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, leveraging the strength of its membership and collective expertise to advocate for meaningful, safe, secure, and sustainable broadband communications services that reflect human and children’s rights.

Digital activities

The Commission develops policy recommendations and thought leadership focused on the use of broadband connectivity to accelerate progress towards achieving the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and universal and meaningful connectivity. To mobilise efforts to bring the life-changing benefits of digital transformation to everyone, the Broadband Commission puts broadband connectivity at the forefront of global policy discussions.

The Commission’s efforts are detailed in our flagship annual collaborative State of Broadband Report and Year in Review, and throughout the year, take the form of thematic Working Groups and their publications, regular meetings, and advocacy activities on the margins of other key events such as SDG Digital, GSMA’s MWC, HLPF, WSIS, and UNGA. 

The Broadband Commission outlines its seven objectives in its 2025 Broadband Advocacy Targets. These targets reflect ambitious and aspirational goals and function as a policy and programmatic guide for national and international action in sustainable and inclusive broadband development.

Each year, the Commission hosts Working Groups to dive deeper into prominent issues affecting broadband access, affordability, and use. Working Groups are proposed and led by Commissioners, with the support of external experts. The culmination of the discussion and research of these groups is a consensus-based collaborative report which provides policy recommendations for achieving the issues examined, in alignment with the Commission’s targets and elements of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications infrastructure

The Commission promotes the adoption of best practices and policies that enable the deployment of broadband networks at the national level,  especially among developing countries. We engage in advocacy activities aimed at demonstrating that broadband networks are fundamental to modern societies and the achievement of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs). Each year, the Broadband Commission publishes a State of Broadband Report, providing a global overview of the current state of broadband network access and affordability and use, an update on the Commission’s 7 Advocacy Targets, and insights/impact stories from Commissioners on multistakeholder actions for accelerating the achievement of universal meaningful connectivity. 

The Commission has launched a number of Working Groups focused on connectivity infrastructure and financing, including the World-Bank-led Digital Infrastructure Moonshot for Africa and the Working Group on 21st Century Financing Models for Sustainable Broadband Development. These initiatives aim to provide governments and policymakers, and the private sector and development partners, with a set of holistic policy recommendations to accelerate broadband connectivity, close digital gaps, and foster innovative financing and investment strategies to achieve the Commission’s targets for broadband and to provide universal and affordable access to the internet​. The Working Group on School Connectivity, also identified a set of core principles to help governments and other interested stakeholders to develop more holistic school connectivity plans.

Access

When advocating for the rollout of broadband infrastructure and bridging the digital divide, the Commission underlines the increasing importance of internet access and adoption as an enabler of inclusive sustainable growth and development.

We pay particular attention to aspects related to infrastructure deployment in developing countries, inclusive and relevant digital content creation and education, connectivity for small businesses, and access to broadband/internet-enabled devices. 

Recent broadband reports covering these topics include the Commission’s Working Groups on Connectivity for MSMEs, Smartphone Access, and Data for Learning. These Working Groups aim to advance progress on the Commission’s 2025 Advocacy Targets on micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), universal connectivity and digital skills development. 

The Broadband Commission has also developed the Broadband Transforming Lives campaign to further illustrate the global use of broadband in everyday life, and its potential to bridge the gender digital divide, empower youth and small businesses, and improve public services like healthcare and government services.

Sustainable development

The Commission advocates for actions to be taken by all relevant stakeholders with the aim of closing the digital divide, a crucial step towards achieving the SDGs. The Commission’s annual State of Broadband Report looks at the progress made in implementing broadband networks in various countries around the world, which it regards as an essential element in addressing the digital divide. In addition, the Working Group on Smartphone Access examines the smartphone access gap and provides strategies for achieving universal smartphone ownership so that all communities may benefit from access to digital services.

In support of SDG Digital, an event hosted by ITU and UNDP with the aim of bringing digital SDG solutions to scale, Broadband Commissioners offered insights into the various use cases for digital technologies to accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs, highlighting the crucial importance that everyone plays in harnessing the power of digital for a brighter future.

Interdisciplinary approaches: Digital cooperate

The work of the Commission contributes to the UN Secretary General’s Global Digital Compact, which outlines shared principles for an ‘open, free and secure digital future for all’. The Commission prepared a contribution to the Global Digital Compact, in which we call for the Compact to be anchored in the vision of a connected, inclusive, and sustainable world and expresses the need to ensure consistency between existing multilateral and multistakeholder forums and mechanisms, avoiding duplication and ensuring that efforts complement, build on, and reinforce existing frameworks and successful activities, which have proven to be impactful.

Through our various Working Group initiatives and the advocacy of our Commissioners, the Broadband Commission is an exemplary example of SDG 17: ‘Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development’ in action. The Commission’s policy recommendations advocate implicitly for global digital cooperation, providing considerations for all sectors to enhance collaboration to reach the goal of universal meaningful connectivity.  

Digital tools and initiatives

Resources

The Broadband Commission’s website, social media, and various online channels feature landmark reports, which are available for free:

The Broadband Commission has also been instrumental in launching the following global initiatives and is an active participant in:

Social media channels

Facebook @broadbandcommission

Flickr @Broadband Commission

LinkedIn @broadband-commission

X @UNBBCom

YouTube @Broadband Commission

European Free Trade Association

Acronym: EFTA

Established: 1960

Address: Rue de Varembé, 9-11, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland

Website: https://www.efta.int/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

EFTA is an intergovernmental organisation composed of four member states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

Established in 1960 by the Stockholm Convention, EFTA promotes free trade and economic integration between its members. Since its founding, relations with the European Economic Community (EEC) (later the European Community (EC)) and the European Union (EU) have been at the heart of EFTA activities. In 1992, three EFTA states (Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein) signed the Agreement on the European Economic Area with the EU, which now makes up the so-called European Economic Area (EEA).

Since the early 1990s, EFTA has been actively engaged in trade relations with third countries in and outside of Europe.

Digital activities

EFTA’s activities in the context of digital issues pertain to electronic communication such as the exchange of information via telecommunications and the internet , audiovisual services, and the information society, including the free movement of information society services as well as data protection.

E-commerce and trade

EFTA’s Working Group on Electronic Communication, Audiovisual Services, and Information Society (ECASIS) deals with legal provisions pertaining to the EU’s digital strategy: A Europe Fit for the Digital Age. As per the EEA Agreement, EFTA states (excluding Switzerland) participate in the EU’s internal market and as such have to apply EU rules on electronic communication, audio-visual services, and the information society. Among other things, these rules include acts on radio spectrum management, roaming, privacy protection in electronic networks, net neutrality, and the deployment of very high capacity networks. Initiatives regarding the information society tackle legal frameworks on the free movement of information society services and apply to a wide range of economic activities that take place online. These include rules on e-commerce, cross-border data flows, the re-use of public sector information, and cybersecurity, as well as electronic identification and signatures.

In its trade relations with partners outside the EU, EFTA facilitates and provides basic rules for trade enabled by electronic means. In 2021, EFTA finalised internal work on a new e-commerce model chapter, which it now employs in the context of negotiations for free trade agreements around the globe. The chapter includes provisions on paperless trade administration, open internet access, online consumer trust, electronic payments and invoicing, and cross-border data transfers, among others.

Future of work

EFTA also tackles the implications of digitalisation on the future of work. In a report and resolution titled Digitalisation and its Impact on Jobs and Skills published by the EEA Consultative Committee, it is highlighted that investments in information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and new learning methods are important, including apprenticeships and workplace training. Moreover, it underlines the need to examine whether and to what extent workers’ private lives require additional protection in a time of ubiquitous digital mobile communication.

In addition, the EEA Consultative Committee has adopted a resolution and report on the challenges and opportunities of greater use of AI in working life. Therein, the Committee underlined the importance of addressing issues raised by the increased use of AI in work life in a systematic and comprehensive manner in the EEA while following the principles of transparency and human monitoring.

Data governance and liability of intermediaries

In the context of the EEA Agreement, ECASIS works with EU policies on creating a single market for data as well as the conditions for use and access to data for businesses and governments within the EEA. It also engages with the EU to develop a common regulatory framework for artificial intelligence (AI). In the area of online intermediaries, the EEA EFTA states have issued common position papers on the new EU rules for internet platforms: the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act. The EEA EFTA states have advocated for additional safeguards regarding the use of recommender systems and profiling of consumers and micro-targeted advertising, in particular when directed at minors and vulnerable groups. ECASIS also works to implement EU content rules that affect trade in the EU’s internal market, such as with regard to the dissemination of terrorist content and child sexual abuse material online.

Privacy and data protection

In the context of data protection, EFTA’s Expert Group on Data Protection keeps track of EU initiatives in the domain of data protection, which has become particularly relevant in the fast-changing digital environment. The Expert Group contributes to the development of EU policies and legislation in the field of data protection by advising the European Commission, or by being involved in the work of the Commission’s committees, as per the EEA agreement. The EEA agreement covers EU legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the e-Privacy Directive, and Regulation 611/2013 on notifications of data breaches and is, therefore, applicable to the previously mentioned three EFTA states. The Expert Group coordinates with the EC on new EU data adequacy decisions allowing international transfers of personal data with counterparties located outside the EEA.

In addition to the external trade relations of EFTA member states (e.g. size of imports/exports/top traded goods), an interactive Free Trade Map illustrates EFTA’s preferential trade relations with partners worldwide. In June 2022, EFTA also published the first edition of the FTA Monitor, which provides fine-grained data on preference utilisation rates under the EFTA’s existing free trade agreements, including an interactive map. EFTA also provides a web tool containing visual presentations that explains how EU law becomes EEA law.

Future of meetings

Most recently, in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, EFTA held virtual meetings, for instance in the case of the EEA Joint Committee and the interaction with EFTA Advisory Bodies, and negotiations for free trade agreements with partners around the globe. Moving forward, EFTA continues to leverage the benefits of virtual and hybrid meetings and corollary online platforms.

Social media channels

Facebook @eftasecretariat

Instagram @eftasecretariat

LinkedIn @efta

Twitter @EFTAsecretariat

YouTube @EFTAvideo

Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator

Acronym: GESDA

Established: 2013

Address: c/o Fondation Campus Biotech Geneva, Chemin des Mines 9, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://gesda.global/

Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations

GESDA was established to explore how future science breakthroughs can most efficiently be translated into and used as tools for the benefit of humanity. GESDA interlinks the digital revolution with other disruptive fields of science and technology, and with the diplomatic world.

GESDA’s work is guided by three fundamental questions:

  • Who are we, as humans? What does it mean to be human in the era of robots, gene editing, and augmented reality?
  • How are we all going to live together? How can technologies reduce inequality and foster inclusive development?
  • How can we ensure the well-being of humankind and the sustainable future of our planet? How can we supply the world’s population with the necessary food and energy and regenerate our planet?

GESDA brings together an outstanding community of academic, diplomacy, and impact leaders to reflect and act on how to use the future to build the present. Its work is structured around three flagship instruments:

  • GESDA Science Breakthrough Radar®

This digital platform – updated continuously and released in paper copy on a yearly basis – maps impactful emerging topics currently researched in science laboratories across the world and anticipated breakthroughs at 5, 10, and 25 years. Curated by the academic community, it provides descriptions of over 300 breakthrough predictions relevant to the global community.

Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipation Summit accelerates the science diplomacy nexus. Bringing science to the table of multilateralism, it engages diplomacy leaders to examine the impact of future breakthroughs on people, society, and the planet, as well as their implications for future global governance and geopolitics.

GESDA’s instrument to co-construct science diplomacy solutions with relevant transdisciplinary and cross-community task forces. In 2022, GESDA has eight solutions pathways and four initiatives in the making. These propositions are communicated at the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipation Summit.

GESDA structures its anticipation, acceleration, and translation work across five thematic platforms addressing potential future science and technology advances, as well as their related challenges:

  • Quantum revolution and advanced artificial intelligence (AI), with for instance the challenge of privacy.
  • Human augmentation, with for instance the challenge of advanced gene editing or neuroenhancement.
  • Eco-regeneration and geo-engineering,  with for instance the challenges of synthetic biology, decarbonisation, and regenerative agriculture.
  • Science and diplomacy, with for instance the challenge of future world geopolitics, including multilateral conflict modelling, forecasting, and prevention.
  • Knowledge foundations with for instance the challenge of the future of work and labour, including rising inequalities and inclusive growth.

From the end of 2022 onwards, the GESDA Board of Directors will choose and fund (in partnership with other foundations) a limited number of large-scale, high-impact solutions and initiatives aiming to:

  • Help the world population benefit more rapidly from the advances of science and technology as stated by Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
  • Contribute to inclusive human development by reducing poverty and inequality while increasing the number of developing and emerging economies, in line with Agenda 2030.
  • Leverage the role of Geneva and Switzerland as a hub of multilateralism capable of anticipating cutting-edge science and technologies, as well as translating them into effective tools for

GESDA was created as a global independent foundation and a public partnership in 2019, for an initial start-up phase of three years. The founders – the Swiss Federal Council and the Canton of Geneva with the City of Geneva-decided in March 2022 to prolong the Foundation for 10 years.

The ultimate objective remains to strengthen the contribution of Switzerland to multilateralism as the host country of the UN in Geneva.

Digital activities

Advanced computational tools, such as AI and high-performance computing, are reshaping all fields of science.

GESDA’s specificity is that it focuses on ‘science anticipation’. Its ambition is to comprehend the future digital disruptions and their implications for other fields of science, geopolitics, and mankind.

GESDA’s headquarters are located at the Campus Biotech in Geneva.

Digital policy issues

In 2022, GESDA’S Science Breakthrough Radar considered 28 interdisciplinary and interrelated scientific emerging topics. In addition to the anticipated breakthrough, the Radar presents an overview of the sentiment and the actions of civil society on these topics.

Platform 1: Quantum Revolution & Advanced AI

Advanced artificial intelligence

AI, already a world-changing technology, is set to grow in power and influence. It is clear that our current systems realise only a small part of AI’s potential, and as it grows more powerful and flexible it will affect us ever more profoundly. Anticipating and directing how that growth will occur is a vital part of the research effort in this area: we must shape advanced AI to be reliable, transparent, and equitable, but that may require a deep reappraisal of how these technologies

Quantum technologies

The effort to process information in entirely novel ways using the unique properties of subatomic particles is making significant progress. Quantum technologies are already impacting sensing, imaging, and metrology. Quantum computing and communications are also drawing closer to meaningful real-world applications. The potential exists for quantum technologies to radically alter medicine, finance, and online commerce, and to accelerate scientific discovery.

Brain-inspired computing

Computing researchers are looking to harness biological innovations honed through millions of years of evolution. If they can achieve even a fraction of the energy efficiency and processing power of the human brain, for example, we will have unleashed an extraordinary new era of computing. Brain-inspired computing seeks to take neuroscience’s understanding of the brain’s architectures and processes and use them to create autonomous, low energy information processors that offer the potential for radical new computing applications.

Biological computing

Living matter uses more than just brains to process information. The biochemistry of cells, bacteria, and other biological systems and organisms is a form of information processing that has vast potential for technological exploitation. Biological computing seeks to harness, and sometimes re-engineer, biological information processing to perform tasks such as environmental sensing, pollution remediation, and medical diagnosis. These new thinking devices may be very different to today’s conventional computers, requiring us to rethink how we can use them to best effect.

Augmented reality

The speedup of digital communications,  combined with developments in hardware and software, means that we can now receive real-time data and sensory experiences that enhance our normal interaction with our environment. Such overlays of augmented reality are already being used to train people in virtual work environments and to improve certain leisure activities, such as online gaming. As technology progresses, the hardware such as glasses that provide a view of information about our surroundings and the objects within them will become ever more ubiquitous. Augmented reality is likely to change the nature of our daily interactions with other people and with our surroundings, and even the way we switch between the real world and virtual environments such as the metaverse.

Collective intelligence

Human intelligence is already remarkable. However, the potential to combine the intelligence of individuals with accumulated wisdom and experience, online repositories of learning, and the powers of technologies such as AI, offers the chance to move to a new level. The field of collective intelligence is truly multidisciplinary, involving psychology, economics, computer science, and a range of other fields. It is far from mature, but has enormous promise. If we can harness human capabilities, collective intelligence has the potential to help solve a wide range of societal challenges, from politics to business to conservation, in local and global organisations.

Platform 2: Human augmentation

Cognitive enhancement

Through deep-brain, temporal lobe, or cortical stimulation, but also non-invasive stimulation techniques, neuroscientists aim at restoring brain functions affected by common neuro-degenerative diseases. Combining the learning from these interventions with advanced AI technologies, the mid-to-long-term goal is to close the loop between brain activity and computers in order to augment the cognitive capacities of human beings. While the human brain is not always able to take the morally optimal decision (e.g. the ’trolley problem’, but also AI-assisted policing or an AI-augmented judiciary), the forthcoming augmentation – or even fusion – between computed and ‘brain’ intelligence will allow the enhancement of human decision-making on moral and ethical issues, with the risk of brain hacking via computational systems.

Human applications of genetic engineering

Genome editing is already improving diagnostics and treatments for cancer and potentially many other diseases of ageing. Such research into human applications of genetic engineering is also pointing the way to a future in which bodies can be engineered to be free of cancer, HIV, and other infectious diseases. Genome editing even promises to make such changes heritable, meaning future generations will not require preventive therapies. Small-molecule drugs and other interventions now in clinical trials promise to significantly reduce the burden of disease on society, radically altering what it means to age. Advances in AI and the availability of genetic data, speed up the discovery of new therapeutic approaches but also the identification of complex genetic pathways.

Consciousness augmentation

Lab research suggests that it is possible to expand consciousness beyond the limits imposed by human senses, standard cognitive capacity, and injury or disease. Such consciousness augmentation could help us better coexist with the species with which we share the planet, improve our understanding of how humans can educate themselves, and give us new ways to diagnose and assist people suffering from debilitating disorders of consciousness. Digital technologies, combined with advances in neuro-sciences, are key to providing a means to connect brain analysis with brain stimulation or providing virtual environments to expand consciousness.

Future therapeutics

Although innovations in medicine have been radically extending the human lifespan for more than a century now, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Cardiovascular and metabolic diseases are largely preventable, but still end a significant number of lives unnecessarily early. However, a range of new treatment options are coming into view, and these future therapeutics could have a great deal to offer medical practitioners. Advances in information technology, biotechnology, and a basic understanding of how human biology operates are enabling the use of electrical signals, AI-driven data analysis, cell therapies, and even the mechanisms of the immune system to improve the maintenance of good health, the diagnosis of disease, and the results of medical interventions.

Platform 3: Eco-regeneration and geo-engineering

World simulation

The burgeoning field of world simulation is experiencing rapid developments. The increasing convergence of big data, advanced computer modelling, and AI will allow us to model complex systems, from societies to whole ecosystems, with ever greater predictive power. This will prove an invaluable guide in policymaking.

Ocean stewardship

Our relationships to the oceans must change. We urgently need to understand them better, and to help repair their ecosystems where possible. There are pathways opening up that will make this happen. We can deploy the emerging technology of autonomous sensors to gather relevant data, for example, and continue to explore the vast biodiversity of the ocean and the myriad cold adapted organisms rapidly disappearing from the planet’s retreating glaciers. As our understanding of their complex, interdependent networks grows, so will our ability to perform proper ocean stewardship and find solutions to the problems they are facing.

Infectious diseases

Although humanity has made great progress in reducing the impact of infectious disease, there is still plenty to do. The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that new diseases are emerging all the time, and that our interconnectedness provide sample opportunity for them to spread quickly, with devastating results. The problem of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and Zika remains unsolved, highlighting the importance of seeing disease as emerging from human actions in, and interactions with, our environment. Medical technologies, such as vaccines, are only part of the solution; we also need to use multidisciplinary research to garner a deeper understanding of the ways in which infectious diseases arise and emerge. Digital technologies provide the means to develop powerful monitoring and containment strategies.

Platform 4: Science and diplomacy

Science-based diplomacy

It is now almost impossible to separate diplomacy from the influence of science and technology. Computational modelling, analysis, and AI are set to play important roles in international relations, especially when it comes to interactions between groups of people. Researchers are already compiling vast databases of historical interactions between actors in various international forums. Mining these databases produces an instant picture of an actor’s past statements and positions and helps to find common ground in negotiations. These databases are the bedrock of science-based diplomacy, a strategy that is likely to become more powerful, more comprehensive, and more widely used. Indeed, negotiation engineering aims to depoliticise these discussions by automating certain aspects of the process.

Digital technologies and conflicts

The increasing power and availability of digital technologies are fundamentally changing the nature of conflict in the twenty-first century. The interactions of digital technology and conflict are an urgent subject of research. The war in Ukraine, for example, is being hailed as the first hybrid war, a concept long talked about in policy circles in which conventional battlefield tactics are combined with cyberattacks and information warfare to achieve military goals. Perhaps the most impactful use of digital technology in the Ukraine conflict has been the exploitation of commercial satellite imagery for military and propaganda purposes by both state and non-state actors. Surveillance technology is also rewriting the nature of modern conflicts, and there is growing concern about the increasing convergence of biosecurity and cybersecurity.

Democracy-affirming technologies

Much has been written about the potential of technologies like social media and data analytics to spread disinformation and polarise society, thus weakening democracy, but there is now a countervailing movement. A Summit for Democracy hosted by the USA in December 2021 highlighted these threats in an attempt to counter them, the White House Office of Science and Technology announced a new grand challenge competition designed to spur the development of democracy-affirming technologies. Further advances come from innovations in fact-checking websites and tools that have been designed to help people better assess the validity of information online; digital identity technologies, which are emerging as a critical tool for helping democracy transition into the digital age; and technological means to evade attempts at censorship.

Platform 5: Knowledge foundations

Complex system science

Our world is hugely susceptible to the powerful winds of change unleashed by economic, social, and political forces that interact in intricate feedback loops. In the past, scientists have struggled to understand and model these forces. But in recent years our ability to gather and process data has enabled computer models and simulations of our world on a wide variety of scales with increasing predictive power. While this approach is in its infancy, it raises the prospect of more stable economies, more fruitful and productive negotiations, and more peaceful societies.

Future of education

Much of the progress in all fields of research over the next quarter-century will depend on the knowledge we gain, exploit, and pass on to our children. But the need for innovations in education goes much wider. We need to find ways to exploit educational technology for individual, lifelong learning and we need to better understand how learning happens in the brain. Education is the lifeblood of humanity, and improving its delivery is central to all of our futures.

Future economics

The global effort to make humanity’s existence sustainable, with societies, cities, and citizens that are resilient to inevitable change, is vital. Most countries’ and most global companies’ strategic futures now include policies that engender sustainable future economics. The move to renewable power has considerable momentum. Less well developed are attempts to create circular economies that exploit Earth’s resources while leaving its capital unchanged. The impact of intelligent machines on the way we work will also become a driver of social, economic, and political change.

Synthetic biology

Breakthroughs in our understanding of biology and our ability to manipulate it are now making it possible to redesign nature. Driven by breakthroughs in our ability to read and re-engineer the genetic code, synthetic biology is on the cusp of transforming agriculture, medicine, and manufacturing; a central driver for its inclusion as a new Radar topic. There are already around 400 scientifically feasible use cases for synthetic biology that could have a direct economic impact of $4 trillion. Schmidt Future recently released a report outlining how to build a new bioeconomy. Based on these advances, the convergence of advances in AI and in fundamental biology, combined with lowering costs in DNA synthesis will power this new revolution.

Future of meetings

Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipation Summit (annual event in October) – all sessions accessible online.

Science and Diplomacy Week (annual event in May) – most sessions accessible online.

GESDA Science Breakthrough Radar(provides a platform for online contributions).

GESDA regularly contributes to relevant global meetings across the world.

One of two annual board of directors’ meetings is held online.

Social media channels

Facebook @GESDAglobal

LinkedIn @gesda-global

Twitter @GESDAglobal

Commission on Science and Technology for Development

Acronym: CSTD

Established: 1992

Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://unctad.org/en/Pages/cstd.aspx

The CSTD is a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Commission met for the first time in April 1993 in New York, USA. Since July 1993, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has been hosting the CSTD secretariat, which holds an annual intergovernmental session for the discussion of timely and pertinent issues affecting science, technology, and development. CSTD members are national governments, but debates also involve representatives from academia, the private sector, and civil society. Strong links exist with other UN bodies (including the Commission on the Status of Women, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Regional Commissions, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United National Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)). Outcomes of the CSTD include providing the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and ECOSOC with high-level advice on relevant science and technology issues.

Digital activities

The CSTD reviews progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes at the regional and international levels. It also discusses frontier technologies, which are largely linked with digitalisation. Based on reviews and discussions, the CSTD prepares draft resolutions for ECOSOC. These draft resolutions tackle issues ranging from access to the internet, information and communications technologies (ICTs), and frontier technologies to the use of these technologies in achieving sustainable development, particularly under the 2030 Agenda, including mitigating and adapting to climate change. At each of its annual sessions and intersessional panels, the CSTD addresses two priority themes regarding the use of STI including digital technologies, in different areas, for example, sustainable cities and communities; inclusive social and economic development; good health and well-being; opportunities and challenges associated with blockchain technology; capacity development; Industry 4.0 for inclusive development; and access to safe water and sanitation.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence (1)

As part of its work on assessing the impact of technological change on inclusive and sustainable development, the CSTD is also exploring the role of frontier technologies including AI. At its 22nd session, the CSTD pointed out that AI and other frontier technologies offer significant opportunities to accelerate progress in the SDGs, while also posing new challenges (e.g. disrupting labour markets, exacerbating or creating new inequalities, and raising ethical questions). The CSTD focused its 2019–2020 intersessional work on digital frontier technologies, such as AI, big data, and robotics. For 2021, the CSTD chose another digital technology – blockchain for sustainable development – as a priority theme for its work. In 2022, the CSTD deliberated on Industry 4.0 technologies (such as AI, big data, IoT, and robotics) for inclusive development.

Access (2)

During its annual sessions and intersessional panels, as well as in its draft resolutions for ECOSOC, the CSTD tackles aspects related to the digital divide, and outlines the need for further progress in addressing the impediments that developing countries face in accessing new technologies. It often underlines the need for coordinated efforts among all stakeholders to bridge the digital divide in its various dimensions: access to infrastructure, affordability, quality of access, digital skills, gender gap, and others. To this aim, the CSTD recommends policies and actions to improve connectivity and access to infrastructure, affordability, multilingualism and cultural preservation, digital skills and digital literacy, capacity development, and appropriate financing mechanisms.

Sustainable development

As the UN focal point for STI for development, the CSTD analyses the impact of digital technologies on sustainable development (assessing opportunities, risks, and challenges), including from the perspective of the ‘leaving no one behind’ principle. The CSTD also works to identify strategies, policies, and actions to foster the use of technology to empower people (especially vulnerable individuals and groups) and ensure inclusiveness and equality. In addition, it acts as a forum for strategic planning, sharing of good practices, and providing foresight about emerging and disruptive technologies.

Capacity development

Capacity development is one of the recurring themes that appear in draft resolutions prepared by the CSTD on the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes. The CSTD often emphasises the need for countries and other stakeholders to focus on capacity development policies and actions to further enhance the role of the internet as a catalyst for growth and development. Strengthening the capacity of stakeholders to participate in internet governance processes is another objective the CSTD has been calling for, especially in regard to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Digital tools

Interdisciplinary approaches: Internet governance

The CSTD was mandated to review the IGF process and suggest improvements. To this aim, the Working Group on Improvements to the IGF was established and a report recommending several action items regarding the IGF was delivered in 2012. The CSTD was also entrusted with the mandate to initiate discussions about enhanced cooperation in internet governance. It convened two working groups on enhanced cooperation (2013–2014 and 2016–2018); although consensus seemed to emerge on some issues, a divergence of views persisted on others and the Working Group could not find consensus on recommendations on how to further implement enhanced cooperation as envisioned in the Tunis Agenda.

UNCTAD is in charge of servicing the CSTD. As such, digital tools used by UNCTAD, for example, platform for online meetings, and social media for communications purposes are also employed for CSTD-related purposes. For instance, the 23rd and 24th CSTD annual sessions as well as the intersessional panel of the 24th CSTD were purely virtual, using the Interprefy platform. The intersessional panel and the annual session of the 25th CSTD were hybrid, combining online and in-person participation. The online platforms used were Interprefy and Zoom, respectively.

Social media channels

Facebook @UNCTAD

Flickr @UNCTAD

Instagram @unctad

LinkedIn @UNCTAD

Twitter @UNCTAD

YouTube @UNCTADOnline

1-Within the work of the CSTD, AI is placed under the term ‘frontier technologies’, which also includes big data analytics, biotech and genome editing, and IoT, https://unctad.org/en/Pages/CSTD/CSTDAbout.aspx

2-In the CSTD’s work, disparities related to access to the internet are referred to as the ‘digital divide’.

World Meteorological Organization

Acronym: WMO

Established: 1950

Address: Av. de la Paix 7 bis, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

Website: https://www.wmo.int/pages/index_en.html

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

WMO is a specialised agency of the United Nations dedicated to international cooperation and coordination on the state and behaviour of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interaction with the land and oceans, the weather and climate it produces, and the resulting distribution of water resources. It boasts a membership of 193 member states and territories. Weather, climate, and water respect no national boundaries, and so cooperation is key.

National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) work around the clock to provide early and reliable warnings of severe weather. WMO also measures and forecasts air quality and monitors and projects climate change. The overriding priority is to save life and property, protect resources and the environment, and support socio-economic growth. With this work, WMO supports NMHSs and meets their international commitments in disaster risk reduction, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and sustainable development.

Digital activities

Data is in WMO’s DNA. Data is gathered from one of the most diverse data-gathering systems worldwide, consisting of more than 10,000 manned and automatic surface weather stations, national radar networks, ocean observing stations, and weather satellite constellations. Data exchange underpins all WMO core functions from weather forecasting to climate,  hydrological, and ocean monitoring. Supercomputers and global telecommunication systems power the ever-growing appetite for data.

WMO also explores the role of new technologies and their relevance for public weather services including the use of AI approaches. AI complements complex numerical weather prediction algorithms that process vast amounts of data and calculate the behaviour of weather patterns, providing short-term weather forecasts and long-term climate predictions.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence

To use its gathered data, WMO makes weather-related predictions via an observation system such as the Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP). With more attention being paid to AI, WMO’s decades-long experience with the NWP can help understand both the potential and limitations of AI in dealing with nature, which is the most complex logical system.

Digital standards

WMO maintains one of the most comprehensive standardisation systems with a detailed explanation of each step in the data cycle. WMO guidelines range from issues such as the position or the type of surface (e.g. grass) over which weather observation stations should be placed to uniform and structured standards on data sharing.

Data governance

WMO Unified Data Policy

The 2021 Extraordinary World Meteorological Congress approved the WMO Unified Data Policy to dramatically strengthen the world’s weather and climate services through a  systematic increase in much-needed observational data and data products across the globe.

The Unified Data Policy was painstakingly developed through extensive consultation with thousands of experts and other global stakeholders to meet the explosive growth in demand for weather, climate, and water data products and services from all sectors of society.

Approval of the Unified Data Policy provides a comprehensive update of the policies guiding the international exchange of weather, climate, and related Earth system data between the 193 WMO member states and territories. The new policy reaffirms the commitment to the free and unrestricted exchange of data, which has been the bedrock of WMO since it was established more than 70 years ago.

Why has WMO updated its data policy?

Recent decades have seen explosive growth in the demand for weather, climate, and water monitoring and prediction data to support essential services needed by all sectors of society, as they face issues such as climate change, increasing frequency and impact of extreme weather, and implications for food security.

The free and unrestricted exchange of observational data from all parts of the world and of other data products among all WMO members must be updated and strengthened to accommodate this growing demand. As the responsibilities of NMHSs continue to expand, a growing list of application areas beyond the traditional weather, climate, and water activities needs to be supported by WMO observing and data exchange and modelling systems. WMO data policy must evolve to accommodate atmospheric composition, oceans, the cryosphere, and space weather.

What are the benefits of updating the WMO data policy?

The new WMO Unified Data Policy will help the WMO community to strengthen and better sustain monitoring and predicting all Earth-system components, resulting in massive socio-economic benefits. It will lead to an additional exchange of all types of environmental data, enabling all WMO members to deliver better, more accurate, timely weather- and climate-related services to their constituencies.

In addition to data sharing, the overall importance of data has been further highlighted by the WMO’s Guidelines on Climate Data Rescue, published in 2004. The document tackles why data rescue (i.e. preservation of vast amounts of collected climate data and digitalisation of current and past datasets for easy access) is crucial. It explains that practitioners of data rescue might encounter obstacles such as the high cost of data rescue operations and the lack of digital skills and competencies to use the necessary tools in data preservation. The Guidelines were updated in 2016 to reflect the changes in digital technologies since they were first published. They now outline some of the necessary steps in the data rescue process, such as creating digital inventories and digitising data values.

Over the years, WMO has also engaged in the following data governance developments:

  • Cooperation on data in scientific circles through cooperation between the International Science Council (ISC) and the WMO World Data Centres and discussion on data at the World Conference on Science.
  • Cooperation with the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC), whose Resolution 6 specifies that ‘member states shall provide timely, free, and unrestricted access to all data, associated metadata, and products generated under the auspices of IOC programmes.’
  • Discussion with the World Trade Organization (WTO) on WMO datasets and competition provisions in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
  • Cooperation with the Intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO), which was established in 2003 to derive data policies for the Global Earth

Observation System of Systems based on the WMO

data exchange system.

Sustainable development

Climate change is an increasingly recognised global threat. But what risks does it pose exactly? And how will climate change and its impacts affect sustainable development? The complexity of the global climate system often contributes to significant gaps between scientific and policy-oriented understandings of how climate-change-related risks cascade through environmental, social, and economic systems.

WMO has addressed these gaps by connecting changes in the global climate system, as measured by the state of the climate indicators, to the SDGs based on extensive data collection. The aim is to improve risk-informed decision-making by aiding policymakers, the scientific community, and the public to grasp the interconnected and complex nature of climate change threats to sustainable development, thereby encouraging more comprehensive and immediate climate action.

Digital technologies have also played an essential role in the advancement of the World Weather Watch, a flagship WMO programme that allows for the development and improvement of global systems for observing and exchanging meteorological observations. The programme has evolved thanks to developments in remote sensing; private internet-type networks; supercomputing systems for data analysis; and weather, climate, and water (environmental) prediction models.

World Weather Watch consists of the following main building blocks:

  • National Meteorological Services collect data on land, water, and air worldwide. The WMO Information System (WIS) coordinates the data collection and transmission through its national, regional, and global centres.
  • Regional organisations that act as global hubs include, for example, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).

To produce a successful weather forecast, it is essential to ensure the timely delivery of observational data from as many stations worldwide as possible in the shortest time. What follows is an example of the Global Basic Observing Network (GBON) showing a map of observation stations worldwide.

Digital tools and initiatives

The Global Telecommunication System (GTS), as part of the WIS, carries data from observation stations to national, regional, and global actors. Most of the data is exchanged via the GTS in real time. Given the critical relevance of this data in dealing with crises, the GTS must be highly reliable and secure.

Smart data for evidence-based decision-making

In recent years, WMO has digitised its performance monitoring through the development of strategic and thematic dashboards as well as through the increased use of infographics and story maps, all tools conducive to evidence-based decision-making. In addition to a Key Performance Indicators Dashboard, WMO has launched a Hydro Dashboard, which provides valuable information on operational hydrological services worldwide. It is developing similar thematic dashboards on climate services and global data processing and forecasting. Internally, WMO has created a centralised data repository that brings together data from various systems, surveys, and sources, providing easy access to reliable data and related data analytics. The data repository is essential to facilitating the flow of objective, evidence-based, timely performance information.

Digital WMO community

WMO established the WMO Community Platform, which consists of several digital tools that allow for cross-analysis and visualisation of information from all WMO member states regarding weather, climate, and water to provide better insights into the work and needs of the community and to contribute to greater participation in good governance. The WMO e-Library is another tool that gathers and maintains different publications, including reports and WMO standards.

Green WMO

WMO has both virtual and in-person events. WMO experts are also working to reduce the impact of global observing systems and other operations on the environment. WMO is among the first UN organisations to do completely paperless sessions (all governance meeting documentation has been digital for many years). We experimented at the latest Executive Council meeting (EC-75) with translating the INF documents (information documents) using AI tools. It may also be relevant to mention that the draft Strategic Plan 2024-2027 has a new strategic objective (SO) targeted at environmental sustainability, including green IT and green meetings.

Useful documents where you can find many links:

Social media channels

Facebook @World Meteorological Organization

Flicker @World Meteorological Organization

Instagram @wmo_omm

LinkedIn @world-meteorological-organization

Twitter @WMO

YouTube @worldmetorg

South Centre

Address: Chem. de Balexert 7-9, 1219 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://southcentre.int

Established in 1995, the South Centre is an intergovernmental policy research think tank composed of and accountable to developing country member states. It researches key policy development issues and supports developing countries to effectively participate in international negotiating processes that are relevant to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The South Centre promotes the unity of the Global South in such processes while recognising the diversity of national interests and priorities.

The South Centre works on a wide range of issues relevant to countries in the Global South and the global community in general, such as sustainable development, climate change, South-South cooperation (SSC), financing for development, innovation and intellectual property, traditional knowledge, access to medicines, health, biodiversity, trade, investment agreements, international tax cooperation, human rights, gender, and the fourth industrial revolution.

Within the limits of its capacity and mandate, the South Centre also responds to requests for policy advice and technical and other support from its members and other developing countries.

The South Centre has observer status in several international organisations.

Digital activities

Innovation and development is one of the issue areas the South Centre works on. As part of its efforts within this domain, it focuses on information technologies. Moreover, digital issues are also tackled in the domain of, inter alia, taxation and the digital economy, data governance, e-commerce, and the fourth industrial revolution.

The South Centre has produced deliverables/research outputs in the following areas: digital and financial inclusion, digital economy, digital taxation, digital industrialisation, and digital trade, among others.

Digital policy issues

Intellectual property rights

In June 2019, it published a policy brief on Intellectual Property and Electronic Commerce: Proposals in the WTO and Policy Implications for Developing Countries, in which it gave an overview of discussions within the WTO on IP and its potential implications for the digital economy.

In September 2020, the South Centre published a research paper on Data in Legal Limbo: Ownership, Sovereignty, or a Digital Public Goods Regime? and in 2022, a research paper on The Liability of Internet Service Providers for Copyright Infringement in Sri Lanka: A Comparative Analysis.

Additional research will be published on IP and digital-related topics in the coming year.

E-commerce and trade

The digital economy is another issue researched by the South Centre in the context of development. For instance, in 2017 it published an analytical note The WTO’s Discussions on Electronic Commerce, in which it explores the stance of developing countries (i.e. readiness in terms of infrastructure, upskilling, etc.) to engage in cross-border e-commerce. Among other things, it highlights challenges such as low information technology (IT) adoption and the lack of electricity supply that limit the uptake of e-commerce activities in Africa for instance. Another analytical note published that same year tackles the impact of the digital economy on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and looks into the type of e-commerce rules that could best serve the interests of MSMEs.

The South Centre also provides analyses and organises many meetings to discuss issues such as the WTO E-Commerce Moratorium and the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) plurilateral discussions on e-commerce.

In 2019, it addressed issues on the regulation of the digital economy in developing countries, namely, the future of work, market dynamics, and data and privacy protection.

The South Centre recently published a research paper on the WTO Moratorium on Customs Duties on Electronic Transmissions. This paper highlights the adverse impacts of the continuing moratorium on developing and least developed countries. Because of the moratorium, almost all developing and least developed countries are losing tariff revenues at a time when they are most needed. With no clarity on the definition of electronic transmissions and thereby on the scope of the moratorium, its continuation can lead to substantive tariff revenue losses for developing and least developed countries in the future.

The South Centre recently issued a statement on the landmark shift of the US Trade Representative’s decision to rein in the Big Tech digital trade agenda under the E-Commerce Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) negotiations.

The South Centre also monitors developments and participates in discussions in the field and across international organisations in Geneva, including the UNCTAD eTrade for All initiative.

In 2022, the South Centre organised/co-organised two sessions during UNCTAD eCommerce week: Data Regulation: Implications for the Digitization of the Economy and Development and Exploring a Global Framework for Data Governance. The South Centre Executive Director also participated in the eTrade for All Leadership Dialogue. See the Centre’s contribution here.

Taxation

The taxation of the digital economy is the single biggest issue in international taxation today. Countries around the world are trying to find solutions for taxing Big Tech companies that operate with very different business models owing to which they are able to escape taxation under outdated international tax rules meant for a brick-and-mortar economy. The key solution being negotiated is known as Amount A of Pillar One of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Two Pillar solution. The South Centre has been actively involved in Amount A negotiations, briefing its member states and submitting comments on every single set of Model Rules that have been put out for public comment, articulating the concerns and issues of developing countries. In 2022, we published the world’s first set of country-level revenue estimates on Amount A contrasted with the UN solution of Article 12B of the UN Model Tax Convention. The revenue estimates were published for the member states of the South Centre and the African Union, with whom the study was jointly conducted. We are coming up with a revised set of revenue estimates based on the latest version of Amount A for our member states and these will be released in late 2023. In October 2023, we published another Policy Brief titled Beyond the Two Pillar Proposals: A Simplified Approach for Taxing Multinationals, which offers an alternative policy solution different from those of the UN and the OECD.

We also published a Policy Brief in June 2023 titled Taxation of Digital Services: What hope for the African States? which argues that African countries need to improve digital connectivity to be able to collect more taxes under the OECD digital tax solution of Amount A. This is because the revenue sourcing rules of Amount A allocate profits using digital indicators such as viewing of advertisements, IP addresses, etc.

In the UN Tax Committee, we participated in the 26th Session in New York where we mobilised the developing country members through peer exchanges and briefings and also participated in the negotiations to promote the interests of our member states and other developing countries, inter alia, on the taxation of the digital economy. 

Ahead of the UN Tax Committee session, we published a study on the taxation of computer software. The study on computer software showed that 34 of the South Centre’s member states could have collected $1 billion in taxes in 2020 from computer software sales had there been the corresponding standards by the UN. The Brief helped mobilise developing country support and bring to a close a 20-year negotiation on the taxation of computer software.

We also published a Policy Brief titled Conceptualizing Remote Worker Permanent Establishment, which provided an innovative solution for taxing the emerging phenomenon of Work From Home/Work From Anywhere. 

The UNCTAD Intergovernmental Group of Experts on the Digital Economy invited the South Centre to present to UN member states the policy options for taxing the digital economy. Our presentation was so appreciated that the governments of Palestine and Cambodia immediately requested capacity building on the subject.

Given our expertise in the taxation of the digital economy, we co-organised in June 2023 a Group of Twenty (G20)-South Centre event on international taxation. This was on capacity building for Indian tax officials on the Two Pillar solution and the international tax standards being negotiated in the UN. This was also our first G20 event, and was widely praised and appreciated by the Indian participants. We mobilised international tax experts from across Asia, Africa, and Latin America to share their perspectives on these topics with Indian officials.

We partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to co-organise a Capacity Building Workshop on the taxation of the digital economy in May 2023. The two organisations shared the policy options available to Sri Lanka to tax the digital economy, which included a Digital Services Tax. The workshop was so impactful that within a few days the government introduced a digital services tax and in the record time of two months got it passed by Parliament. We remained engaged and provided technical briefs to the Sri Lankan Parliament, particularly the Finance Committees.

We were also invited to participate in the Addis Tax Initiative (ATI) General Assembly in Zambia where we provided capacity building on ATI member states on the taxation of the digital economy. After the workshop, the Finance Ministry of Zambia reached out to the South Centre Tax Initiative (SCTI) for detailed policy advice.

Multiple news channels and agencies regularly solicit the South Centre’s views on the concerns of the developing countries in international tax negotiations on the taxation of the digital economy.

Sustainable development

The South Centre has delved into the interplay between digital technologies and development on several occasions through its research outputs. In 2006, it published an analytical note titled Internet Governance for Development, arguing that affordable access to the internet allows for better education opportunities, greater access to information, improved private and public services, and stronger cultural diversity. More specifically, the document provided recommendations on issues such as openness (e.g. leaving the policy space open for developing countries), diversity (e.g. multilingualism), and security (e.g. funding of computer security incident response teams (CSIRTs)) to maximise the outcomes of discussions for developing countries at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

A year later, the South Centre published the research paper Towards a Digital Agenda for Developing Countries, in which it looks into the conditions, rights, and freedoms necessary for developing countries to benefit from digital and Internet resources. By bringing together several different strands of ongoing discussions and analyses at the national and international levels, it provides a direction for further research and policy analysis by laying the groundwork and creating awareness of the relevance and scope of digital and internet content for policymakers in developing countries.

In 2020, the South Centre continued to research the impact of digital technologies in the context of development. Its research paper The Fourth Industrial Revolution in Developing Nations: Challenges and Roadmap tackles trends in emerging technologies such as big data, robotics, and the internet of things (IoT), and identifies challenges, namely, the lack of infrastructure, a trained and skilled workforce, scalability, and funding faced by developing countries. It goes on to propose a strategic framework for responding to the fourth industrial revolution, which focuses on capacity building, technology incubations, scientific development, and policymaking.

Discussions towards the adoption of a Global Digital Compact (GDC) have been included as one of the proposals made by the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) in his report Our Common Agenda (A/75/982). The main objective of this proposal is “to protect the online space and strengthen its governance” based on “shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all”. The issue of digital governance is quite complex and includes the need to reaffirm the fundamental commitment to connecting the unconnected; avoiding fragmentation of the internet; providing people with options as to how their data is used; applying human rights online; and promoting the regulation of AI. 

The need to guarantee the implementation of human rights online requires that discussions leading towards the GDC are conducted with upmost transparency, public disclosure, and accountability. Likewise, the private IT sector must respect human rights, apply human rights due diligence and increased accountability, and allow broader oversight from the state and civil society. In some instances, public-private partnerships (PPPs) can be a useful tool to support an inclusive digital transformation, but public participation and oversight of PPPs, guided by strong principles of transparency and the protection and respect for human rights, are necessary to support the transfer of technology, skills, and knowledge needed to promote an inclusive digital transformation. The South Centre has actively engaged with other partners to strengthen multilateralism in this process and to limit the detrimental impacts of multistakeholderism in global governance.  

The South Centre combines expertise in global matters of governance in the discussion of the GDC with the objective of strengthening multilateralism through an intergovernmental process that protects the voices of developing and least-developed countries. We prepared a submission to the GDC on applying Human Rights Online. In addition, our forthcoming research paper considers the discussion on the GDC, the current fragmentation of digital governance from the perspective of developing countries, and the need to increase international cooperation directed towards digital transformation, while highlighting the need to address climate change, the protection of human rights, and inclusiveness as the most relevant issues for developing countries today. 

In light of the global health pandemic, the South Centre, as part of its publication series South Views, shared the perspectives of developing countries on digital health. its challenges and recommendations to overcome these, and harnessing digital technology for education in developing countries, A SouthViews on Access to Medical Equipment in a Pandemic Situation: Importance of Localized Supply Chains and 3D Printing was also published.

In 2020 and 2021, a SouthViews on Technology and Inequality: Can We Decolonise the Digital World?, on Digital Transformation: Prioritizing Data Localization, and An Introduction to the UN Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries were also published.

A Public Health Approach to Intellectual Property Rights is a virtual help desk on the use of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities for public health purposes.

The South Centre has general and specific emailing lists and is moving to institutionally become a paperless organisation.

Future of meetings

In the COVID-19 global pandemic, the South Centre has increasingly used Zoom and Microsoft Teams for online meetings and webinars.

See meetings that the South Centre has organised at https://www.southcentre.int/category/events/the-south-centre-events and https://ipaccessmeds.southcentre.int/ event/ and https://taxinitiative.southcentre.int/event/

Social media channels

Facebook @South Centre

Instagram @southcentre_gva

LinkedIn @South Centre, Geneva

X @South_Centre

YouTube @SouthCentre GVA

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Acronym: UNHCR

Established: 1950

Address: Rue de Montbrillant 94, 1201 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://www.unhcr.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

Established in 1950 after the end of WWII, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a UN agency mandated to help and protect refugees, internally displaced and stateless people, and to assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.

Whereas the majority of its activities take place in the field (given that 90% of its staff is based on the ground) and include, among other things, the provision of protection, shelter, emergency relief, and repatriation, it also works with national political, economic and social actors in order to ensure that refugee policies are enacted and laws are compliant with international frameworks. In addition, the organisation also takes on advocacy activities where it works with governments, non-government actors in order to promote practices and provide assistance to those in need.

As recognition for its work, in 1954, the UNHCR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Digital activities

The UNHCR’s digital activities centre around its core objective – to aid refugees and displaced persons. The organisation, therefore, has been very active in the area of digital inclusion and digital identity. In this context, the UNHCR, for instance, looks for ways how digital identity can facilitate protection and empowerment of refugees and asylum-seekers. In addition, the Refugee agency has conducted substantial work in the field of privacy and data protection and transition to online learning to ensure the right to education.

Digital policy issues

Digital identities 

To promote the inclusion of refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons and other vulnerable individuals, the UNHCR focuses a part of its work on digital identity. Within this scope, it published in 2018 its “UNHCR Strategy on Digital Identity and Inclusion”. In this document, the UNHCR defines the challenges faced by individuals, in particular, foreigners, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who lack their legal identity papers. It highlights the advantages brought about by digitalisation and defines three main objectives for achieving the digital inclusion and digital identity: 1) Empower refugees, stateless and forcibly displaced persons to access, among other things, the job market, education and financial services; 2) strengthen states’ capacity to register and document all individuals living on their respective territories and ensure conformity with international standards of data security and privacy; 3) improve service delivery (e.g. delivery of legal and protection) through the use of the Internet and mobile technologies.

From a practical point of view, the Refugee Agency uses Population Registration and Identity Management Ecosystem (PRIMES) which gathers UNHCR’s digital registration, identity management and case management tools into a single internally connected and interoperable ecosystem. The tool makes use of personal information including biographic and biometric data, to provide necessary assistance, protection and services to protection to refugees and other displaced populations.

Online education 

Online learning plays also features in UNHCR’s work. In a recent publication titled ‘Supporting Continued Access to Education during COVID-19’, the UNHCR underscored its vital role in advocating for and ensuring the inclusion of refugees in national response plans to ensure the continuity of learning. The document sheds light on some of the activities that it has undertaken in light of the health crisis, including, the launch of online learning platforms in Jordan as well as related education programmes in Uganda. 

In the broader context of online education, in its ‘Education 2030: A Strategy for Refugee Inclusion’, the UNHCR highlights the increasingly important role played by digital technologies and proposes the strengthening of policies and practices to promote the development of digital and transferable skills through connected and blended learning 

methods. Keeping within the broader approach, in 2016, the UNHCR, together with Arizona State University, initiated the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium (CLCC). The objective of the initiative is to promote, coordinate and support the provision of quality higher education in contexts of conflict, crisis and displacement through Connected Learning that thanks to the use of information technology combine face-to-face and online learning. 

To pursue its action in the domain of access to education, the Refugee Agency runs several platforms. To illustrate, its online platform ‘UNHCR Opportunities’ allows refugees, IDPs and other displaced persons to find accredited higher education academic or scholarship programmes that have been verified by UNHCR. The ‘Learn and Connect’ portal enables UNHCR staff and partners to access a comprehensive set of learning activities.

Sustainable development 

The UNHCR is firmly committed to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The interplay between digital and development is evident in the Agency’s contributions in the field of digital inclusion. To this end, the UNHCR has published the above-mentioned ‘Strategy on Digital Identity and Inclusion’.

The Agency has also developed Digital Access, Inclusion and Participation programme, to ensure that refugees and other displaced communities have access to digital technology and connectivity, and increasing their participation in Agency’s work. UNHCR’s Innovation Service leads the programme.

In 2018, the UNHCR launched the Global Compact for Refugees, a  framework for more equitable responsibility-sharing, noting that sustainable solutions to refugee situations cannot be realised without international cooperation. Therefore, it sets out four key objectives: to ease the pressures on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-country solutions, and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. Moreover, the Agency developed a digital platform for the Global Compact on Refugees, which enables the sharing of experiences and knowledge on the implementation of the Global Compact for Refugees.

The UNHCR has also worked with students and young people to raise awareness on many challenges faced by refugees. For instance, the Agency has launched ‘The MUN Refugee Challenge’ to encourage students worldwide to debate on and shape solutions to numerous refugee crises. 

Privacy and data protection 

The UNHCR has been very vocal in the area of data protection, emphasising that ‘Data protection is part and parcel of refugee protection’. Since 2015, the Refugee agency has its own Data protection policy. The Policy is accompanied by the ‘Guidance on the Protection of Personal Data of Persons of Concern to UNHCR’, published in 2018, with the aim of assisting the UNHCR personnel in the application and interpretation of the above Policy. 

The Refugee agency has recently published a ‘Data Transformation Strategy 2020-2025’ aimed at strengthening its role as a leading authority on data and information related to forcibly displaced and stateless persons.

United Nations Institute for Training and Research

Acronym: UNITAR

Address: Av, de la Paix 7 bis, Geneva, Switzerland

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

UNITAR was created in 1963 to train and equip diplomats from newly independent UN member states with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the diplomatic environment.

Over the years, UNITAR has acquired unique expertise and experience in designing and delivering a variety of training activities. It has become a leading institute in the provision of customized, creative learning solutions to institutions and individuals from both the public and private sectors.

UNITAR provides training and capacity development activities to assist mainly developing countries, with special attention to least developed countries (LDCs), small island developing states (SIDS), and other groups and communities who are most vulnerable, including those in conflict situations.

In 2020, UNITAR provided learning, training, and knowledge-sharing services to 322,410 individuals, representing a 142% increase from 2019 figures. This increase is attributed largely to the continued delivery of the introductory e-Learning course on climate change administered in partnership with agencies of the One UN Climate Change Learning Partnership, and due to many programmes turning to online offers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the learning-related beneficiaries, 78% came from developing countries, of which 15% are LDCs and SIDS.

Digital activities

Of UNITAR’s activities, in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic-related travel and physical meeting restrictions, approximately 80% of events were delivered online, as compared to 38% in 2019. Most of UNITAR’s face-to-face activities take place in field locations, and the remainder are conducted from UNITAR’s headquarters in Geneva and through its out-posted offices in New York City and Hiroshima.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence

UNITAR’s work is driven by its programmatic divisions, of which some have made extensive use of artificial intelligence (AI). UNITAR’s Satellite Center (UNOSAT) and its Rapid Mapping Service first introduced AI-based methods (UNOSAT FloodAI) during the rainy season in the Asia-Pacific region with a targeted focus on countries affected by the southwest monsoon season from June to September 2020. It was in that context, in July 2020, that an AI algorithm became operational for the first time following a request by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) after heavy monsoon rains around the Brahmaputra River and in the Sylher district in Bangladesh. Going forward, UNOSAT intends to further develop AI applications for rapid mapping by focusing on the user experience and scaling up how it monitors flood-prone areas. This entails further training for the machines and automatic communication between the AI algorithm outputs (disaster maps) and the visualization dashboard developed by UNOSAT.

UNITAR’s Division for Prosperity looks at AI and several emerging technologies such as blockchain and augmented reality, and considers their impact on individuals, societies, and inclusive and sustainable economic growth. One example is its Frontier Technologies for Sustainable Development: Unlocking Women’s Entrepreneurship through Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Afghanistan and Iraq course.

Cybersecurity

UNITAR tackles cybersecurity issues through education and training activities, as well as events. Its training and education activities cover areas such as cybersecurity, cyberwarfare, cyber operations and human rights, digital diplomacy, and broader capacity building initiatives (e.g. e-workshops and the ‘in-focus series’). Particular courses and workshops include Digital Diplomacy and Cybersecurity, Diplomacy 4.0, the In-Focus Series on International Humanitarian Law and Cyberwarfare, as well as the Cybersecurity and Information Technology Series.

Intellectual property law and data governance

UNITAR also covers copyright, patent, and trademark issues in courses such as the Introduction to International Intellectual Property Law, which considers the role of intellectual property in the modern economy, while examining the fundamentals of copyright protection and patent law in the international community.

Furthermore, UNITAR tackles issues related more broadly to data governance (e.g. official statistics, data governance, communities and partnerships, and the data value chain) through massive online open courses (MOOCs) such as the Introduction to Data Governance for Monitoring the SDGs, which analyses effective data governance systems for monitoring progress in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and explores how to manage data-related partnerships, capabilities, and resources in the context of the SDGs.

Capacity development

Being one of the UN’s main training organizations, most of UNITAR’s activities fall in the category of capacity development.

UNITAR offers online, face-to-face, and blended-format courses for both institutions and individuals. Since the launch of its 2018–21 strategic framework and extended through its current 2022–25 strategic framework, its work is guided by strategic objectives organized around four thematic pillars of the 2030 Agenda, namely Peace, People, Planet, and Prosperity, in addition to the cross-cutting divisions on Multilateral Diplomacy and Satellite Analysis and Applied Research (UNOSAT) as well as the health-focused Defeat-NCD Partnership. Some of the division’s capacity-building and training programmes cover internet- and digital-policy-related areas, such as privacy and data protection, cybersecurity, and cybercrime, new emerging technologies (blockchain, AI, and augmented reality), and digital diplomacy.

UNITAR also offers a wide range of Master’s programmes and graduate certificates related to diplomacy, peace and security, human rights, and humanitarian interventions.

Furthermore, UNITAR organizes special events such as the Geneva Lecture Series, which consists of open lectures that are held on a regular basis at the Palais des Nations in Geneva to raise awareness of specific global challenges and deepen and broaden the participation of citizens and civil society.

Privacy and data protection

Privacy and data protection are two interrelated internet governance issues. Data protection is a legal mechanism that ensures privacy, while privacy is a fundamental human right. UNITAR deals with legal mechanisms ensuring data protection and privacy in numerous courses and events. One example is the course on Introduction to Privacy and Data Protection Law (2020), where different legal mechanisms that protect privacy worldwide are analyzed in depth.

Digital Tools

UNITAR offers its training and courses through its e-learning platform as well as a number of different online platforms that provide users with tools and resources in specific thematic areas.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNITAR published a number of resources on online learning and online event management addressing how to make online events more inclusive, or to turn face-to-face into online events, designing learning events and online facilitation cards.

Social media channels

Facebook @UNITARHQ

Flickr @UNITAR

Instagram @unitarhq

LinkedIn @UNITARHQ

Twitter @UNITAR

YouTube @UNITAR

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