United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Acronym: UNECE

Established: 1947

Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Website: https://www.unece.org/info/ece-homepage.html

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

UNECE is one of five regional commissions of the UN. Its major aim is to promote pan-European economic integration. To do so, it brings together 56 countries in Europe, North America, and Central Asia, which discuss and cooperate on economic and sectoral issues.

UNECE works to promote sustainable development and economic growth through policy dialogue, negotiation of international legal instruments, development of regulations and norms, exchange and application of best practices, economic and technical expertise, and technical cooperation for countries with economies in transition. It also sets out norms, standards, and conventions to facilitate international cooperation.

Digital activities

UNECE’s work touches on several digital policy issues, ranging from digital standards (in particular in relation to electronic data interchange for administration, commerce, and transport) to the internet of things (IoT) (e.g. intelligent transport systems). Its activities on connected vehicles and automated driving systems are essential to seize the benefits of technical progress and disruptions in that field and to operationalise new mobility concepts such as Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Its UN/CEFACT develops trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. UNECE also carries out activities focused on promoting sustainable development, in areas such as sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

UNECE’s work in the field of statistics is also relevant for digital policy issues. For example, the 2019 Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation– which guides countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation – covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.

UNECE carries out extensive work in the area of sustainable transport leading on several UN Conventions. Accession to the conventions continues to increase as more and more member states realise the benefits in the time taken and associated costs in the movement of goods. Numerous digitised systems have been developed, and are maintained, hosted, and administered under the auspices of UNECE. For a number of other tools and mechanisms, work is underway.

Digital policy issues

Digital standards

UNECE’s intergovernmental body UN/CEFACT continues making great strides in the area of digital standards. In a recent collaboration with the International Federation of Freight-Forwarders Associations (FIATA), it developed the electronic FIATA Multimodal Bill of Lading (eFBL) data standard. The basis of the mapping of the Negotiable FIATA Multimodal Transport Bill of Lading (FBL) with the UN/CEFACT Multimodal Transport (MMT) reference data model, allows the exchange of BL data in a standardised way, facilitating interoperability between all modes of transport and industry stakeholders. Similar to other data standards developed by UN/CEFACT, the data standard is offered as open-source for all software providers and industry stakeholders to implement. UNECE’s standardisation work builds on a family of reference data models in alignment with its strategy to become the next generation of global standards for trade and transport information exchange. Other digital standards in the areas of supply chain management, agriculture, and travel and tourism (e.g. Buy Ship Pay Reference Data Model, Textile and Leather Data Model (Part 1 and Part 2), and Travel and Tourism Experience Programme Data Model) are a great step toward paperless trade and benefit all actors of the supply chain by reducing costs, increasing security, and gaining efficiency.

Internet of things and artificial intelligence

As the UN centre for inland transport, UNECE hosts international regulatory platforms in the field of automated driving and intelligent transport systems. It hosts multilateral agreements and conventions ruling the requirements and the use of these technologies (such as the UN agreements on vehicle regulations and the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic). Its activities (e.g. facilitating policy dialogue and developing regulations and norms) contribute to enabling automated driving functionalities and ensuring that the benefits of these technologies can be captured without compromising safety and progress achieved in areas such as border crossing and interoperability. It also collaborates with other interested stakeholders, including the automotive and information and communications technology (ICT) industries, consumer organisations, governments, and international organisations.

Another area of work for UNECE is related to harnessing smart technologies and innovation for sustainable and smart cities. In this regard, it promotes the use of ICTs in city planning and service provision and it has developed (together with ITU) a set of key performance indicators for smart sustainable cities. UNECE also works to facilitate connectivity through sustainable infrastructure. For instance, it assists countries in developing smart grids for more efficient energy distribution, and it administers international e-roads, e-rail, and e-waterway networks.

UNECE launched the Advisory Group on Advanced Technology in Trade and Logistics (AGAT) in 2020 on topics, such as distributed ledger technologies (DLT) including blockchain, IoT, and AI.

Artificial intelligence for energy

AI and other technologies are inspiring energy suppliers, transmission and distribution companies, and demand sectors (buildings, industry, transport) to establish new business models to generate, deliver, and consume energy in a more sustainable way.

UNECE established a task force on digitalization in energy to offer a platform for cross-industry experts from the energy sector and digital innovation to develop a unified voice on digitalisation in energy.

The group found that AI and digitalisation have the potential to reduce residential and commercial buildings’ energy use by as much as 10% globally by 2040 if applied throughout a building’s value chain and life cycle. In particular, applications of AI may help optimise a building’s orientation for solar heat gain and predict power and heat needs, thus increasing overall energy security and maximising the integration of renewable energy sources.

The group also found that AI and digitalisation could help achieve energy savings of at least 10%–20% in the industrial sector (which consumes around 38% of global final energy and produces 24% of greenhouse gases).

Automated driving

Blockchain

UNECE’s subsidiary body UN/CEFACT has been exploring the use of blockchain for trade facilitation. For instance, work carried out within the Blockchain White Paper Project has resulted in two white papers: One looking at the impact of blockchain on the technical standards work of UN/CEFACT and another looking at how blockchain could facilitate trade and related business processes. The ongoing Chain Project is focused on developing a framework/mechanism for the development and implementation of blockchain services infrastructure, and creating a whitepaper on strategy for the development and implementation of interoperable global blockchain technology infrastructure. Another blockchain-related project looks into the development of a standard on the creation of a cross-border inter-customs ledger using blockchain technology.

Critical infrastructure

UNECE achieved a transformative milestone with regard to cybersecurity in the broad automotive sector with the adoption of UN Regulation No. 155 (Cyber Security and CSMS) and UN Regulation No. 156 (Software Updates).

Before that, cyber risks related to connected vehicles were apparent but not systematically addressed. Security researchers alerted the public of them by revealing various vulnerabilities. There were only narrow standards and guidelines for securing vehicles, such as standards for secure communication among Electronic Control Units (ECUs) and for hardware encryption.

UNECE’s World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (Working Party on Automated/Autonomous and Connected Vehicles (GRVA) WP.29) adopted two important new regulations on cybersecurity and over-the-air software updates and led to the situation where cybersecurity became non-negotiable for securing market access via type approval for those countries applying this regime. GRVA also developed recommendations on uniform provisions concerning cybersecurity and software updates for countries applying the self-certification regime.

Under the 1958 Agreement (binding to 54 countries)

Data governance

UNECE carries out multiple activities of relevance for the area of data governance.
First, its work on trade facilitation also covers data management issues. For example, it has issued a white paper on a data pipeline concept for improving data quality in the supply chain and a set of Reference Data Model Guidelines. Several projects carried out in the framework of UNECE’s subsidiary UN/CEFACT also cover data-related issues.  Examples include the  Buy-Ship-Pay  Reference Data Model (BSP-RDM), the Supply Chain Reference Data Model (SCRDM), the Multi-Modal Transport Reference Data Model (MMT-RDM), the Cross-border Management Reference Data Model Project (to provide a regulatory reference data model within the UN/CEFACT semantic library in order to assist authorities to link this information to the standards of other organisations), the Sustainable Development and Circular Economy Reference Data Model Project, and the Accounting and Audit Reference Data Model Project.

Second, UNECE has a statistical division, which coordinates international statistical activities between UNECE countries and helps to strengthen, modernise, and harmonise statistical systems under the guidance of the Conference of European Statisticians. Its activities in this area are guided by the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, adopted in 1992 and later endorsed by the ECOSOC and the UNGA. Areas of work include economic statistics, statistics on population, gender and society, statistics related to sustainable development and the environment, and modernisation of official statistics. In 2019, UNECE published a Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation to guide countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation. The guidance covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.

Third, UNECE keeps abreast of external developments, (e.g. in Europe or an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country), related to challenges related to AI, privacy, and human rights. This is the case for example with the activities on transport and automated vehicles. The GRVA is reflecting on the impact of general AI policies in its activities and developed possible ways to add layers in its multi-pillar approach to validate the performance of the Automated Driving System, and therefore to integrate considerations on data management in the context of AI agent training, support features, and functions of automated driving, and collaborate with the automotive sector on this matter.

E-commerce and trade

UNECE’s subsidiary, UN/CEFACT, serves as a focal point (within ECOSOC) for trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. In collaboration with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), UNECE developed the Electronic business using eXtensible Mark-up Language (ebXML). Another output of UNECE is represented by the UN rules for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/ EDIFACT), which include internationally agreed upon standards, directories, and guidelines for the electronic interchange of structured data between computerised information systems. UNECE has also issued recommendations on issues such as Single Window, electronic commerce agreements, and e-commerce self-regulatory instruments. In addition, UN/CEFACT works on supporting international, regional, and national e-government efforts to improve trade facilitation and e-commerce systems.

Recommendation 33 – Single Window Recommendation

UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) Trade facilitation recommendations | UNECE

Digital and environment

UNECE’s work in the area of environmental policy covers a broad range of issues, such as air pollution, transboundary water cooperation,  industrial safety,  environmental democracy, the green economy, environmental monitoring and impact assessment, and education for sustainable development. Much of this work is carried out by the Committee on Environmental Policy, which, among other tasks, supports countries in their efforts to strengthen their environmental governance and assesses their efforts to reduce their pollution burden, manage natural resources, and integrate environmental and socio-economic policies. UNECE has put in place an Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Programme to assist member states in working with environmental data and information and enable informed decision-making processes. As part of this programme, it promotes the use of electronic tools for accessing information and knowledge on environmental matters and is supporting the continued development of a Shared Environmental Information System across the UNECE region. The system is intended to enable countries to connect databases and make environmental data more accessible.

The INForest database offers the most up-to-date source of information about the size of the forest area in the UNECE region, how it has changed over decades, the structure of forests, the goods and services forests provide, as well as their contribution to the economy, society and the environment.

UNECE has developed policy guidance to support the digital inclusion of older people. In the Rome Ministerial Declaration on Ageing, adopted in June 2022, Ministers pledged to ‘promote age-friendly digitalisation, products and services, and support innovation for the silver economy’.

Recognising the importance of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) traceability in achieving SDG 12 and considering the rich body of expertise and standards already available through UNECE, UNECE broadened the focus of the Team of Specialists (ToS) on sustainable fisheries to (ESG) traceability of sustainable value chains in the circular economy.

UNECE Environmental Conventions and Protocols (not necessarily covering digital issues directly, but relevant):

Sustainable development

UNECE assists countries in its region to address sustainable development challenges (in areas such as environment, connectivity, and urbanisation) through offering policy advice; leveraging its norms, standards, and conventions; and building capacities. It focuses on driving progress towards the following SDGs: good health and well-being (SDG 3), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), climate action (SDG 13), and life on land (SDG 15). Gender equality (SDG 5) and partnerships (SDG 17) are overarching for all UNECE activities. Activities undertaken by UNECE concerning these SDGs converge under four high-impact areas: sustainable use of natural resources; sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs.

UNECE has developed a series of tools and standards to support countries in measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs. It has also put in place an Innovation Policy Outlook, which assesses the scope, quality, and performance of policies, institutions, and instruments promoting innovation for sustainable development.

Privacy and data protection

The World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations has included guidelines on cybersecurity and data protection in its consolidated resolution on the construction of vehicles, including principles of lawful, fair, and transparent processing of personal data: (1) respecting the identity and privacy of the data subject; (2) not discriminating against data subjects based on their personal data; (3) paying attention to the reasonable expectations of the data subjects with regard to the transparency and context of the data processing; (4) maintaining the integrity and trustworthiness of information technology systems and in particular not secretly manipulating data processing; (5) taking into account the benefit of data processing depending on the free flow of data, communication and innovation, as far as data subjects have to respect the processing of personal data with regard to the overriding general public interest; and (6) ensuring the preservation of individual mobility data according to necessity and purpose.

These guidelines were referred to in the Resolution on Data Protection in Automated and Connected Vehicles adopted during the 39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners Hong Kong, 25–29 September 2017.

UNECE hosts several portals, applications, and digitalised conventions.

The Customs Convention on the International Transport of Goods under Cover of TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers) Carnets (TIR Convention, 1975) is one of the most successful international transport conventions. It is the only universal customs transit system in existence.

The TIR system, used by over 34,000 transport and logistics companies in its 77 contracting parties, has already reduced cross-border transport time by up to 80%, and costs by up to 38%. The eTIR international system aims to ensure the secure exchange of data between national customs systems related to the international transit of goods, vehicles, or containers according to the provisions of the TIR Convention and to allow customs to manage the data on guarantees, issued by guarantee chains to holders authorised to use the TIR system.

Digital tools

The ITDB is an international online repository of information for all those authorised by contracting parties to use the TIR procedure. It is an integral part of the eTIR International system since only users approved in ITDB can use the eTIR system. The main goal of the ITDB is to foster the exchange of information between competent authorities of contracting parties and national associations.

  • eCPD – to be launched

The Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) system (i.e. a passport card for your vehicle) facilitates the temporary importation of private and commercial vehicles. The CPD system is based on two international conventions: the 1954 Customs Convention on the Temporary Importation of Private Road Vehicles and the 1956 Customs Convention on the Temporary Importation of Commercial Road Vehicles. Hosted by UNECE, the conventions combined have 96 contracting parties. Work has started to prepare the appropriate amendments to the 1954 and 1956 conventions describing the eCPD; prepare the high-level architecture including the concepts and functional and technical specifications of the future eCPD application; and develop the eCPD system based on these specifications.

  • eCMR – to be launched

The eCMR is based on the provisions of the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR) (1956) and especially on the provisions of the Additional Protocol to CMR Concerning the Electronic Consignment Note (2008). UNECE, which administers the CMR Convention, has been mandated by governments to administer the eCMR protocol and to establish a formal group of experts on the operationalisation of the eCMR procedure.

Digital visualisation

The observatory will be developed on a geographic information systems (GIS) platform with three main pillars of services: it offers an electronic repository of UNECE inland transport conventions, an innovative tool to finance transport infrastructure, and a way to promote sustainable regional and interregional connectivity.

The ITIO GIS platform assists in the analysis of possible future impacts of climate change on transport networks. The tool enables experts to identify sections of transport networks potentially exposed to the effects of climate change.

Digital enabler

The SITCIN tool allows countries to measure their degree of transport connectivity, both domestically and bilaterally/sub-regionally, as well as in terms of soft and hard infrastructure.

UNECE digital tools facilitating access to statistical information:

UNECE online platforms and observatories gather updates and policy resources to help member states respond to the COVID-19 crisis:

Future of meetings

Guided by the assessments of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the host country authorities, UNECE’s respective governing bodies and partner organisations amended the format and conduct of meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure business continuity and delivery of support to its member states.

Hybrid and online meeting formats continue to be used.

UNECE Executive Committee – Special procedures during the COVID-19 period (adopted in April 2020 and extended in July 2020)

  • Use of the silence procedure for decision-making;

Social media channels

Facebook @UNECE

Flickr @UNECE

Instagram @un_ece

Twitter @UNECE

YouTube @UNECE

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Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

Acronym: Geneva Graduate Institute

Established: 1927

Address: Case postale 1672, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.graduateinstitute.ch

The Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva Graduate Institute) is an institution of research and higher education at the postgraduate level dedicated to the study of world affairs, with a particular emphasis on the cross-cutting fields of international relations and development issues.

Through its core activities, the Institute promotes international cooperation and contributes to the progress of developing societies. More broadly, it endeavours to develop creative thinking on the major challenges of our time, foster global responsibility, and advance respect for diversity.

By intensely engaging with international organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), governments, and multinational companies, the Institute participates in global discussions and prepares future policymakers to lead tomorrow’s world.

In 2022, the Institute launched a new Competence Hub on digital technologies. The Tech Hub brings together a diversity of internal and external expertise to explore technologies from a human-centred and human-biotype-centred perspective. The focus will be the exploration of current and future technological innovations from a social science perspective, with an interest in the socio-political, governance, and geopolitical consequences of the current technological revolution. It will progressively structure different kinds of activities as well as welcome and foster research projects.

This transdisciplinary and horizontal initiative enables the Institute to forge and express its own unique voice on the digital turn and its consequences. It has indeed a particular role to play in the exploration of all those questions that need a transdisciplinary social science and humanities perspective and are by nature profoundly inter-transnational. The reality is that the Institute is already producing research and knowledge on those questions and diffusing them through teaching and events.

Digital activities

As part of its main strategy, the Institute seeks to develop digitally driven innovation in teaching and research, as well as information technology (IT) services. At the same time, as a research institution focusing on global challenges and their impacts, the digital turn has become one of its fundamental and policy-oriented research areas.

In terms of research, a growing number of researchers and PhD candidates analyse the impact of digitalisation on international relations and development issues. A few examples of research topics are cybersecurity, hybrid threats and warfare, surveillance technologies, internet governance, digital diplomacy, digital health, digital rights, digital trust, digital economy, the future of work, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, AI and humanitarian law, and AI and peace negotiations among others. The Institute has also developed expertise in using digital technologies as new research methods, including computational social scientific methods and big data analytics.

In terms of teaching, its Master, PhD, and executive education courses are increasingly focused on the effects of digitalisation on society and the economy, and more generally the global system. Some examples of courses are Digital Approaches to Conflict Prevention, Digital Innovation in Nature Conservation, Internet, Technology and International Law, Introduction to Digital Social Science Research, Technology, Society and Decision- making, The Politics of Digital Design, AI and Politics, Internet Governance and Economics, Technology and Development, and Digital Diplomacy and Power Relations on Cyberspace. Digital skills workshops are also organised for students to provide them with basic digital competence for their future professional or academic life, including big data analysis, introduction to programming with R and Python, and data analysis in various contexts.

The Institute is now involved in the development of a doctoral school on Digital Studies. This is a partnership with University of Lausanne (UNIL), École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), University of Geneva (UNIGE), University of Neuchâtel (UNINE), and University of Fribourg (UNIFR) and will be hosted by CUSO (Conférence Universitaire de Suisse Occidentale). As part of its membership of SwissUniversities, it also offers a very complete programme for doctoral students – Strengthening Digital Skills in Education. Launched in 2019, the second phase of that programme runs from 2021 to 2024.

Over the years, the Institute has developed a performing IT infrastructure with secured data storage space and digital platforms (e.g. Campus, Moodle, TurntIn, Zoom, MyHR, Salesforces, Converis) to provide seamless services as well as dematerialised/paperless processes (e.g. student applications, course registration) for students, staff, and professors.

The Institute has developed digital tools (e.g. app for students, responsive website) and used digital services (e.g. social media, Facebook, Google ads) for many years in its student recruitment and communication campaigns.

Digital tools are also part of the pedagogical methods to improve learning. Flipped classrooms, MOOCs, SPOCs, and podcasts, to name a few, are used by professors in Master’s and PhD programmes, as well as in executive education. The Institute also supports professors in developing pedagogical skills and in using digital tools. Workshops are offered to all faculty members at the end of the summer to prepare them for hybrid teaching and the use of new technological tools in the classroom.

The Institute also organises workshops, seminars, film screenings, and other events on the digital turn, ranging from the digital divide and the governance and regulatory aspects of data to cybersecurity.

Digital policy issues

Some of the Institute’s prominent research initiatives are listed under respective digital policy issues sections.

Artificial intelligence

Conflict and peacebuilding

The faculty carries out a number of digital policy-related research projects, some of which focus on AI in particular. For example, the project titled Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) and War Crimes: Who is to Bear Responsibility? aims to clarify whether and to what extent the requirements for ascribing criminal responsibility for the commission of an act – and in particular the key concepts of culpability theories – can be applied to the use of LAWS in combat operations. This analysis will serve to identify lacunae and inconsistencies in the current legal framework in the face of the advent of military robotics.

This project explores how the increasing digitalisation of peace processes affects international peace building efforts that take place in a global environment characterised by friction between liberal and authoritarian approaches. To make sense of these dynamics, the project draws on the concept of apomediation, to suggest that solutions to conflict are no longer simply supplied by human agents, but through a complex entanglement of human-machine networks.

The Intrepid Project aims to develop a general understanding of how policy announcements by state agencies are interpreted by journalists in ways that send signals, indicate intent, and otherwise provoke economic and political reactions. Machine learning (ML) techniques and the semantic and syntactic properties of announcement texts are then used to develop models of the announcement interpretation process.

Global Health

A number of projects carried out by the Institute’s members address the relationship between digital technologies and health. For instance, the Modelling Early Risk Indicators to Anticipate Malnutrition (MERIAM) project uses computer models to test and scale up cost effective means to improve the prediction and monitoring of undernutrition in difficult contexts.

The Institute hosts the new Digital Health and AI Research Collaborative (I-DAIR) directed by former Ambassador of India and Visiting Lecturer at the Institute Amandeep Gill. I-DAIR aims to create a platform to promote responsible and inclusive AI research and digital technology development for health. This platform is supported by the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA).

The project Governing Health Futures 2030: Growing up in a Digital World, hosted at the Global Health Centre (GHC), explores how to ensure that digital development helps improve the health and well-being of all, and especially among children and young people. It focuses on examining integrative policies for digital health, AI, and universal health coverage to support the attainment of the third sustainable development goal (SDG).

Democracy

Questions about the potential impact of the internet are now routinely raised in relation to political events and elections in most places. The project on the Digital Infrastructuring of Democracy asks how the digital infrastructuring of democracy unfolds through regulatory and political processes, with a heuristic focus on both its transnational dimension and its specific reverberations in democracies of the Global South. The project concentrates on one thematic controversy related to each aspect of infrastructure: the accountability of algorithms for code, data protection for content, and encryption for circulation.

Taking stock of the centrality of AI in society and in the citizen-government relation, this project hosted at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy seeks to engage with youth in Switzerland to explore the future role of AI in democracy through storytelling and narrative foresight. It will give a voice to the citizens of tomorrow and collaborate with art schools to design participatory AI art.

Future of work

Focusing on the Global South, the project African Futures: Digital Labor and Blockchain Technology strengthens empirical knowledge on changing trends in employment in the region by way of a two-pronged approach to the increasingly interconnected global division of labour: (1) App-based work mediated by online service platforms and (2) the use of blockchain technology in mining sites for ethical sourcing, traceability, and proof of origin.

The emergence of AI and digitally mediated work represents a fundamental challenge for most developing economies. Coupled with jobless economic growth, rising human productivity, and the exponential increase of the available labourpool, few jobs can be said to be safe from automated labour. This project examines the impact of digital work and automation in the Global South, from blockchain technology to ride-sharing apps, to inform debates on automation, computerisation and non-standard forms of work.

Inclusive finance

Projects carried out by the Institute’s members also address the role of digital technologies in enhancing financial inclusion. The project Effects of Digital Economy on Banking and Finance studies digital innovations and how fintech extends financial services to firms and households and improves credit allocation using loan-account level data comparing fintech and traditional banking.

Digital tools

  • Digital collections that allow free access to historical documents, texts, and photographs on international relations from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.
  • Two free online courses (MOOCs) on globalisation and global governance.
  • Podcasts showcasing professors’ and guests’ expertise (What matters today, In conversation with, Parlons en).
  • Podcasts are also integrated into the curricula of several international histories and interdisciplinary Master’s courses to encourage students to use social network platforms to popularise their findings.

Future of meetings

Events, sessions, and seminars are held online (usually on Zoom), for example, information sessions for admitted and prospective students take place online.

Social media channels

Facebook @graduateinstitute

Instagram @graduateinstitute

LinkedIn @geneva graduate institute

Twitter @GVAGrad

YouTube @Geneva Graduate Institute

University of Geneva

Acronym: UNIGE

Established: 1559

Address: Rue du Général-Dufour 24, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.unige.ch/international/index_en.html

Stakeholder group: Academia & think tanks

With more than 18,000 students of 150+ nationalities, UNIGE is the second-largest university in Switzerland. It offers 227 study programmes (including 140 Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes and 87 doctoral programmes) and 427 continuing education programmes covering an extremely wide variety of fields: exact sciences, medicine, humanities, social sciences, law, etc.

Digital activities

UNIGE has incorporated digital technology into its strategy and appointed a vice-rector in charge of defining and piloting digital initiatives in the fields of education, research, and services to society. A Digital Transformation Office was also set up to identify and connect digital actors within the institution and federate digital activities and projects while encouraging the emergence of innovative projects.

The digital strategy in place considers digital technology both as a tool for teachers and researchers, and as a subject for teaching and research. It brings UNIGE to the fore in debates on digital technology at the local, national, and international level.

An Action Plan accompanies UNIGE’s digital strategy. It is regularly updated to report on progress and incorporate new digital initiatives or projects that have emerged within the university community. It is a guiding document indicating the activities and projects that the Rectorate particularly wishes to support.

Many more digital activities are carried out within the institution, while they are not included in the Action Plan. This is, for instance, the case of the activities carried out by the Division of Information and Communication Systems and Technologies (DiSTIC) along with many digital projects carried out by the academic community and central services. UNIGE is internationally recognized for its research in quantum cryptography, and is developing high-ranking research activities in the fields of digital humanities, autonomous vehicles, and digital law.

More information on the university’s digital strategy and action plan can be found at https://www.unige.ch/numerique/en.

Digital policy issues

Capacity development

In an attempt to develop digital literacy within its community, UNIGE has put in place a series of measures to meet the needs of its students, researchers, administrative staff, and other community members. To this end, the university offers a series of optional transversal courses open to all students and provides training and workshops on particular digital skills and tools for advanced students and researchers. It is also developing and deploying its Open Science roadmap, which includes training on research data management and Open Access publishing.

As part of its digital strategy, UNIGE created a Digital Law Center (DLC) at the Faculty of Law. The DLC provides courses focused on the internet and law. It also organizes its annual Digital Law Summer School, where participants can discuss digital law and policy issues, such as cybersecurity, privacy, freedom of expression, and intellectual property with leading experts from academia and international organizations. Every year since 2016, UNIGE has organized the Geneva Digital Law Research Colloquium (run by the DLC in cooperation with other leading academic centers, including the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University). This event is a scientific workshop that gives an opportunity to next-generation digital law and policy researchers to present and discuss various digital policy issues, such as freedom of expression online, copyright, and the internet of things (IoT) with senior high-level experts.

Together with ETH Zurich, UNIGE recently created a Lab for Science in Diplomacy (SiDLab). In this respect, it created two professorships in Computational Diplomacy, developed jointly by the Global Studies Institute (GSI) and the Department of Computer Science of the Faculty of Science. One is specialized in data science, particularly machine learning (ML), and the other focuses on data categorization in relation to complexity theories and global studies. With these two new positions, UNIGE aims to improve the understanding of global issues by developing a new theoretical framework for international relations, using new algorithms and mobilizing computing power to develop scenarios. Leveraging its multidisciplinary culture, UNIGE has recently created a transversal Data Science Competence Center (CCSD) aimed at federating competencies from all faculties and enabling cross-fertilization between various disciplines to develop advanced research and services. Since its creation, more than 600 researchers have joined the CCSD community and actively participate in its research and learning activities. To support the teaching community with digital transformation, UNIGE has created a portal for online and blended learning with a set of resources to help tutors prepare their courses and classes. Some of the resources are intended for self-training, while others provide users with training/coaching opportunities with UNIGE e-learning and blended learning experts.

When students are positioned as partners in university communities, they become active participants with valuable expertise to contribute to shaping the process of digital transformation. The Partnership Projects Program (P3) provides students, alongside academic and professional staff, with the opportunity to bring forward their ideas to improve the digital tools and services at the university. Students and staff are engaged on a project they designed, and they work together towards the shared goal of learning from their partners and improving the university with a solution meeting their needs. At the end of the project, the university may carry on with the implementation of the proposed solution, leading to a new digital service or tool for the community.

UNIGE maintains an IT Service Catalogue where students and staff members can access all digital tools the university provides, such as the UNIGE Mobile App, Moodle, UNIGE’s data storage system, and many others.

UNIGE also offers a number of MOOCs (massive open online courses) open to everyone. Subjects range from Human Rights to Chemical Biology, from Water Resources Management to Exoplanets, or from Investment Management to Global Health.

Future of meetings

UNIGE events are places where experts can meet and exchange ideas, where knowledge and information can be passed on to the university community and to society at large. They are living pillars of UNIGE’s research, teaching and public service missions. The organization of these events has been severely challenged by the COVID-19, but the use of digital tools has made it possible to keep these meeting and exchange places alive. It was also an opportunity to rethink the formats and ambitions of UNIGE events for the long term, as digital tools have the potential to facilitate access to knowledge, increase the influence of UNIGE events, and reduce the environmental impact of participants’ travels.

Many UNIGE events are now being organized in a virtual or hybrid format, such as the Dies Academicus and public and scientific conferences organized by the faculties. For instance, the series of public conferences, Parlons numérique organized each year by the Digital Transformation Office, has a hybrid format allowing remote participants to interact with the speakers. A dedicated website helps UNIGE community members willing to organize virtual or hybrid events.

Social media channels

Facebook @unigeneve

Instagram @unigeneve, @unigenumerique

LinkedIn @universite-de-geneve

Twitter @UNIGE_en, @unigenumerique

YouTube @Université de Genève

European Organization for Nuclear Research

Acronym: CERN

Established: 1954

Address: 1211 Geneva 23, Switzerland

Website: https://www.cern.ch/

Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations

CERN is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading laboratories for particle physics. At CERN, physicists and engineers probe the fundamental structure of the universe. To do this, they use the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments – particle accelerators and detectors. Technologies developed at CERN go on to have a significant impact through their applications in wider society.

Digital activities

CERN has had an important role in the history of computing and networks. The World Wide Web (WWW) was invented at CERN by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The web was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between scientists at universities and institutes around the world.

Grid computing was also developed at CERN with partners and thanks to funding from the European Commission. The organisation also carries out activities in the areas of cybersecurity, big data, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), data preservation, and quantum technology.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence (1)

Through CERN openlab, CERN collaborates with leading information and communications technology (ICT) companies and research institutes. The R&D projects carried out through CERN openlab address topics related to data acquisition, computing platforms, data storage architectures, computer provisioning and management, networks and communication, ML and data analytics, and quantum technologies. CERN researchers use ML techniques as part of their efforts to maximise the potential for discovery and optimise resource usage. ML is used, for instance, to improve the performance of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiments in areas such as particle detection and managing computing resources. Going one step further, at the intersection of AI and quantum computing, CERN openlab is exploring the feasibility of using quantum algorithms to track the particles produced by collisions in the LHC, and is working on developing quantum algorithms to help optimise how data is distributed for storage in the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG). This research is part of the CERN Quantum Technology Initiative (QTI) activities, launched in 2020 to shape CERN’s role in the next quantum revolution.

–   CERN openlab: a public-private partnership in which CERN collaborates with ICT companies and other research organisations to accelerate the development of cutting-edge solutions for the research community, including ML.

CERN QTI: a comprehensive R&D, academic, and knowledge-sharing initiative to exploit quantum advantage for high-energy physics and beyond. Given CERN’s increasing ITC and computing demands, as well as the significant national and international interests in quantum-technology activities, it aims to provide dedicated mechanisms for the exchange of both knowledge and innovation.

Cloud computing (2)

The scale and complexity of data from the LHC, the world’s largest particle accelerator, is unprecedented. This data needs to be stored, easily retrieved, and analysed by physicists worldwide. This requires massive storage facilities, global networking, immense computing power, and funding. CERN did not initially have the computing or financial resources to crunch all of the data on-site, so in 2002 it turned to grid computing to share the burden with computer centres around the world. The WLCG builds on the ideas of grid technology initially proposed in 1999 by Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman. The WLCG relies on a distributed computing infrastructure, as data from the collisions of protons or heavy ions are distributed via the internet for processing at data centres worldwide. This approach of using virtual machines is based on the same paradigm as cloud computing. It is expected that further CERN developments in the field of data processing will continue to influence digital technologies.

Telecommunication infrastructure (3)

In the 1970s, CERN developed CERNET, a lab-wide network to access mainframe computers in its data centre. This pioneering network eventually led CERN to become an early European adopter of Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) for use in connecting systems on site. In 1989, CERN opened its first external TCP/IP connections and by 1990, CERN had become the largest internet site in Europe and was ready to host the first WWW server. Nowadays, in addition to the WLCG and its distributed computing infrastructure, CERN is also the host of the CERN Internet eXchange Point (CIXP), which optimises CERN’s internet connectivity and is also open to interested internet service providers (ISPs).

Digital standards (4)

Ever since releasing the World Wide Web software under an open-source model in 1994, CERN has been a pioneer in the open-source field, supporting open-source hardware (with the CERN Open Hardware Licence), open access (with the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics SCOAP3) and open data (with the CERN Open Data Portal). Several CERN technologies are being developed with open science in mind, such as Indico, InvenioRDM, REANA, and Zenodo. Open-source software, such as CERNBox, CERN Tape Archive (CTA), EOS, File Transfer Service (FTS), GeantIV, ROOT, RUCIO, and service for web-based analysis (SWAN), has been developed to handle, distribute, and analyse the huge volumes of data generated by the LHC experiments and are also made available to the wider society.

Digital tools

Data governance (5)

CERN manages vast amounts of data; not only scientific data, but also data in more common formats such as webpages, images and videos, documents, and more. For instance, the CERN Data Centre processes on average one petabyte (one million gigabytes) of data per day. As such, the organisation notes that it faces the challenge of preserving its digital memory. CERN also points to the fact that many of the tools that are used to preserve data generated by the LHC and other scientific projects are also suitable for preserving other types of data and are made available to wider society.

The CERN Open Data Policy for scientific experiments at the LHC is essential to make scientific research more reproducible, accessible, and collaborative. It reflects values that have been enshrined in the CERN Convention for more than 60 years that were reaffirmed in the European Strategy for Particle Physics (2020), and aims to empower the LHC experiments to adopt a consistent approach towards the openness and preservation of experimental data (applying FAIR standards to better share and reuse data).

EOSC Future is an EU-funded H2020 project that is implementing the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) that started in 2016. EOSC will give European researchers access to a wide web of FAIR data and related services.

CERN joined the recently formed EOSC Association in 2020. It also currently has a mandate to represent the European intergovernmental research organisations that make up EIROforum.

Future of meetings

More information about ongoing and upcoming events, you can find on the events page.

Social media channels

Facebook @cern

Instagram @cern

LinkedIn @cern

Twitter @CERN

YouTube @home.cern

1-AI-related projects are developed and referred to as part of the CERN openlab activities.

2-Within its work, CERN refers to ‘cloud computing’ as ‘distributed computing.

3-Within its work, CERN refers to ‘telecommunication infrastructure’ as ‘network infrastructure’.

4-Within its work, CERN addresses ‘web standards’ as ‘open science’.

5-Within its work, CERN refers to ‘data governance’ as ‘data preservation’.


World Health Organization

Acronym: WHO

Established: 1948

Address: Av. Appia 20 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland

Website: https://www.who.int/en/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

WHO is a specialized agency of the UN whose role is to direct and coordinate2 international health within the UN system. As a member state organization, its main areas of work include health systems, the promotion of health, non-communicable diseases, communicable diseases, corporate services, preparedness, and surveillance and response.

WHO assists countries in coordinating multi-sectoral efforts by governments and partners (including bi- and multilateral meetings, funds and foundations, civil society organizations, and the private sector) to attain their health objectives and support their national health policies and strategies.

Data and digital activities

WHO is harnessing the power of digital technologies and health innovation to accelerate global attainment of health and well-being. It uses digital technology intensively in its development of activities, ranging from building public health infrastructure in developing countries and immunization to dealing with disease outbreaks.

WHO has strengthened its approach to data by ensuring this strategic asset has two divisions: (1) the Division of Data, Analytics and Delivery for Impact. This has helped strengthen data governance by promoting sound data principles and accountability mechanisms, as well as ensuring that the necessary policies and tools are in place that can be used by all three levels of the organization and can be adopted by member states. Digital health and innovation are high on WHO’s agenda; it is recognized for its role in strengthening health systems through the application of digital health technologies for consumers/ people and healthcare providers as part of achieving its vision of health for all. (2) WHO also established the new Department of Digital Health and Innovation in 2019 within its Science Division. Particular attention is paid to promoting global collaboration and advancing the transfer of knowledge on digital health; advancing the implementation of national digital health strategies; strengthening the governance for digital health at the global, regional, and national levels; and advocating for people-centred health systems enabled by digital health. These strategic objectives have been developed in consultation with member states throughout 2019 and 2020 and will be submitted for adoption to the upcoming 2021 World Health Assembly.

The Division of Data Analytics and Delivery for Impact and the Department of Digital Health and Innovation work closely together to strengthen links between data and digital issues, as well as data governance efforts. Digital health technologies, standards, and protocols enable health systems to integrate the exchange of health data within the health system. Coupled with data governance, ethics, and public health data standards, digital health and innovation enable the generation of new evidence and knowledge through research and innovation and inform health policy through public health analysis.

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated WHO’s digital response, collaboration, and innovation in emergencies. Some examples include collaborating to use artificial intelligence (AI) and data science in analyzing and delivering information in response to the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’ (i.e. overflow of information, including misinformation, in an acute health event, which prevents people from accessing reliable information about how to protect themselves); promoting cybersecurity in the health system, including hospitals and health facilities; learning from using AI, data science, digital health, and innovation in social science research, disease modelling, and simulations, as well as supporting the epidemiological response to the pandemic; and producing vaccines and preparing for the equitable allocation and distribution of vaccines.

Digital policy issues

WHO is a leader among Geneva-based international organizations in the use of social media, through its awareness-raising of health-related issues. It was awarded first prize at the Geneva Engage Awards in 2016, and second prize in 2017.

The WHO/International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Health (WHO/ITU FG-AI4H) works to establish a standardized assessment framework for the evaluation of AI-based methods for health, diagnosis, triage, or treatment decisions.

Digital standards

Online gaming: Since 2018, gaming disorder has been included in WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD). While the negative impacts of online gaming on health are being increasingly addressed by national health policies, it has been recognized by some authorities, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that some game-based devices could have a therapeutic effect. Given the fast growth of online gaming and its benefits and disadvantages, the implications on health are expected to become more relevant.

The health top-level domain name: Health-related generic top-level domain (gTLD) names, in all languages, including ‘.health’, ‘.doctor’, and ‘.surgery’, should be operated in a way that protects public health and includes the prevention of further development of illicit markets of medicines, medical devices, and unauthorized health products and services. Resolution WHA66.24: eHealth Standardization and Interoperability (2013).

Net neutrality

The issue of net neutrality (the equal treatment of internet traffic) could affect bandwidth and the stability of digital connections, especially for high-risk activities such as online surgical interventions. Thus, health organizations may be granted exceptional provisions, as the EU has already done, where health and specialized services enjoy exceptions regarding the principle of net neutrality. Resolution WHA66.24: eHealth Standardization and Interoperability (2013).

WHO has dedicated cybersecurity focal points, who work with legal and licensing colleagues to provide frameworks for the organization to not only protect WHO data from various cyber-risks, but also provide technical advice to WHO and member states on the secure collection, storage, and dissemination of data. Health facilities and health data have always been the target of cybercriminals; however, the COVID-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus the cybersecurity aspects of digital health.

Ransomware attacks threaten the proper functioning of hospitals and other healthcare providers. The global Wannacry ransomware attack in May 2017 was the first major attack on hospitals and disrupted a significant part of the UK’s National Health System (NHS). Ransomware attacks on hospitals and health research facilities accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis.

Considering that data is often the main target of cyberattacks, it should come as no surprise that most cybersecurity concerns regarding healthcare are centred on the protection of data. Encryption is thus crucial for the safety of health data: It both protects data from prying eyes and helps assuage the fears patients and consumers may have about sharing or storing sensitive information through the internet.

Data governance

The 2021 Health Data Governance Summit brought together experts to review best practices in data governance, sharing, and use. The result was a call to action to tackle the legal and ethical challenges of sharing data, ensure data is shared during both emergency and non-emergency situations, and encourage data and research stewardship that promotes tangible impact. Key WHO resources include WHO’s Data Sharing Policies, the UN Joint Statement on Data Protection and Privacy in the COVID-19 Response, and GATHER (Guidelines for Accurate and Transparent Health Estimates Reporting).

WHO’s SCORE technical package (Survey, Count, Optimize, Review, and Enable) identifies data gaps and provides countries with tools to precisely address them. SCORE has been developed in partnership with the Bloomberg Data for Health Initiative. As part of SCORE, WHO completed the first ever global assessment of health information systems capacity in 133 countries, covering 87% of the world’s population.

The project Strengthening National Nutrition Information Systems1 is running in five countries in Africa and Asia – Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Laos, Uganda, and Zambia – for a period of four years (2020–2024). Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and national nutrition surveys are the major sources of nutrition data for many countries, but they are complex and expensive undertakings that cannot be implemented with the required frequency. It is, therefore, critical to strengthen or establish integrated nutrition information systems (NIS) of countries to enhance the availability and use of routine nutrition data to better support policy development, programme design and monitoring.

Data-driven delivery approach

A data-driven delivery approach sharpens WHO’s focus to address gaps, close inequalities, and accelerate progress towards national and regional priorities from WHO regions. The WHO Regional Office for the Americas is working to create open data platforms for evidence-based decisions and policymaking. The Core Indicators Portal provides a dataset of around 200 health indicators for 49 countries across the region from 1995 to 2021. The WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean is conducting harmonized health facility assessments and tracking 75 indicators through the Regional Health Observatory (RHO). The WHO Regional Office for Africa has prioritized investments in civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) and digital health. Its integrated African Health Observatory (iAHO) offers high-quality national and regional health data on a single platform and District Health Information Software (DHIS2) is now implemented in all but four African countries. The WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia is focused on promoting health equity through workshops that introduce member states to WHO’s Health Equity Assessment Toolkit (HEAT). High-quality data on health indicators is available on the Health Information Platform (HIP). The WHO Regional Office for Europe is prioritizing support for countries’ national health information systems (HIS) through more robust data governance frameworks. Member states also have access to the European Health Information Gateway, a one-stop shop for health information and data visualization. The WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific has released a progress report on each member state’s journey to achieving universal health coverage (UHC). Additionally, the Western Pacific Health Data Platform provides a single destination where countries can easily monitor and compare their progress towards national and global health objectives.

Access

WHO is working with Facebook and Praekelt.Org to provide  WHO’s  COVID-19  information to the world’s most vulnerable people through Discover and Free Basics in a mobile-friendly format. Though over 85% of the world’s population lives in areas with existing cellular coverage, many people can’t afford to purchase mobile data consistently and others have not yet adopted the internet. This initiative enables underserved communities to access life-saving COVID-19 health information through participating operators in more than 55 countries.

Sustainable development

Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3): To achieve a healthier population, improvements have been made in access to clean fuels, safe water, sanitation (WASH), and tobacco control. Greater focus is being placed on leading indicators for premature mortality and morbidity, such as tobacco, air pollution, road injuries, and obesity. Due to COVID-19, 94% of countries experienced disruption to essential health services. while 92 countries experienced little change or worsening trends in financial protection– exacerbated by the continuing pandemic. Emphasis on primary health care is essential to equitable recovery.

Climate change (SDG 13): The 10 recommendations in the COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health propose a set of priority actions from the global health community to governments and policymakers, calling on them to act with urgency on the current climate and health crises. The 2021 Global Conference on Health & Climate Change, with a special focus on Climate Justice and the Healthy and Green Recovery from COVID-19, convened on the margins of the COP26 UN climate change conference.

The SIDS Summit for Health in 2021 brought together small island developing states (SIDS) heads of states, ministers of health, and others to discuss the urgent health challenges and needs they face. It helped amplify SIDS voices, promote collaborative action, and strengthen health and development partnerships and financing. It included steps to advance ongoing health initiatives, and to help drive results at the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021, the 26th Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021, and the Nutrition for Growth Summits in December 2021 and the years following.

Strengthening Health Information Systems for Refugee- and Migrant-Sensitive Healthcare: Health information and research findings can provide a platform for understanding and responding to the health needs of refugees and migrants and for aligning the efforts of other sectors and sources of international assistance. However, the systematic national data and evidence comparable across countries and over time available for policy- and decision-making on health of refugees and migrants from around the world are inadequate. The WHO Health and Migration Programme (PHM) supports the strengthening of member-state information systems, providing specialized technical assistance, response, and capacity-building.

Human rights principles

Improving access to assistive technology: Assistive technology enables and promotes inclusion and participation, especially of persons with disability, ageing populations, and people with non-communicable diseases. The primary purpose of assistive products is to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, thereby promoting their well-being. Despite a growing number of people in need of assistive products in every country, only 5%–15%, or one in 10 people has access to assistive products. WHO coordinates the Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE) as a step towards realizing the SDGs and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and implementing resolution WHA71.8 on assistive technology. The GATE initiative has the goal to support countries in addressing challenges and improving access to assistive products within their context. To achieve this, the GATE initiative is focusing on five interlinked areas (5Ps): people, policy, products, provision, and personnel.

Data and privacy protection

WHO supports the adoption of the Joint Statement on Data Protection and Privacy in the COVID-19 Response in line with the UN Personal Data Protection and Privacy Principles adopted by the UN System Organizations to support its use of data and technology in the COVID-19 response in a way that respects the right to privacy and other human rights and promotes economic and social development. Organizations in their operations should, at a minimum:

  • Be lawful, limited in scope and time, and necessary and proportionate to specified and legitimate purposes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Ensure appropriate confidentiality, security, time-bound retention, and proper destruction or deletion of data in accordance with the aforementioned purposes.
  • Ensure that any data exchange adheres to applicable international law, data protection and privacy principles, and is evaluated based on proper due diligence and risks assessments.
  • Be subject to any applicable mechanisms and procedures to ensure that measures taken with regard to data use are justified by and in accordance with the aforementioned principles and purposes, and cease as soon as the need for such measures is no longer present,
  • Be transparent in order to build trust in the deployment of current and future efforts alike.

Content policy: Infodemics

An infodemic is an overflow of information, including misinformation, that prevents people from accessing reliable information; in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it hampers the ability of people to know how to protect themselves. Our current infodemic cannot be eliminated, but it can be managed by producing engaging reliable content and using digital, traditional media, and offline tools to disseminate it; engaging key stakeholder groups in cooperative content-creation and dissemination; empowering communities to protect themselves; and promoting community and individual resilience against misinformation. Digital health technologies and data science can support these activities by analyzing the information landscape and social dynamics in digital and analogue environments; delivering messages; supporting fact-checking and countering misinformation; promoting digital health, media, and health literacy; and optimizing the effectiveness of messages and their delivery through real time monitoring and evaluation (M&E), among others.

At the Munich Security Conference 2020, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated: ‘We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.’ This translated into many WHO initiatives to counter the infodemic, such as working with the public and the scientific community to develop a framework for managing infodemics; bringing the scientific community together for the 1st WHO Infodemiology Conference;

Digital tools and initiatives

developing of a draft research agenda on managing infodemics, cooperating with UN agencies and the AI community; promoting reliable WHO information through a coordinated approach with Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other major tech platforms and services; and campaigning to counter misinformation.

WHO-trained infodemic managers, over 1,300 of them from 142 countries, are already making great strides in member states and together around the globe as a global community of practice. In Serbia, the Laboratory for Infodemiology and Infodemic Management has been established at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Belgrade. With the support of the WHO Country Office in Serbia, two infodemic managers working at the Institute of Social Medicine have gathered a multidisciplinary team that will be conducting research and supporting infodemic management in the country and the region.

Interdisciplinary

Public health challenges are complex and cannot be effectively addressed by one sector alone. A holistic, multi-sectoral, multidisciplinary approach is needed for addressing gaps and advancing coordination for health emergency preparedness and health security and is essential for the implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005.

  • WHO Classifications and Terminologies: operates a one-stop shop for WHO classifications and terminologies and delivers and scales use of terminologies and classifications. WHO maintains a portfolio of digital tools and methods for emergency preparedness and response, for example:
  • Go.Data is an outbreak investigation tool for field data collection during public health emergencies. The tool includes functionality for case investigation, contact follow-up, and visualisation of chains of transmission including secure data exchange and is designed for flexibility in the field, to adapt to the wide range of outbreak scenarios. The tool is targeted at any outbreak responder.
  • Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources (EIOS) is a unique collaboration between various public health stakeholders around the globe. It brings together new and existing initiatives, networks, and systems to create a unified all-hazards, One Health approach to early detection, verification, assessment, and communication of public health threats using publicly available information. Creating a community of practice for public health intelligence (PHI) that includes member states, international organizations,  research institutes, and other partners and collaborators is at the heart of the initiative; saving lives through early detection of threats and subsequent intervention is its ultimate goal. Since January 2022, the lead of the EIOS initiative is hosted within the new WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence. As one of the Hub’s flagship initiatives, EIOS is one of the main vehicles for building a strong PHI community of practice, as well as a multidisciplinary network supporting it.
  • Digital proximity tracking technologies have been identified as a potential tool to support contact tracing for COVID-19. However, these technologies raise ethical and privacy concerns. This document
  • Ethical Considerations to Guide the Use of Digital Proximity Tracking Technologies for COVID-19 Contact Tracing – provides policymakers and other stakeholders with guidance as to the ethical and appropriate use of digital proximity tracking technologies for COVID-19.
  • WHO Digital and Innovation for Health Online Community to Fight COVID-19 is a platform for discussion and sharing experiences and innovative responses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The new Survey Count Optimize Review Enable (SCORE) for Health Data Technical Package was published during one of the most data-strained public health crisis responses ever – that of the COVID-19 pandemic. SCORE can guide countries to take action by providing a one-stop shop for best technical practices that strengthen health information systems, using universally accepted standards and tools.
  • WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence supports countries, and regional and global actors in addressing future pandemic and epidemic risks with better access to data, better analytical capacities, and better tools and insights for decision-making.

Health data

  • WHO Health Data Hub (WHDH) is a single repository of health data in WHO and establishes a data governance mechanism for member states.
  • Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) registers all births and deaths, issues birth and death certificates, and compiles and disseminates vital statistics, including cause of death information. It may also record marriages and divorces.
  • The open-access WHO Snakebite Envenoming Information and Data Platform is already working to shorten the time between a snakebite and receiving antivenom. It does this by mapping the distribution of venomous snakes, known antivenoms, and the proximity to health facilities that stock them.

Public health strategy, planning and monitoring

  • The Triple Billion Dashboard is the foundation of WHO’s Thirteenth General Programme of Work (GPW 13) acting as both a measurement and a policy strategy. It is an integral part of the GPW 13’s Results
  • Framework, a new tool designed to measure and improve WHO’s impact on health at the country level. Measurement of these targets is closely aligned with those of the SDGs, to reduce country burden in data collection and streamline efforts to accelerate progress towards achieving key targets.
  • The organization also integrates digital health interventions in its strategies for certain diseases. WHO’s Global Observatory for e-Health (GOe) aims to assist member states with information and guidance on practices and standards in the field of e-health.
  • The newly established Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Centre for Health enables spatial representation of data to support better public health planning and decision-making.
  • The Health Equity Monitor is a platform for health inequality monitoring, which includes datatabases of disaggregated data, a handbook on health inequality monitoring, and step-by-step manuals for national health inequality monitoring (generally and specifically for immunization inequality monitoring).
  • The Health Assessment Toolkit is a software application that facilitates the assessment of health inequalities in countries. Inequality data can be visualized through a variety of interactive graphs, maps, and tables. Results can be exported and used for priority-setting and policymaking.

Health facilities data

Digital health solutions

  • The Digital Health Atlas is a global registry of implemented digital health solutions. It is open and available to anyone to register and contribute information about digital implementations. The registry provides a consistent way to document digital solutions, and offers functionalities in a web platform to assist technologists, implementers, governments, and donors for inventory, planning, coordinating, and using digital systems for health. The Digital Health Atlas includes a special focus on listing digital technologies related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The repository of information is open to all users to register projects, download project information, and connect with digital health practitioners globally.
  • Be He@lthy, Be Mobile (BHBM) helps users access the right information when they need it. In support of national governments, BHBM is helping millions of people quit tobacco, and control diabetes and cervical cancer. It helps people at risk of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and those who care for older people.
  • WHO features a new in-game character on Goodville named Florence, along with exciting expeditions and in-game events to help players better understand themselves by providing advice for achieving and maintaining physical and emotional well-being.
  • WHO has launched a women’s health chatbot with messaging on breast cancer. The new chatbot uses the Viber platform to deliver health information directly to subscribers’ mobile phones. People subscribing to the new chatbot will find information on how to reduce the risk of breast cancer, symptoms and treatment options.

Resources

Resolutions and deliberations on eHealth

  • Resolution WHA58.28 eHealth
  • Resolution WHA71.7 (2018): The resolution urges member states to prioritize the development and greater use of digital technologies in health as a means of promoting Universal Health Coverage and advancing the SDGs.
  • Report EB 142/20 (2018): The Executive Board in January 2018 considered the updated report ‘mHealth: Use of appropriate digital technologies for public health’. This updated version of the report also includes the use of other digital technologies for public health.
  • Report EB139/8 (2016): The Executive Board considered ‘mHealth: Use of mobile wireless technologies for public health,’ reflecting the increasing importance of this resource for health services delivery and public health, given their ease of use, broad reach and wide acceptance.
  • Resolution WHA66.24 (2013): The World Health Assembly recognized the need for health data standardization to be part of eHealth systems and services, and the importance of proper governance and operation of health-related global top-level Internet domain names, including ‘.health’.
  • Joint Statement on Data Protection and Privacy in the COVID-19 Response (2020) is developed by the UN Privacy Policy Group, an inter-agency group on data privacy and data protection, to support the privacy protective use of data and technology by the UN in fighting the current pandemic.
  • The purpose of a Global Strategy on Digital Health (2020-2025) is to promote healthy lives and well- being for everyone, everywhere, at all ages. To deliver its potential, national or regional digital health initiatives must be guided by a robust strategy that integrates financial, organzsational, human, and technological resources.

For detailed coverage of WHO resources, tools, and programmes visit dig.watch/actors and giplatform.org/actors/world-health-organization.

Future of meetings

The World Health Summit is the world’s leading global health conference where science, politics, the private sector and civil society meet for inspiring talks, enhanced co-operation and new solutions [16 to 18 October 2022, Berlin, #WHS2022].

Social media channel

Facebook @WHO

Instagram @who

LinkedIn @world-health-organization

Snapchat @who

TikTok @who

Twitter @WHO

YouTube @WHO

European Broadcasting Union

Acronym: EBU

Established: 1950

Address: L'Ancienne-Route 17A, Postal Box 45 , 1218 Le Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland

Website: https://www3.ebu.ch/home

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

EBU is the world’s leading alliance of public service media. It has 112 member organisations in 56 countries and an additional 31 associates in Asia, Africa, Australasia, and the Americas. EBU members operate nearly 2,000 television, radio, and online channels and services, and offer a wealth of content across other platforms.

Together they reach an audience of more than one billion people around the world, broadcasting in more than 160 languages. The EBU operates Eurovision and Euroradio services.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunication infrastructure

EBU members use various types of network infrastructure for the production and distribution of PSM content and services to the entire population. In addition to traditional broadcasting networks – terrestrial, cable, or satellite – media service providers use fixed and wireless IP networks. The EBU’s activities aim to ensure that these networks are capable of meeting the requirements of PSM organisations and their audiences in a technically and economically viable way. This includes technical developments and standardisation in collaboration with industry partners as well as engagement with regulators and policymakers to ensure a suitable regulatory framework for PSM content and services.

The current focus is on broadband distribution infrastructure; distribution over internet platforms; wireless mobile technologies such as 5G; and terrestrial broadcast networks, including access to spectrum.

The governance of the EBU’s technical work is described here: https://tech.ebu.ch/about. The current Technical Committee Workplan is available here https://tech.ebu.ch/publications/tc_workplan_up_to_2023.

Further information about the EBU’s technical work, including the scope of different working groups, can be found at tech.ebu.ch.

Following the start of the war in Ukraine and the 2021 flooding in Europe, the EBU issued a recommendation to recall the crucial importance of PSM’s delivery to citizens – for this, no single resilient network will suffice.

Digital standards

Since its inception in 1950, the EBU has been mandated by its members to contribute to standardisation work in all technological fields related to media. This work ranges from TV and radio production equipment to the new broadcasting standards for transmission. This mandate has been naturally extended over the years to the field of mobile technologies, as well as online production and distribution.

The EBU hosts the digital video broadcasting (DVB) project, which has developed digital TV standards such as DVB-T/T2 and DVB-S/S2 which are the backbone of digital TV broadcasting around the world. DVB is currently working on an IP-based distribution system and on DVB-I, a new open standard for content distribution over the internet. This work is closely aligned with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).

The EBU is an active member of a number of other standards and industry organisations that are developing specifications relevant to media content production and distribution, including major standards developing organisations (SDOs) (e.g. the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), 3GPP, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) but also those with a more focused scope (e.g. Hybrid broadcast broadband TV (HbbTV), DASH Industry Forum (DASH- IF), the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), RadioDNS (1), Word Digital Audio Broadcasting (WorldDAB), Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA), and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE)). In all these organisations, the EBU’s main objective is to ensure that specifications are capable of meeting the requirements of EBU members and their audiences.

In 2019, the EBU launched a 5G Media Action Group (5G-MAG), an independent non-profit cross-industry association that provides a framework for collaboration between media and information and communications technology (ICT) stakeholders on a market-driven implementation of 5G technologies in content creation, production, distribution, and consumption.

Artificial intelligence

AI and data are central themes for PSM today, especially when it comes to strengthening and personalising relationships with its citizens. The EBU’s AI and Data Group defines the AI and Data Initiative strategy and priorities in order to support EBU members’ data usage and AI- and data-driven strategies. It brings together EBU member delegates and EBU permanent services delegates, who are directly involved in carrying out strategic, managerial, analytical, technological, legal, content-related, or other types of activities related to data usage in their respective organisations.

A prominent example of the EBU’s use of AI is its PEACH (Personalization for EACH) initiative, which has brought together a number of public broadcasters to develop AI-powered tools to deliver the right content to the right audience in accordance with current data protection regulations.

Network neutrality

The EBU’s work in the field of net neutrality focuses on assisting its members in coordinating their positions on broadband network neutrality. To this end, it provides expertise and facilitates initiatives and the drafting of documents concerning net neutrality at the EU level. The EBU also encourages its members to exchange experiences from the national level. Net neutrality is addressed as part of the EBU’s Legal and Policy Distribution Group. Net neutrality is seen as a key principle for public service broadcasters to support and advocate for, as it ensures their services are equally accessible by all internet users.

Cybercrime and network security

The EBU has developed a Strategic Programme on Media Cyber Security, aimed mainly at raising awareness among its members of the increasing cybersecurity risks and threats to broadcasting. This initiative also provides a platform for its members to exchange information on security incidents (e.g. phishing campaigns, targeted malware attacks), as well as on lessons learned, projects, and internal procedures. A dedicated working group is focused on defining information security best practices for broadcast companies – it has recently published a recommendation providing guidance on cybersecurity safeguards that media organisations and media vendors should apply when planning, designing, or sourcing their products and services. The EBU organises an annual Media Cybersecurity Forum, which brings together manufacturers, service providers, and media companies to discuss security issues in the media domain.

Convergence and OTT

In an environment increasingly characterised by digital convergence, the EBU is working on identifying viable investment solutions for over-the-top (OTT) services. The organisation has a Digital Media Steering Committee, focused on ‘defining the role of public service media in the digital era, with a special focus on how to interact with big digital companies’. It also develops a  bi-annual roadmap for technology and innovation activities and has a dedicated Project Group on OTT services.

In addition, there is an intersectoral group composed of EBU members and staff that exchange best practices for relations between internet platforms and broadcasters. During the COVID-19 crisis, a coordinated effort by the technical distribution experts of the EBU and its members monitored the state of the global broadband network to help avoid surcharges due to the increased consumption of on-demand programmes.

This work goes hand in hand with that developed by the Legal and Policy department – among others with the Content, Platform, Distribution, and Intellectual Property Expert Groups, all key in the establishment of EU rules enabling the proper availability of PSM services to people across the EU and beyond.

Capacity development

Most of the EBU’s activities are aimed at increasing the capacity of its members to address challenges and embrace opportunities brought about by the digital age. To that end, through its Digital Transformation Initiative, the EBU has developed a number of member support services, such as its expert community network that gathers over 200 experts from across its membership, and a digital knowledge hub with a repository of analyses and best practices. The EBU also offers a wide range of workshops and other sessions aimed at creating awareness about the digital transformation of the public service media, developing peer-to-peer assessment of members’ digital maturity, and initiating tailored interventions based on members’ needs.

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1-RadioDNS is an organisation that promotes the use of open technology standards to enable hybrid radio. Hybrid radio combines broadcast radio and internet technologies to create a harmonised distribution technology. It relies upon the Domain Name System (DNS).

World Trade Organization

Acronym: WTO

Established: 1995

Address: Centre William Rappard, Rue de Lausanne 154, 1211 Geneva 21, Switzerland

Website: https://www.wto.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

WTO is an intergovernmental organisation that deals with the rules of trade among its members. Its main functions include administering WTO trade agreements, providing a forum for trade negotiations, settling trade disputes, monitoring national trade policies, providing technical assistance and training for developing countries, and ensuring cooperation with other international organisations.

WTO members have negotiated and agreed upon rules regulating international trade, fostering transparency and predictability in the international trading system. The main agreements are the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).

Digital activities

Several internet governance and digital trade policy- related issues are discussed in WTO. E-commerce discussions are ongoing under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce and among a group of 87 WTO members currently negotiating e-commerce rules under the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-commerce. Discussions focus on several digital issues, including data flows and data localisation, source code, cybersecurity, privacy, consumer protection, capacity building, and customs duties on electronic transmissions.

As part of its outreach activities, WTO organises numerous events such as the Aid for Trade Global Review and an annual Public Forum, which brings together governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics, businesses, and other stakeholders for discussions on a broad range of issues, including many relating to the digital economy.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications

In 1997, WTO members successfully concluded negotiations on market access for basic telecommunications services, which resulted in new specific commitments in the sector for a significant part of  WTO  membership.  These negotiations also resulted in the Reference Paper, a set of regulatory principles for basic telecommunication services that various members have inscribed in their schedules of commitments. Since 1997, the number of members that have undertaken market access commitments on telecommunications and subscribed to the Reference Paper has continued to increase as a result of new governments joining WTO through the process of accession. Under the JSI negotiations, participants are discussing a proposal that seeks to update the provisions of the Reference Paper.

Digital standards (1)

International standards are important to the global digital economy as they can enable interconnectivity and interoperability for telecommunications and internet infrastructures. The WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT Agreement) aims to ensure that technical regulations, standards, and conformity assessment procedures affecting trade in goods (including telecommunications products) are non-discriminatory and do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. The TBT Agreement strongly encourages that such regulatory measures be based on relevant international standards. The TBT Committee serves as a forum where governments discuss and address concerns with specific regulations, including those affecting digital trade. Examples of relevant TBT measures notified to or discussed at the TBT Committee include (1) measures addressing the internet of things (IoT) and related devices in terms of their safety, interoperability, national security/cybersecurity, performance, and quality; (2) measures regulating 5G cellular network technology for reasons related to, among others, national security and interoperability; (3) measures regulating 3D printing (additive manufacturing) devices; (4) measures regulating drones (small unmanned aircraft systems) due to risks for humans/consumers, interoperability problems, and national security risks; and (5) measures dealing with autonomous vehicles, mostly concerned with their safety and performance.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity issues have been addressed in several WTO bodies. For example, the TBT Committee has discussed national cybersecurity regulations applicable to information and communications technology (ICT) products and their potential impact on trade. In the TBT Committee, WTO members have raised specific trade concerns related to cybersecurity regulations. Some of the specific issues discussed include how cybersecurity regulations discriminating against foreign companies and technologies can negatively impact international trade in ICT products. Proposals on cybersecurity have also been tabled in the JSI on e-commerce where negotiations are ongoing.

Data governance

The growth of the global digital economy is fuelled by data. Discussions on how provisions of WTO agreements apply to data flows are ongoing among WTO members. In this context, is particularly relevant, as it applies to trade in services such as (1) data transmission and data processing by any form of technology (e.g. mobile or cloud technologies); (2) new ICT business models such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS); (3) online distribution services e.g. (e-commerce market platforms); and (4) financial services such as mobile payments. The extent to which members can impose restrictions on data or information flows affecting trade in services is determined by their GATS schedules of commitments. Under the JSI, proposals on cross-border data flows have been submitted and are being discussed. These proposals envision a general rule establishing the free flow of data for commercial activities. Proposed exceptions to this general rule are, to a large extent, similar to the existing GATS General and Security Exceptions and relate to, for example, protection of personal data, protection of legitimate public policy objectives, national security interests, and exclusion of governmental data. Issues related to data flows have also been raised by members in other contexts at the WTO, such as in the Council for Trade in Services, for instance, when national cybersecurity measures adopted have been considered by some members as trade barriers.

Intellectual property rights

The TRIPS Agreement is a key international instrument for the protection of IP and is of relevance to e-commerce. The technologies that underpin the internet and enable digital commerce such as software, routers, networks, switches, and user interfaces are protected by IP. In addition, e-commerce transactions can involve digital products with IP-protected content, such as e-books, software, or blueprints for 3D-printing. As IP licences often regulate the usage rights for such intangible digital products, the TRIPS Agreement and the international IP Conventions provide much of the legal infrastructure for digital trade.

These conventions include:

The role of IP in promoting innovation and trade in the digital age has been highlighted in recent WTO World Trade Reports.

IP-related issues are also being discussed in the JSI. Submitted proposals include text on limiting requests to the access or transfer of source code. The source code or the data analysis used in the operation of programmes or services is often legally protected by IP law through copyright, patent, or trade secret provisions. The main goal of the JSI proposals on access to source code is to prevent members from requiring access or transfer of the source code owned by a national of another member state as a condition for market access. Some exceptions to this general prohibition have also been proposed. For example, for software that is used for critical infrastructures and public procurement transactions.

Electronic commerce

WTO agreements cover a broad spectrum of trade topics, including some related to e-commerce, which has been on the WTO agenda since 1998 when the ministers adopted the Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce. The Declaration instructed the General Council to establish a Work Programme on electronic commerce. In that Declaration, members also agreed to continue the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions (the ’moratorium’). The Work Programme provides a broad definition of e-commerce and instructs four WTO bodies (Council for Trade in Goods; Council for Trade in Services; TRIPS Council; and the Committee on Trade and Development) to explore the relationship between WTO Agreements and e-commerce. The Work Programme and the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions have been periodically reviewed and renewed. At its recently concluded 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022, WTO members agreed to reinvigorate the Work Programme, particularly in line with its development dimension, and to intensify discussions on the moratorium, including on its scope, definition, and impact. Furthermore, members agreed to extend the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions until MC13 (2).

At MC11 in 2017, a group of members issued the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-Commerce to explore work towards future WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce. Following the exploratory work, in January 2019, 76 members confirmed their ‘intention to commence WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce’ and to ‘achieve a high standard out- come that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO members as possible’. Negotiations are continuing among 87 members (3) and are structured under 6 broad themes, namely enabling e-commerce, openness and e-commerce, trust and e-commerce, cross-cutting issues, telecommunications, and market access. JSI participants have reached a high degree of convergence on e-authentication and e-signatures, e-contracts, open government data, online consumer protection, unsolicited commercial electronic messages (spam), transparency, open internet access and paperless trading. Negotiations on electronic transactions frameworks, source code, cybersecurity, electronic invoicing, privacy, telecommunications, and customs duties on electronic transmissions continue. On the margins of the MC12, the co-convenors of the JSI (Australia, Japan, and Singapore), issued a statement underlining the importance of developing global rules on e-commerce and, together with Switzerland, launched the E-commerce Capacity Building Framework to strengthen digital inclusion and to help developing and least developed countries to harness the opportunities of digital trade.

Access (4)

Information Technology Agreement (ITA-I and ITA-II)

The ITA-I was concluded by 29 participants in 1996. Through this agreement, participating WTO members eliminated tariffs and other duties and charges (ODCs) on hundreds of ICT products – including computers, laptops, servers, routers, communication devices (i.e. mobile telephones),  semiconductors, semiconductor manufacturing equipment and parts thereof – to foster the development of ICT global value chains and facilitate greater adoption of the ICT products that lie at the core of a global digital economy and power the downstream innovative and competitive capacity of every industry that deploys them. Currently, 83 WTO members are participants in ITA-I, accounting for approximately 97% of world trade in ITA-I products. As technology continues to evolve, ICT is found at the core of an ever-increasing range of products. At the MC10 in Nairobi in 2015, over 50 WTO members concluded ITA-II negotiations and agreed to expand the ITA product coverage by around 200 products. ICT products such as GPS navigation equipment, satellites, and medical equipment were included and tariffs on these products have been eliminated among ITA-II participants. At present, the ITA-II consists of 55 WTO members, representing over 90% of world trade in ITA-II products. The ITA is being discussed in the JSI under the market access focus group.

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1-The issue of digital standards is addressed as ‘standards and regulations’ within the work of WTO.

2-WT/MIN(22)/32; WT/L/1143

3-87 Members as of end of September 2022: Albania; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahrain, Kingdom of; Belgium; Benin; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Côte D’Ivoire; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Ecuador; El Salvador; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Guatemala;Honduras; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; Indonesia; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Korea, Republic of; Kuwait, the State of; Latvia; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malaysia; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova, Republic of; Mongolia; Montenegro; Myanmar; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of; Singapore; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States; and Uruguay

4-The issue of arbitration is referred to under the issue of ‘market access’ within the work of WTO.



International Telecommunication Union

Acronym: ITU, UIT

Established: 1865

Address: Place des Nations, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.itu.int

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

ITU is the United Nations specialised agency for information and communications technologies (ICTs), driving innovation in ICTs together with 193 member states and a membership of over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organisations. Established 157 years ago in 1865, ITU is the intergovernmental body responsible for coordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communications infrastructure in the developing world, and establishing the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems. From broadband networks to cutting-edge wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, intelligent transport systems, radio astronomy, oceanographic and satellite-based Earth monitoring as well as converging fixed-mobile phone, internet, cable television and broadcasting technologies, ITU is committed to connecting the world. For more information, visit www.itu.int.

See also: Africa’s participation in the International Telecommunication Union

Digital activities

Some of ITU’s key areas of action include radiocommunication services (such as satellite services, and fixed/mobile and broadcasting services), developing telecommunications networks (including future networks), standardisation of various areas and media related to telecommunications, and ensuring access to bridge the digital divide and addressing challenges in ICT accessibility. ITU’s work supports emerging technologies in fields such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), Intelligent Transport Systems, disaster management, agriculture, smart sustainable cities, and the internet of things (IoT); access and digital inclusion; the accessibility of ICTs to persons with disabilities; digital health; ICTs and climate change; cybersecurity; gender equality; and child online protection, among others.  These and many more ICT topics are covered both within the framework of radiocommunication, standardisation, and development work, through various projects, initiatives, and studies carried out by the organisation.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunication infrastructure

Information and communication infrastructure development is one of ITU’s priority areas. The organisation seeks to assist member states, sector members, associates, and academia in the implementation and development of broadband networks, wired (e.g. cable) and wireless technologies, international mobile telecommunications (IMT), satellite communications, the IoT, and smart grids, including next-generation networks, as well as in the provision of telecommunications networks in rural areas.

ITU’s International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) have as an overall aim the facilitation of global interconnection and interoperability of telecommunication facilities. Through the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R), ITU is involved in the global management of the radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, used for telecommunications services, in line with the Radio Regulations.

The international standards developed by ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) enable the interconnection and interoperability of ICT networks, devices, and services worldwide. It has 11 technical standardisation committees called Study Groups (SGs), with mandates covering a wide range of digital technologies:

The work on standards is complemented by short-term exploration/incubation ITU-T Focus Groups (FGs) whose deliverables guide the ITU-T SGs in new areas of standardisation work:

Collaboration among various standards bodies is a high priority of ITU-T. Various platforms were established to support coordination and collaboration on various topics, for example:

The Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) establishes an enabling environment and provides evidence-based policy-making through ICT indicators and regulatory and economic metrics, and implements a host of telecommunications/ICT projects.

In the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, ITU-D launched the Global Network Resiliency Platform (REG4COVID) to address the strain experienced by telecommunication networks, which are vital to the health and safety of people. The platform pools experiences and innovative policy and regulatory measures.

Discussions involving the World Bank, Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), and the World Economic Forum identified how to bring together communities to support ITU membership in their response to COVID-19. The Speedboat Initiative issued a COVID-19 Crisis Response:

Digital Development Joint Action Plan and Call for Action to better leverage digital technologies and infrastructure in support of citizens, governments, and businesses during the pandemic.

Connect2Recover provides country-specific support to reinforce digital infrastructures – using telework, e-commerce, remote learning, and telemedicine to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to support recovery and preparedness for potential future pandemics. ITU worked with the Government of Japan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on this initiative. ITU/WHO Focus Group on AI for Health works on a standardised assessment framework for the evaluation of AI-based methods for health, diagnosis, triage, or treatment decisions and in early 2020 it created an Ad-hoc Group on Digital Technologies for COVID-19 Health Emergencies (AHG-DT4HE) to review the role of AI (and other digital technologies) in combatting COVID-19 throughout an epidemic’s life cycle; it also delivered guidance on digital technologies for COVID health emergency.

The impact statement for the Telecommunications Development Bureau’s (BDT) thematic priority on Network and Digital Infrastructure is ‘Reliable connectivity to everyone’.

ITU-D SG1 also focuses on various aspects related to telecommunications infrastructure, in particular, Question 1/1 on ‘Strategies and policies for the deployment of broadband in developing countries’;   Question   2/1 on ‘Strategies, policies, regulations, and methods of migration and adoption of digital broadcasting and implementation of new services’; Question 4/1 on ‘Economic aspects of national telecommunications/ICTs’; Question 5/1 on ‘Telecommunications/ICTs for rural and remote areas’; Question 6/1 on ‘Consumer information, protection and rights’; and Question 5/2 on ‘Adoption of telecommunications/ICTs and improving digital skills’.

5G

ITU plays a key role in managing the radio spectrum and developing international standards for 5G networks, devices, and services, within the framework of the so-called IMT-2020 activities. ITU-R SGs together with the mobile broadband industry and a wide range of stakeholders established the 5G standards.

The activities include the organisation of intergovernmental and multistakeholder dialogues, and the development and implementation of standards and regulations to ensure that 5G networks are secure, interoperable, and operate without interference.

ITU-T is playing a similar convening role for the technologies and architectures of non-radio elements of 5G systems. For example, ITU standards address 5G transport, with Passive Optical Network (PON), Carrier Ethernet, and Optical Transport Network (OTN), among the technologies standardised by ITU-T expected to support 5G systems. ITU  standards for 5G  networking address topics including network virtualisation, network orchestration and management, and fixed-mobile convergence. ITU standards also address ML for 5G and future networks, the environmental requirements of 5G, security and trust in 5G, and the assessment of 5G quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE).

Satellite

ITU-R manages the coordination, notification, and recording of frequency assignments for space systems, including their associated earth stations. Its main role is to process and publish data and carry out the examination of frequency assignment notices submitted by administrations towards their eventual recording in the Master International Frequency Register.

ITU-R also develops and manages space-related assignment or allotment plans and provides mechanisms for the development of new satellite services by determining how to optimise the use of available and suitable orbital resources.

Currently, the rapid pace of satellite innovation is driving an increase in the deployment of non-geostationary satellite systems (NGSO). With the availability of launch vehicles capable of supporting multiple satellite launches, mega-constellations consisting of hundreds to thousands of spacecraft are becoming a popular solution for global telecommunications.

To this end, during the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19), ITU established regulatory procedures for the deployment of NGSO systems, including mega-constellations in low Earth orbit.

Regarding climate change, satellite data today is an indispensable input for weather prediction models and forecast systems used to produce safety warnings and other information in support of public and private decision-making.

ITU develops international standards contributing to the environmental sustainability of the ICT sector, as well as other industry sectors applying ICTs assembling technologies to increase efficiency and innovate their service offer. The latest ITU standards in this domain address sustainable power-feeding solutions for IMT-2020/5G networks, energy-efficient data centres capitalising on big data and AI, and smart energy management for telecom base stations.

Emergency telecommunications

Emergency telecommunications is an integral part of the ITU mandate. To mitigate the impact of disasters, the timely dissemination of authoritative information before, during, and after disasters is critical.

Emergency telecommunications play a critical role in disaster risk reduction and management. ICTs are essential for monitoring the underlying hazards and for delivering vital information to all stakeholders, including those most vulnerable, as well as in the immediate aftermath of disasters for ensuring the timely flow of vital information that is needed to co-ordinate response efforts and save lives. ITU supports its member states in the four phases of disaster management:

ITU activities in the field of radiocommunications make an invaluable contribution to disaster management. They facilitate prediction, detection, and alerting through the coordinated and effective use of the radio-frequency spectrum and the establishment of radio standards and guidelines concerning the usage of radiocommunication systems in disaster mitigation and relief operations.

ITU-T SG2 plays a role as the lead study group on telecommunications for disaster relief/early warning, network resilience, and recovery. Other study groups are working on emergency telecommunications within their mandates. Examples are shown in the following paragraphs.

ITU standards offer common formats for the exchange of all-hazard information over public networks. They ensure that networks prioritise emergency communications. And they have a long history of protecting ICT infrastructure from lightning and other environmental factors. In response to the increasing severity of extreme weather events, recent years have seen ITU standardisation experts turning their attention to ‘disaster relief, network resilience, and recovery’. This work goes well beyond traditional protection against environmental factors, focusing on technical mechanisms to prepare for disasters and respond effectively when disaster strikes.

ITU standards now offer guidance on network architectures able to contend with sudden losses of substantial volumes of network resources. They describe the network functionality required to make optimal use of the network resources still operational after a disaster. They offer techniques for the rapid repair of damaged ICT infrastructure, such as means to connect the surviving fibers of severed fiber-optic cables. And they provide for ‘movable and deployable ICT resource units’ in various sizes, such as emergency containers, vehicles, or hand-held kits housing network resources and a power source – to provide temporary replacements for destroyed ICT infrastructure.

ITU is also supporting an ambitious project to equip submarine communications cables with climate- and hazard-monitoring sensors to create a global real-time ocean observation network. This network would be capable of providing earthquake and tsunami warnings, as well as data on ocean climate change and circulation. This project to equip cable repeaters with climate and hazard-monitoring sensors – creating Science Monitoring And Reliable Telecommunications (SMART) cables – is led by the ITU/WMO/UNESCO-IOC Joint Task Force (JTF) onSMART Cable Systems, a multidisciplinary body established in 2012. Currently, several projects are ongoing to realise SMART cables.

In ITU-D, a lot of effort is directed at mainstreaming disaster management in telecommunications/ICT projects and activities as part of disaster preparedness. This includes infrastructure development, and the establishment of enabling policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks. ITU also deploys temporary telecommunications/ICT solutions to assist countries affected by disasters. After providing assistance for disaster relief and response, ITU undertakes assessment missions to affected countries aimed at determining the magnitude of damage to the network through the use of geographical information systems. On the basis of its findings, ITU and the host country embark on resuscitating the infrastructure while ensuring that disaster-resilient features are integrated to reduce network vulnerability in the event of disasters striking in the future.

ITU is also part of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), a global network of organisations that work together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies.

ITU-D SQ Question 3/1 ‘The use of telecommunications/ICTs for disaster risk reduction and management’ was agreed at the World Telecommunication Development Conference 2022 (WTDC-22) and will operate for the 2022–2025 study period. This Question continues the work of Question 5/2 of the 2018–2021 period.

The ITU/WMO/UNEP Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Natural Disaster Management (FG-AI4NDM), established by ITU-T SG2 has been developing best practices to leverage AI to assist with data collection and handling, improve modelling across spatiotemporal scales, and provide effective communication.

Work includes the following:

  • With the ETC, ITU developed the Disaster Connectivity Map (DCM), with information critical for first responders on network outages and connectivity gaps following disasters.
  • ITU joined the Crisis Connectivity Charter(CCC) in 2019, joining the satellite industry and the humanitarian community in making satellite communication more available.
  • ITU established an ITU Emergency Telecommunications Roster. ITU staff are trained on deployment of ITU telecommunications equipment and on supporting the ETC on the ground.
  • ITU, with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), launched a Call to Action on Emergency Alerting in 2021, inviting all partners to support countries in implementing CAP. The organisations are supporting the WMO to establish a CAP HelpDesk.
  • Strengthening the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems, ITU partnered with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), WMO, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO), and the World Broadcasting Unions in 2020 to develop Media Saves Lives to reinforce broadcasters’ role in the early warning chain.

Artificial intelligence

ITU works on the development and use of AI to ensure a sustainable future for everyone. To that end, it convenes intergovernmental and multistakeholder dialogues, develops international standards and frameworks, and helps in capacity building for the use of AI.

AI and machine learning (ML) are gaining a larger share of the ITU standardisation work programme in fields such as network orchestration and management, multimedia coding, service quality assessment, operational aspects of service provision and telecom management, cable networks, digital health, environmental efficiency, and autonomous driving.

AI for Good is organised by ITU in partnership with 40 UN sister agencies and co-convened with Switzerland. The goal of AI for Good is to identify practical applications of AI to advance the UN SDGs and scale those solutions for global impact. It’s the leading action-oriented, global, and inclusive UN platform on AI.

Various ITU-T SGs address aspects of AI and ML within their mandates. The work has so far resulted in ITU-T Recommendations and Supplements, for example, in the L-, M-, P-, and Y-series of ITU-T Recommendations.

The ITU-T AI/ML in 5G Challenge, introduced in 2020, rallies like-minded students and professionals from around the globe to study the practical application of AI and ML in emerging and future digital communications networks and sustainable development. The second Challenge (in 2021) attracted over 1,600 students and professionals from 82 countries, competing for prizes and global recognition. The 2022 Challenge covered a wide range of topics including AI/ML in 5G, GeoAI, and tinyML. By mapping emerging AI and ML solutions, the Challenge fostered a community to support the iterative evolution of ITU standards. To learn more, see the Challenge GitHub.

Several ITU-T FG are considering the use of AI and ML including:

Main activities related to ITU-R SGs and reports include:

  • ITU-R SG1 covers Spectrum Management and Monitoring. In relation to AI, Question ITU-R 241/1 ‘Methodologies for assessing or predicting spectrum availability’ was approved in 2019 and is under study.
  • ITU-R SG6 covers all aspects for the broadcasting service. SG6 deliverables and work items related to AI and ML including Question ITU-R 144/6 ‘Use of artificial intelligence (AI) for broadcasting’; and Report ITU-R BT.2447 ‘Artificial intelligence systems for programme production and exchange’.
  • AI forRoadSafetyinitiative: Launched in October 2021, the initiative promotes an AI-enhanced approach to reduce fatalities across road-safety management, safer roads and mobility, safer vehicles, safer road users, post-crash response, and speed control.

During the 40th High-Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) session in October 2020, an Interagency Working Group on AI (IAWG-AI) was established to focus on policy and programmatic coherence of AI activities within the UN. IAWG-AI, co-led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and ITU, aims to combine the ethical and technological parts of the UN to provide a solid foundation for current and future system-wide efforts on AI with a view to ensuring respect for human rights and accelerating progress on the SDGs. It is a joint effort between ITU and 46 UN agencies and bodies, all partners of AI for Good or members of the UN IAWG-AI. The report usually presents over 200 cases and projects run by the UN system, in areas covering all 17 SDGs and ranging from smart agriculture and food systems to transportation, financial services, healthcare, and AI solutions to combat COVID-19. In 2021, the report was presented for the first time with an Executive Summary, an analysis of all the projects submitted to the report, providing a snapshot of the key tracks, trends, and gaps in AI activities within the UN system.

The UN-led initiative, United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC), coordinated by ITU, UNECE, and UN-HABITAT and supported by 17 UN agencies and programmes, has been examining how AI can be employed in the smart city domain and through its Thematic Group on Guiding Principles for Artificial Intelligence in Cities for implementing AI-based solutions in line with the SDGs.

ITU, through its Development Sector, also holds an annual meeting for all telecommunications regulators on the occasion of the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR), which discusses and establishes a regulatory framework for all technologies including AI, and addresses this issue at its two SGs. Several areas under ITU-D SG2 explore applications of AI in various domains to support sustainable development.

Critical internet resources (1)

Over the years, ITU has adopted several resolutions that deal with internet technical resources, such as Internet Protocol-based networks (Resolution 101 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)), IPv4 to IPv6 transition (Resolution 180 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)), and internationalised domain names (Resolution 133 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)). ITU has also adopted a resolution on its role regarding international public policy issues pertaining to the internet and the management of internet resources, including domain names and addresses (Resolution 102 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)). In addition, the ITU Council has set up a Working Group on International Internet (CWG-Internet)- related Public Policy Issues, tasked with identifying, studying, and developing matters related to international internet-related public policy issues. This Working Group also holds regular online open public consultations on specific topics to give all stakeholders from all nations an opportunity to express their views with regard to the topic(s) under discussion.

ITU is also the facilitator of WSIS Action Line С2 – Information and communication infrastructure.

Digital standards (2)

International standards provide the technical foundations of the global ICT ecosystem.

Presently, 95% of international traffic runs over optical infrastructure built in conformance with ITU standards. Video now accounts for over 80% of all internet traffic; this traffic relies on ITU’s Primetime Emmy-winning video-compression standards.

ICTs are enabling innovation in every industry and public-sector body. The digital transformation underway across our economies receives key support from ITU standards for smart cities, energy, transport, healthcare, financial services, agriculture, and AI and ML.

ICT networks, devices, and services interconnect and interoperate thanks to the efforts of thousands of experts who come together on the neutral ITU platform to develop international standards known as ITU-T Recommendations.

Standards create efficiencies enjoyed by all market players, efficiencies, and economies of scale that ultimately result in lower costs to producers and lower prices to consumers. Companies developing standards-based products and services gain access to global markets. And by supporting backward compatibility, ITU standards enable next-generation technologies to interwork with previous technology generations; this protects past investments while creating the confidence to continue investing in our digital future.

The ITU standardisation process is contribution-led and consensus-based. Standardisation work is driven by contributions from ITU members and consequent decisions are made by consensus. The process aims to ensure that all voices are heard and that resulting standards have the consensus-derived support of the diverse and globally representative ITU membership.

ITU members develop standards year-round in ITU-T SGs. Over 4,000 ITU-T Recommendations are currently in force, and over 300 new or revised ITU-T Recommendations are approved each year.

For more information on the responsibilities of ITU SGs, covering ITU-T SG as well as those of ITU’s radiocommunication and development sectors (ITU-R and ITU-D), see the ITU backgrounder on study groups.

The ITU World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) is the governing body of ITU’s standardisation arm (ITU-T). It is held every four years to review the overall direction and structure of ITU-T. This conference also approves the mandates of the Telecommunication Standardization Sector study group (ITU-T SSGs) (WTSA Resolution 2) and appoints the leadership teams of these groups.

ITU develops international standards supporting the co-ordinated development and application of IoT technologies, including standards leveraging IoT technologies to address urban-development challenges.

Internet of things (3)

It also facilitates international discussions on the public policy dimensions of smart cities, principally through the U4SSC initiative, an initiative supported by 17 UN bodies with the aim of achieving SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities).

ITU standards have provided a basis for the development of Key Performance Indicators for Smart Sustainable Cities. More than 150 cities worldwide have adopted the indicators as part of a collaboration driven by ITU within the framework of the U4SSC initiative.

To complement the work of the U4SSC, the first U4SSC Country Hub has been set up in Vienna, Austria, hosted by the Austrian Economic Centre (AEC). The U4SSC Hub provides a unique platform to accelerate cooperation between the public and private sectors and helps facilitate digital transformation in cities and communities, while enabling technology and knowledge transfer.

The range of applications of the IoT is very broad – extending from smart clothing to smart cities and global monitoring systems. To meet these varied requirements, a variety of technologies, both wired and wireless, is required to provide access to the network.

Alongside ITU-T studies on the IoT and smart cities, ITU-R conducts studies on the technical and operational aspects of radiocommunication networks and systems for the IoT. The spectrum requirements and standards for IoT wireless access technologies are being addressed in ITU-R, as follows:

  • Harmonisation of frequency ranges, and technical and operating parameters used for the operation of short-range devices.
  • Standards for wide area sensor and actuator network systems.
  • Spectrum to support the implementation of narrowband and broadband machine-type communication infrastructures.
  • Support for massive machine-type communications within the framework of the standards and spectrum for IMT-Advanced (4G) and IMT-2020 (5G).
  • Use of fixed-satellite and mobile-satellite communications for the IoT.

ITU-D SG2 Question 1/2 ‘Creating smart cities and society: Employing information and communication technologies for sustainable social and economic development’ includes case studies on the application of the IoT, and identifies the trends and best practices implemented by member states as well as the challenges faced, to support sustainable development and foster smart societies in developing countries.

ITU-T SG20 is responsible for studies relating to the IoT and its applications, and smart cities and communities (SC&C). This includes studies relating to big data aspects of the IoT and SC&C, digital services for SC&C, and digital transformation of relevant IoT and SC&C aspects. ITU and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) for Digital Agriculture (FG- AI4A), established by ITU-T SG20, explores (1) how emerging technologies including AI and IoT can be leveraged for data acquisition and handling, (2) modelling from a growing volume of agricultural and geospatial data, and (3) providing communication for the optimisation of agricultural production processes.

Blockchain

New ITU standards for blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) address the requirements of blockchain in next-generation network evolution and the security requirements of blockchain, both in terms of blockchain’s security capabilities and security threats to blockchain.

ITU reports provide potential blockchain adopters with a clear view of the technology and how it could best be applied. Developed by the FG DLT, these reports provide an ‘assessment framework’ to support efforts to understand the strengths and weaknesses of DLT platforms in different use cases. The Group has also produced a high-level DLT architecture – a reference framework – detailing the key elements of a DLT platform. The FG studied high-potential DLT use cases and DLT platforms said to meet the requirements of such use cases. These studies guided the Group’s abstraction of the common requirements necessary to describe a DLT architecture and associated assessment criteria. The resulting reports also offer insight into the potential of DLT to support the achievement of the SDGs.

Blockchain and DLT are also key to the work of the Digital Currency Global Initiative, a partnership between ITU and Stanford University to continue the work of an ITU Focus Group on Digital Currency including Digital Fiat Currency (FG DFC). The Digital Currency Global Initiative provides an open, neutral platform for dialogue, knowledge sharing, and research on the applications of Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) and other digital currency implementations. The initiative will share case studies of digital currency applications, benchmark best practices, and develop specifications to inform ITU standards.

ITU-T SG3 is studying economic and policy aspects when using distributed ledger technologies such as for the improved management of the Universal Service Fund or to handle accounting.

ITU-T SG5 is studying the environmental efficiency of digital technologies including blockchain. For example, ITU-T SG5 has developed Recommendation ITU-T L.1317 on guidelines for energy-efficient blockchain systems.

ITU-T SG16 Question 22/16 on multimedia aspects of DLT and e-services and ITU-T SG17 Question 14/17 on DLT security continue the work of the now closed ITU-T Focus Group on distributed ledger technologies. Several Recommendations and Technical Papers have been produced, and more are being prepared.

Topics of interest for digital financial services (DFS) that are being studied by Q22/16 and Q/17 include digital evidence services, digital invoices, and smart contracts.

ITU-T SG20 Question 4/20 on data analytics, sharing, processing, and management, including big data aspects, of the IoT and SC&C, is studying the role of emerging technologies such as blockchain to support data processing and management (DPM).

Cloud computing

ITU standards provide the requirements and functional architectures of the cloud ecosystem, covering inter- and intra-cloud computing and technologies supporting anything as a service (XaaS). These standards enable consistent end-to-end, multi-cloud management and the monitoring of services across different service providers’ domains and technologies. They were developed in view of the convergence of telecoms and computing technologies that characterises the cloud ecosystem.

Cloud services provide on-demand access to advanced ICT resources, enabling innovators to gain new capabilities without investing in new hardware or software. Cloud concepts are also fundamental to the evolution of ICT networking, helping networks to meet the requirements of an increasingly diverse range of ICT applications.

As innovation accelerates in fields such as IMT-2020/5G and the IoT and digital transformation takes hold in every industry sector, the cloud ecosystem will continue to grow in importance to companies large and small, in developing as well as developed countries.

ITU-D SG1 Question 3/1 of the 2018–2021 period focused on the analysis of factors influencing effective access to support cloud computing, as well as strategies, policies, and infrastructure investments to foster the emergence of a cloud-computing ecosystem in developing countries, among others. For 2022–2025, this topic will be studied under Question 2/2 ‘Enabling technologies for e-services and applications, including e-health and e-education’.

Emerging technologies

ITU’s range of work on emerging technologies in fields such as AI, 5G, IoT, SC&C, ITS, quantum information technologies, and others have been covered in various other sections.

ITU-T SG5 on Environment, Electromagnetic Fields (EMF), and the Circular Economy is responsible for ICTs related to the environment, energy efficiency, clean energy, and sustainable digitalisation for climate actions. It carries out work to study the environmental efficiency of emerging technologies.

ITU-T SG20 Question 5/20 on the study of emerging digital technologies, terminology and definitions, serves as a facilitator with the research and innovation community to identify emerging technologies requiring standardisation for the global market and the industry.

U4SSC, through its various thematic groups, explores how leveraging emerging technologies such as the IoT, AI, blockchain, and digital twin, can help create a sustainable ecosystem and improve the delivery of urban services to improve quality of life for inhabitants. In this context, U4SSC has published the following reports:

  • Digital Solutions for Integrated City Management and Use Cases

Quantum information technology

Quantum information technology (QIT) improves information processing capability by harnessing the principles of quantum mechanics. It has promoted the second quantum revolution and will profoundly impact ICT networks and digital security.

ITU’s work in the area of QIT includes developing standards. For example, several ITU-T SGs, including SGs 11, 13, and 17 are developing ITU-T Recommendations in this field. The work has so far resulted in ITU-T Recommendations and Supplements in the X-, and Y-series of ITU-T Recommendations.

The ITU-T Focus Groupon Quantum Information Technology for Networks (FG-QIT4N) provided a collaborative platform for pre-standardisation aspects of QIT for networks. It adopted nine technical reports.

A 2021 webinar series explores innovative QIT applications and their implications on security, on classical computing and ICT networks and the discussion of corresponding roadmaps for quantum networks.

Network security

ITU and the WSIS Action Line C5 – Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs, bringing different stakeholders together to forge meaningful partnerships to help countries address the risks associated with ICTs. This includes adopting national cybersecurity strategies, facilitating the establishment of national incident response capabilities, developing international security standards, protecting children online, and building capacity.

ITU develops international standards to build confidence and security in the use of ICTs, especially for digital transformation. Topics of growing significance to this work include digital identity infrastructure, cybersecurity management, security aspects of digital financial services, intelligent transport systems, blockchain and distributed ledger technology, and quantum information technologies.

ITU-T SG17 (Security) is the lead SG on building confidence and security in the use of ICTs; facilitating more secure network infrastructure, services, and applications; and coordinating security-related work across ITU-T SGs. Providing security by ICTs and ensuring security for ICTs are both major study areas for SG17. Other ITU-T SGs, such as ITU-T SG9 (Broadband Cable and TV) and ITU-T SG13 (Future Networks, with Focus on IMT-2020, Cloud Computing and Trusted Network Infrastructures) contributed to fulfilling the ITU mandate on cybersecurity.

ITU-TSG5 (Environment, EMF, and the Circular Economy) studies the security of ICT systems concerning electromagnetic phenomena (High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP), High Power Electromagnetic (HPEM), information leakage).

ITU-T SG11 (Protocols, testing & combating counterfeiting) is developing a series of new ITU-T Recommendations (e.g. ITU-T Q.3057), which define the signalling architecture and requirements for interconnection between trustable network entities in support of existing and emerging networks. This Recommendation describes the use of digital signatures (digital certificates) in the signalling exchange which may guarantee the trustworthiness of the sender. More details are available at http://itu.int/go/SIG- SECURITY.

ITU-T SG20 Question 6/20 on Security, privacy, trust and identification for IoT and SC&C, is working on developing recommendations, reports, and guidelines on security and trust provisioning in IoT both at the ICT infrastructure and future heterogeneous converged service environments. ITU-R established clear security principles for IMT (3G, 4G and 5G) networks.

In 2008, ITU launched a five-pillared framework called the Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA) to encourage co-operation with and between various partners in enhancing cybersecurity globally. The cybersecurity programme offers its membership, particularly developing countries, the tools to increase cybersecurity capabilities at the national level in order to enhance security, and build confidence and trust in the use of ICTs. The 2022 session of the ITU Council approved guidelines for better utilisation of the GCA framework by ITU.

ITU serves as a neutral and global platform for dialogue around policy actions in the interests of cybersecurity.

ITU issues the Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) to shed light on the commitment of ITU member states to cybersecurity at the global level. The index is a trusted reference developed as a multistakeholder effort managed by ITU. In the last iteration of the GCI, 150 member states participated.

Alongside the ITU-T’s development of technical standards in support of security and ITU-R’s establishment of security principles for 3G and 4G networks, ITU also assists in building cybersecurity capacity.

This capacity-building work helps countries to define cybersecurity strategies, assists the establishment of computer incident response teams (CIRTs), supports the protection of children online, and assists countries in building human capacity relevant to security.

For example:

Strategies: ITU assists member states in developing and improving effective national cybersecurity frameworks or strategies. At the national level, cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, which requires coordinated action for prevention, preparation, and response on the part of government agencies, authorities, the private sector, and civil society. To ensure a safe, secure, and resilient digital sphere, a comprehensive national framework or strategy is necessary.

CIRTs: Effective mechanisms and institutional structures are necessary at the national level to deal with cyberthreats and incidents reliably. ITU assists member states in establishing and enhancing national CIRTs. In response to the fast-evolving technologies and manifestation of related threats, incident response must be updated and improved continuously.

Building human capacity:

  • ITU conducts regional and national cyber drills, assisting member states in improving cybersecurity readiness, protection, and incident response capabilities at regional and national levels, and strengthening international cooperation among ITU member states against cyberthreats and cyberattacks. To date, ITU has conducted cyber drills involving over 100 countries.
  • ITU’s Development Bureau organises regional cybersecurity forums across ITU regions, helping build capacity for Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) programmes and facilitating cooperation at the regional and international levels.
  • Through the ITU Academy, ITU offers a number of training courses for professionals in the field of cybersecurity.
  • BitSight provided access to ITU member states for its cybersecurity scoring platform – helping address cybersecurity challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and to support member states’ health infrastructure with timely information on cyberthreats.
  • The Women in Cyber Mentorship Programme builds skills of junior women professionals entering the field of cybersecurity.

International cooperation: In its efforts on cybersecurity, ITU works closely with partners from international organisations, the private sector, and academia, strengthened by a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a range of organisations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), World Bank, Interpol, World Economic Forum, and several others.

Child safety online (4)

As part of its Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA), ITU launched the Child Online Protection (COP) Initiative in 2008, aimed at creating an international collaborative network and promoting the protection of children globally from all kinds of risks and harms related to the online environment, all while empowering children to fully benefit from the opportunities that the internet offers. The initiative focuses on the development of child online protection strategies covering five key areas: legal measures, technical and procedural measures, organisational structures, capacity building, and international cooperation.

Approaching child online safety with a holistic child-rights-based approach, the initiative has recently added to its key objectives the participation of children in policy-making processes related to child online protection as well as the digital skills development for children and their families.

In collaboration with other organisations, ITU has produced four sets of the 2020 Child Online Protection (COP) Guidelines, aimed at children, parents, guardians, and educators, as well as industry and policymakers. The first set of COP Guidelines were produced in 2009. The ITU Council Working Group on Child Protection Online (WG- CP) guides the organisation’s activities in the area of child safety online.

ITU has launched or supported a range of COP responses specific to COVID-19, including:

  • Global Education Coalition for COVID-19 response – a collaboration between UNESCO, UNICEF, ITU, WHO, GSMA, and Microsoft.
  • Agenda for Action to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19 on children.
  • ITU has also contributed to the adoption of General Comment 25 on children’s rights in the digital environment by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
  • ITU is working to disseminate Sango’s messages (COP mascot launched in 2020) to develop relevant content and raise awareness on COP.

Access

The need for sustained efforts to expand internet access at a global level and bring more people online has been outlined in several resolutions adopted by ITU bodies. The organisation is actively contributing to such efforts, mainly through projects targeted at developing countries and focused on aspects such as human and institutional capacity building, education, and digital literacy; deployment of telecommunications networks and establishment of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs); the creation of broadband public access points to the internet; and the development and implementation of enabling policies in areas such as universal access. The organisation is also studying access-related issues within its various study groups, and it publishes relevant papers and studies. ITU also monitors progress made by countries in addressing the digital divide, through its periodically updated statistics and studies such as the ICT Facts and Figures and the series of Measuring Digital Development reports, including its analysis of ICT prices. The ITU DataHub brings together a broad range of indicators and statistics for easy consultation and download. The Connect 2030 Agenda envisions specific targets related to internet access; for instance by 2023, 65% of households worldwide will have access to the internet; by 2023, 70% of individuals worldwide will have with access to the internet; and by 2023, internet access should be 25% more affordable.

Access is treated in most meaningful connectivity-related Questions of ITU-D SG1 including:

  • Question 1/1 on strategies and policies for the deployment of broadband in developing countries.
  • Question 2/1 on strategies, policies, regulations and methods of migration to and adoption of digital technologies for broadcasting, including to provide new services for various environments.
  • Question 4/1 on economic aspects of national telecommunications/ICTs.
  • Question 5/1 on telecommunications/ICTs for rural and remote areas.
  • Question 6/1 on consumer information, protection and rights.

ITU is the facilitator of WSIS Action Line С2 – Information and communication infrastructure.

Capacity development

ITU is heavily involved in capacity development activities, mainly aimed at assisting countries in developing their policy and regulatory frameworks in various digital policy areas, ranging from the deployment or expansion of broadband networks, to fighting cybercrime and enhancing cybersecurity. The ITU Academy provides a wide range of general and specialised courses on various aspects related to ICTs. Such courses are delivered online, face-to-face, or in a blended manner, and span a wide variety of topics, from technologies and services, to policies and regulations. ITU also develops digital skills at basic and intermediate level to citizens through its Digital Transformation Centre (DTC) Initiative.

The Digital Regulation Handbook and Platform is the result of ongoing collaboration between ITU and the World Bank, which started in 2000. Structured by thematic areas, the Digital Regulation Platform aims to provide practical guidance and best practice for policymakers and regulators across the globe concerned with harnessing the benefits of the digital economy and society for their citizens and firms. The content provides an update on the basics of ICT regulation in light of the digital transformation sweeping across sectors and also includes new regulatory aspects and tools for ICT regulators to consider when making regulatory decisions.

The inclusivity of the ITU standardisation platform is supported by ITU’s Bridging the Standardization Gap (BSG) programme as well as regional groups within ITU-T SGs. The BSG hands-on SG effectiveness training and updated guidelines for National Standardization Secretariats (NSS) assist developing countries in developing the practical skills and national procedures required to maximise the effectiveness of their participation in the ITU standardisation process.

Digital services and applications

The Digital Services and Applications programme offers member states the tools to leverage digital technology and ICT applications to address their most pressing needs and bring real impact to people, with an emphasis on increasing availability and extending services in areas such as digital health, digital agriculture, digital government, and digital learning, as well as cross-sectoral initiatives to accelerate sustainable development such as smart villages.

To effectively harness digital services and applications for socio-economic development, the programme facilitates:

  • development of national sectoral digital strategy (including toolkits, guidelines, capacity building, action plans, and evaluations);
  • deployment of innovative digital services and applications to improve the delivery of value-added services, leveraging strategic partnerships as catalysts;
  • knowledge and best practice sharing through studies, research, and awareness raising, connecting stakeholders in converging ecosystems; and
  • addressing emerging technology trends – such as big data and AI – by collecting and sharing best practices.

Digital ecosystems

ITU works on helping member states create and mature their digital innovation ecosystems. The Digital Ecosystem Thematic Priority has developed a framework to help countries develop appropriate ICT-centric innovation policies, strategies, and programmes; share evidence- based best practices; and implement bankable projects to close the digital innovation gap. Countries are empowered to develop an environment that is conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship, where advances in new technologies become a key driver for the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Connect 2030 agenda.

ITU assists member states through its events, courses, publications, toolkits, and provision of technical advice. Its Ecosystem Development Projects initiative, for example, provides holistic advisory services including ecosystem diagnosis, risk assessment, good practice transfer, and capacity building. Events include its National and Regional Innovation Forums, which bring ecosystem stakeholders together to equip them with the skills to build their national innovation ecosystems; the ITU Innovation Challenges, which identify the best ICT innovators from around the world and equip them with skills to scale their ideas to truly impact their communities; courses on developing and maturing ecosystems (available at the ITU Academy); and Digital Innovation Profiles, which provide a snapshot of a country’s ecosystem status and allowing them to identify and fill the gaps using ITU tools and expertise.

Sustainable development

ITU, as the UN specialised agency for ICTs, continues to support its membership and to contribute to the worldwide efforts to advance the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieve its SDGs.

The 17 SDGs and their 169 related targets offer a holistic vision for the UN system. The role and contribution of ICTs as essential catalysts to fast-forward achievement of the SDGs is clearly highlighted and has come into focus since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Infrastructure, connectivity, and ICTs have demonstrated their great contribution and potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divides, and to develop digital societies.

ITU has a key role to play, in realising its main goals of universal connectivity and sustainable digital transformation, in contributing to achieving the SDGs. ITU contributes to the achievement of the SDGs with four levels of involvement:

  • ICTs as an enabler: ITU can be seen as a contributor to all SDGs through the benefits that ICTs bring to societies and economies.
  • Focus: SDGs with no specific reference to ICTs but where ITU has demonstrated to have a clear impact through the benefits ICTs bring to specific sectors and activities (e.g. e-health, digital inclusion, smart cities, e-waste, climate change). These are SDGs 1, 3, 10, 11, 12, and 13.
  • Key focus: SDGs where ITU has a particularly strong impact due to its initiatives, and is custodian of some indicators. These are SDG 4 (Quality Education), with its Target 4b to ‘… expand globally the number of scholarships, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and ICTs, technical, engineering and scientific programmes…’; and SDG 5 (Gender Equality), Target 5.b on ‘…the use of enabling technology, in particular ICTs, to promote the empowerment of women’. And Indicator 5b.1 on the ownership of mobile phones, by sex.
  • Main key focus: SDGs where ITU maximises its contribution, such as SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure) and SDG 17 (Partnership for the Goals). Here ITUis also custodian of related Targets 9.c on ‘…. ICTs to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet…’; and its Indicator 9c.1 on coverage by a mobile network and by technology. As well as Target 17.8 to ‘….enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology’; and its Indicator 17.8.1 about individuals using the internet.

The ITU Connect 2030 Agenda is specifically dedicated to leveraging telecommunications/ICTs, including broadband, for sustainable development. The agenda is built around five goals: growth, inclusiveness, sustainability, innovation, and partnership. In addition, ITU-D works on fostering international cooperation on telecommunications and ICT development issues, and enhancing environmental protection, climate change adaptation, emergency telecommunications, and disaster mitigation and management efforts through telecommunications and ICTs. These and other related issues are explored in reports, guidelines, and recommendations produced by ITU-D SGs. Additionally, ITU-T SGs such as ITU-T SG5 on Environment, EMF, and the Circular Economy is the lead SG and develops standards on circular economy and e-waste management, ICTs related to the environment, energy efficiency, clean energy, and sustainable digitalisation for climate actions, which help to achieve the SDGs.

The ITU strategic plan is aligned to the WSIS Action Lines and SDGs. Since 2015, the WSIS process has been aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to ensure that ICTs play the enabling role in advancing the SDGs.

Inclusive finance (5)

ITU has built a substantial programme of work in support of digital financial inclusion. ITU standards for digital finance address the security of telecommunications infrastructure (Signalling System No. 7 (SS7)) vulnerabilities, SIM vulnerabilities and SIM fraud), process for managing risks, threats, and vulnerabilities for digital finance service providers, assessing the quality of service of mobile networks to improve reliability and user experience for digital financial services and methodology for auditing the security of mobile payment applications to assess their level of security assurance. They provide for a high quality service and user experience, and safeguard security to build trust in digital finance.

ITU’s work in this field has included the ITU Focus Group on Digital Financial Services (2014–2017), the ITU Focus Group on Digital Currency including Digital Fiat Currency (2017–2019), and the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (2017–2021), a four-year programme to advance research in digital finance and accelerate digital financial inclusion in developing countries co-led by ITU, the World Bank Group, and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures, and with financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. ITU has also set up a Digital Financial Services (DFS) Security Lab to collaborate with regulators from both the telecom and financial services sectors in emerging economies as well as regional telecom bodies such as the Communications Regulators’ Association of Southern Africa (CRASA), The East African Communications Organization (EACO), and West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly (WATRA) to adopt the recommendations developed under the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative and assess the security of mobile payments applications. The methodology developed for the security audit of mobile payment applications would be developed into a digital public good standard in the future. Through the Security Lab, some 17 security clinics have been held in Africa, Latin America, and Asia regions, providing information and technical guidance to regulators, DFS providers and mobile network operators in those regions on how to adopt the security recommendations for digital finance.

ITU organised the Insights on Digital Financial Services webinar series in 2020 with the objective of providing insights on the innovative applications of telecommunications services, digital payments, and fintech in addressing COVID-triggered social distancing and lockdown and sharing lessons learned from governments and DFS stakeholders on the measures that they are implementing. Twelve webinars were held between May and December 2020 attracting over 1,000 unique participants from 105 countries. The webinars focused on topics such as digital identity, strong authentication technologies, security of digital financial transactions, handling fraud and scams, tracking digital financial crimes and fraud, digital credit technologies, mitigating telecom infrastructure vulnerabilities for digital finance and central bank digital currency.

ITU and Stanford University launched the Digital Currency Global Initiative (DCGI) in 2020 to continue the work of the ITU Focus Group on Digital Currency including Digital Fiat Currency. The DCGI provides an open and neutral platform for dialogue, knowledge sharing, and research on the applications of Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) and other digital currency implementations.

E-waste

ITU works in developing policies, standards, frameworks, and guidelines for the efficient disposal of e-waste to achieve a circular economy. ITU has the mandate to promote awareness of the environmental issues associated with telecommunication/ICT equipment design and encourage energy efficiency and the use of materials in the design and fabrication of telecommunication/ICT equipment that contributes to a clean and safe environment throughout its lifecycle (Res.182 (Rev. Busan, 2014));

ITU plays a key role in the UN E-waste Coalition, is a founding partner of the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP), and collaborates with the Circular Electronics Partnership.

ITU works towards achieving the 2023 targets related to waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), or ‘e-waste’, established in 2018 by the Plenipotentiary Conference by: increasing the global e-waste recycling rate to 30%; and raising the percentage of countries with e-waste legislation to 50%.

ITU-D has been mandated to assist developing countries in undertaking a proper assessment of the size of e-waste and in initiating pilot projects to achieve environmentally sound management of e-waste through e-waste collection, dismantling, refurbishing, and recycling. To this end, the organisation supports countries in developing national policies on e-waste, and works together with industry partners from the public and private sectors to stimulate coordinated actions towards a circular economy model. ITU-D and ITU-T SGs also explore issues related to ICTs and the environment.

ITU-T has been mandated to pursue and strengthen the development of ITU activities in regard to handling and controlling e-waste from telecommunication and information technology equipment and methods of treating it; and to develop recommendations, methodologies, and other publications relating to sustainable management of e-waste resulting from telecommunications/ICT equipment and products, and appropriate guidelines on the implementation of these recommendations. ITU-T SG5 on Environment, EMF, and the Circular Economy is the lead ITU-T SG on the circular economy and e-waste management.

ITU-T SG5 has a dedicated Question (Q7/5) on ‘E-waste, circular economy, and sustainable supply chain management’. This Question seeks to address the e-waste challenge by identifying the environmental requirements of digital technologies including IoT, end-user equipment, and ICT infrastructures or installations, based on the circular economy principles and improving the supply chain management in line with SDG 12, target 12.5 by 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.

A case study on the Implementation of ITU-T Standards on Sustainable Management of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment: The Path to a Circular Economy in Costa Rica was published in 2021.

In 2021, ITU with the World Economic Forum released a toolkit on extended producer responsibility for e-waste management, with a focus on African countries.

Rights of persons with disabilities (6)

ITU works both to promote globally ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities and to make ITU a more accessible organisation for persons with disabilities – Resolution 175 (Rev. Dubai, 2018).

Globally, ITU has continued conducting technical work in ITU-R, ITU-T, and ITU-D SGs advancing the use of telecommunications and ICTs for persons with disabilities; and developing resources to support member states in establishing environments that ensure accessible telecommunications/ICTs – work conducted with the participation of persons with disabilities and aligned with the Connect 2030 Agenda. ITU-D advanced regional initiatives linked to ICT accessibility, with projects, training, and events, and provided support to ITU administrations in almost every region, including organising Accessible Americas and Accessible events. More information is available here.

Within the second area of focus, ITU has made progress in implementing its ITU Accessibility Policy for persons with disabilities, with an updated version endorsed by ITU Council 2021.

ITU-D Study Question 7/1 continues to focus on telecommunication/ICT accessibility to enable inclusive communication, especially for persons with disabilities for 2022–2025 as has been agreed at WTDC–22.

The 2021 released SG Question 7/1 report (available free of charge in all UN official languages) with its accompanying video and the focused workshop and webinar confirm the careful attention given to this topic.

ITU’s work on accessibility includes regional events, ICT accessibility assessment, and the publication of new resources and handbooks. ITU has developed capacity-building materials to promote the adoption of accessible solutions, including 15 video tutorials on development and remediation of accessible digital content.

A range of activities is detailed below.

  • Accessible Americas: ICT for ALL, Cuba 2021, featured discussions with policymakers and stakeholders on ICT/digital accessibility in the context of COVID-19.
  • Accessible Africa, virtual, 2021. Five online, interactive workshops sought to strengthen the capacity of 175 regional Focal Points from 42 African countries on ICT/digital accessibility.
  • Accessible Europe: ICT for ALL 2021, virtual, 2021. Over 240 participants from more than 40 countries discussed how to remove barriers to enable the social inclusion of persons with disabilities, through cooperation, programmes, and training.
  • Accessible the Commonwealth of independent states (CIS): In 2021 the CIS Region has shown increased interest in ICT accessibility implementation to ensure equal digital empowerment through ICT.

Assessing and monitoring the implementation of ICT accessibility

WSIS Forum 2021: ICTs and Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities and Specific Needs

  • WSIS Forum 2021 featured ICTs and Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities and Specific Needs, with virtual workshops on innovative technologies, bringing together experts and stakeholders to discuss how to leverage ICTs to help people with blindness and vision impairment and how to provide inclusive education for all – showcasing emerging assistive technologies.

Self-paced online training courses

Other accessibility resources

Events and opportunities to support the global implementation of ICT accessibility

Making ITU a more accessible organisation for persons with disabilities

  • ITU continues to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities, including staff, delegates, and the general public.
  • To ensure the structure and content of ITU websites, videos, publications, digital documents, and digital information are all digitally accessible, training events are under preparation (will take place in February 2022).
  • To provide fully accessible ITU events, an invitation to bid for the provision of real-time captioning was completed in November 2021. Proposals for captioning in French, Spanish, and Chinese have been submitted.
  • In 2019, ITU provided captioning across ITU events and major conferences, sign language interpretation in selected ITU-T accessibility meetings and in making ITU websites accessible. ITU has also modified internal production to generate accessible publications in the six official languages.

COVID-19: Ensuring digital information is accessible to all

Gender rights online (7)

ITU is involved in activities aimed at promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls through ICTs.

ITU is custodian of three gender-related SDG indicators: the proportion of individuals who (1) own a mobile phone; (2) use the internet; and (3) have ICT skills. ITU’s Measuring Digital Development: Facts and Figures 2021 shows that, in all regions, the gender Internet divide has been narrowing in recent years, and calls for more action on cultural, financial, and skills-related barriers that impede Internet uptake among women. ITU has launched several targeted efforts to bridge the gender digital divide and advance the Connect 2030 Agenda. Below are some highlights of ITU’s work on gender.

Together with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations University (UNU), GSMA, and the International Trade Centre (ITC), ITU launched the EQUALS Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age with over 100 partners working together to ensure that women are given access, are equipped with skills, and develop the leadership potential to work in the ICT industry. Under this initiative, ITU contributes with the annual flagship event the EQUALS in Tech Awards. The awards are given every year to organisations and individuals working to help girls and women gain equal internet access, learn digital skills, and find opportunities in the tech industry. The initiative is dedicated to encouraging girls and young women to consider studies and careers in ICTs.

The African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI) was started in Africa in collaboration with UN Women and the African Union Commission (AUC) with the aim to train and empower girls and young women aged 17 to 20 across Africa to become computer programmers, creators, and designers. The initiative has also been launched in the Americas region with a focus on equipping girls with coding skills and generating interest in the pursuit of ICT careers.

Other activities such as the Women in Technology Challenge and the EQUALS Women in Tech Network led by ITU are targeted at advancing women’s engagement with ICTs for social and economic development.

ITU WRC-19 also adopted a declaration that promotes gender equality, equity, and parity in the work of the ITU Radiocommunication Sector.

ITU is also the facilitator of WSIS Action Line C4 – Capacity building.

Network of Women (NoW): Encouraging gender balance

Encouraging and tracking gender-balanced representation and nominations of women for key roles strengthens women’s participation in ITU meetings. The aim is to build a community where female delegates can network, share their experience, and promote the participation of women – increasing their visibility, empowering them, and encouraging experienced female delegates to mentor ICT professionals in the digital space.

In 2021, BDT launched the Network of Women (NoW) at the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) to increase the number of women participating in ITU-D meetings and taking up leadership roles in preparing the WTDC itself. Within this framework, ITU launched the global mentorship programme and fireside discussions.

At the World Radiocommunication Seminar Online 2020, ITU-R launched the NoW for WRC-23 to promote gender equality, equity and parity within the ITU Radiocommunication Sector. The NoW for WRC-19 (#NOW4WRC19) efforts culminated in a Declaration on Promoting Gender Equality, Equity and Parity in the ITU Radiocommunication Sector, adopted at WRC-19 in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Capacity-building that empowers indigenous communities through technology

Capacity-building training for indigenous communities has empowered indigenous people and communities through technology. The training is tailored to needs and interests and has taken into account self-sustainability aspects and cultural legacy.

The programme has reached 70 indigenous participants throughout the Americas, 21 of whom have completed the full programme – from Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru. Thirty per cent of participants were indigenous women.

The course Technical Promoters in Telecommunications and Broadcasting in Indigenous Communities requires one year of study and trains indigenous professionals in maintaining indigenous networks from infrastructure to communication delivery. The module boosts the professional development of professionals and ability to contribute to their communities’ socio-economic development and self-sustainability.

A further course in 2021, on Innovative Communication Tools on How to Develop, Manage and Operate an Indigenous Radio Network was offered to 141 indigenous participants over two editions. Countries represented included Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Thirty per cent of participants completed all five units of the course, 40.5% of whom were indigenous women.

ITU and UNESCO are developing activities for rollout at the WSIS Forum 2022 as contributions to the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022–2032).

Working for digital inclusion for older people-raising awareness and building resources

For the first time, ITU has addressed digital inclusion for older people by raising awareness on the topic, leveraging the capacity of ITU members and stakeholders, providing policy and strategy guidelines, and developing resources to support global efforts to overcome this socio-economic challenge.

Resources supporting older persons in the digital world.

The World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2022 (WTISD 2022) was dedicated to the theme: Digital technologies for older persons and healthy ageing.

ITU contributing to UN work

Working for increased youth engagement

The ITU Youth Strategy ensures the participation of youth in ITU in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The strategy is built on three pillars: creating a community of young leaders, bringing young people together to engage with ITU and members, and fostering participation in ITU activities. More than 40 Youth Task Force members across ITU are coordinating efforts to implement the ITU Youth Strategy.

The initiatives detailed below have been implemented as part of the ITU Youth Strategy.

Generation Connect Initiative

Generation Connect, launched in 2020, prepared the way for the journey to World Telecommunication Development Conference 2022 and the Generation Connect Global Youth Summit in 2022.

Generation Connect Visionaries Board

The Generation Connect Visionaries Board offers guidance to ITU on its youth-related work. The Board, composed of ITU representatives, eight young leaders, and eight high- level appointees, advises on the Youth Summit and the Youth Strategy.

Road to Addis Series – Digital Inclusion and Youth Events

The ITU Road to Addis series of events has a strong youth component. An event on International Youth Day 2021 saw participation of youth as equal partners alongside the leaders of today’s digital change, while the Partner2Connect Meeting 2021 launched the Partner2Connect Coalition.

Implementation of the I-CoDI Youth Challenge

In 2020, ITU organised the International Centre of Digital Innovation (I-CoDI) Youth Challenge on connecting the unconnected. Winning pitches focused on technology and network development, cybersecurity, digital inclusion, climate change and environment, and capacity building.

Generation Connect Virtual Communities

In 2021, ITU launched on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram the new Generation Connect Virtual communities, inviting youth from the regions to join.

ITU: Current co-chair of the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development

Since March 2021, ITU has been the co-chair of the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development (IANYD) with a one-year mandate. The Network increases the effectiveness of UN work in youth development by strengthening collaboration and exchange across UN entities.

Capacity Building on Meaningful Youth Engagement

Training on Meaningful Youth Engagement for UN staff was delivered to ITU staff in 2020; 174 ITU staff attended, including top management, members of the ITU Youth Task Force, and professional and administrative staff. This training was followed in 2020 by two Pitch for Youth workshops, where teams proposed ideas to an ITU jury on youth engagement initiatives.

Collaboration with the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth

ITU works with the Office of the Envoy on Youth to align the ITU Youth Strategy with the United Nations Youth Strategy: Youth 2030. ITU has engaged with the UN Youth Envoy in various ways including the co-creation of the Digital Technology session of the #YouthLead Innovation Festival and collaboration on how online efforts are helping improve children’s online safety.

Additional initiatives

ITU’s work on empowering youth through ICTs includes the Digital Skills for Jobs Campaign and the ITU Digital Skills Toolkit.

Interdisciplinary approaches

The WSIS process was initiated by ITU in 1998 and it led the organisation of the Summits in 2003 and 2005 in coordination with the UN system. In line with its mandate and the WSIS outcome documents, ITU continues playing a key lead coordination role in WSIS implementation and follow-up.

The WSIS Forum represents the world’s largest annual gathering of the ICT for development community. Co-organised by ITU, UNESCO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and in close collaboration with all WSIS Action Line Facilitators/Co-Facilitator, the forum has proven to be an efficient mechanism for coordinating multistakeholder implementation activities, exchanging information, creating knowledge, and sharing best practices. It continues to provide assistance in developing multistakeholder and public/private partnerships to advance development goals. The forum provides structured opportunities to network, learn, and participate in multistakeholder discussions and consultations on WSIS implementation.

The ITU Contribution to the Implementation of the WSIS Outcomes is an annual comprehensive report on ITU activities in the WSIS context from all the three sectors of the organisation (radiocommunication, standardisation, and development sectors) and the General Secretariat on the activities implemented during the respective year. The report provides updates on the tasks carried out by ITU at the operational and policy levels, covering all assigned mandates with reference to the WSIS process.

ITU plays a leading facilitating role in the WSIS implementation process, in collaboration with more than 30 UN agencies in creating an environment for just and equal information and knowledge societies. As per Resolution 1332 (modified 2019) ITU membership resolved to use the WSIS framework as the foundation through which it helps the world to leverage ICTs in achieving the 2030 Agenda, within its mandate and within the allocated resources in the financial plan and biennial budget, noting the WSIS- SDG Matrix developed by UN agencies, This close interlink between the WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs and targets can serve as an important basis for work on relevant areas outlined in relevant ongoing processes, for example UN SGs Our Common Agenda and so on.

ITU’s role in the WSIS process, highlighting the varying role along the WSIS Action Lines:

  • ITU is the sole facilitator for three different WSIS Action Lines: C2 (Information and communication infrastructure), C5 (Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs), and C6 (Enabling environment).
  • ITU has also been taking the lead role in facilitating WSIS Action Line C4 (Capacity building)
  • ITU contributes to all the remaining WSIS Action Lines that are facilitated by other WSIS stakeholders.

The WSIS-SDG Matrix developed by UN WSIS Action Line Facilitators serves as the mechanism to map, analyse, and coordinate the implementation of WSIS Action Lines, and more specifically, ICTs as enablers and accelerators of the SDGs. This mapping exercise draws direct links between the WSIS Action Lines and the proposed SDGs to continue strengthening the impact of ICTs for sustainable development. Building on the Matrix, the Agenda and outcomes of the WSIS Forum are clearly linked to WSIS Action lines and the SDGs highlighting the impact and importance of ICTs on sustainable development.

The WSIS Stocktaking Process provides a register of activities – including projects, programmes, training initiatives, conferences, websites, guidelines, and toolkits – carried out by governments, international organisations, the private sector, civil society, and other entities. To that end, in accordance with paragraph 120 of the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society adopted by WSIS, ITU has been maintaining the WSIS Stocktaking Database since 2004 as a publicly accessible system providing information on ICT-related initiatives and projects with reference to the 11 WSIS action lines (Geneva Plan of Action). The principal role of the WSIS Stocktaking exercise is to leverage the activities of stakeholders working on the implementation of WSIS outcomes and share knowledge and experience of projects by replicating successful models designed to achieve the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The WSIS Prizes contest was developed in response to requests from WSIS stakeholders to create an effective mechanism to evaluate projects and activities that leverage the power of ICTs to advance sustainable development. Since its inception, WSIS Prizes has attracted more than 350,000 stakeholders. Following the outcomes of the UN General Assembly Overall Review on WSIS (Res. A/70/125) that called for a close alignment between the WSIS process and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Res. A/70/1), WSIS Prizes continues to serve as the unique global platform to identify and showcase success stories in the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs.

The United Nations Group on Information Society (UNGIS) is the UN system’s inter-agency mechanism for advancing policy coherence and programme co-ordination on matters related to ICTs in support of internationally agreed development goals. Established in 2006 after WSIS, its mandate includes promoting collaboration and partnerships among the members of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) to contribute to the achievement of the WSIS goals, providing guidance on issues related to inclusive information and knowledge societies, helping maintain issues related to science and technology at the top of the UN Agenda, and mainstreaming ICT for Development in the mandate of CEB members.

UNGIS remains committed and contributed to the alignment of the WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs.

Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development is an international, multistakeholder initiative to improve the availability and quality of ICT data and indicators.

ITU also works in close collaboration with the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology and in 2022 announced a first-ever set of targets for universal and meaningful digital connectivity to be achieved by 2030.

The universal meaningful connectivity targets were developed as part of the implementation of the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and aim to provide concrete benchmarks for sustainable, inclusive global progress in specified action areas, such as (1) Universality, (2) Technology, and (3) Affordability. These 15 aspirational targets are meant to help countries and stakeholders prioritise interventions, monitor progress, evaluate policy effectiveness, and galvanise efforts around achieving universal and meaningful connectivity by 2030. They are also meant as a contribution towards the forthcoming Global Digital Compact, as proposed in the UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report. A first assessment of how the world currently stands in relation to the targets is available on ITU’s website here.

Digital tools and initiatives

  • Various platforms used for online meetings: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and ITU’s MyMeetings platform.
  • The value of ITU-T’s advanced electronic working environment was highlighted in 2020. Virtual meetings and electronic working methods have come to form the principal platform for ITU standardisation work as part of the global response to COVID-19. ITU members engaged in standard development are making optimal use of ITU’s personalised MyWorkspace platform and associated services and tools (e.g. MyMeetings).

Giga: UNICEF-ITU global initiative

Giga is a UNICEF-ITU global initiative to connect every school to the internet and every young person to information, opportunity, and choice.

Access to broadband internet and digital learning is critical to global efforts to transform education to make it more inclusive, equitable, and effective. Yet right now, the ability to leverage digital resources is far from equitably distributed: 1.3 billion children have no access to the internet at home and only around half of the world’s schools are online. This digital exclusion particularly affects the poorest children, girls, and those with disabilities.

These learners miss out on the resources online, the option to learn remotely, and the opportunity to develop digital skills. In 2019, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and ITU joined forces to address this new form of inequality by creating Giga, a unique global partnership with the bold ambition to connect every school in the world to the internet by 2030.

What Giga does

  • Giga maps schools and their internet access. No one knows how many schools there are in the world (approximately 6-7 million). Giga’s Project Connect map provides a real-time display of access and gaps to guide funders and governments, and to enable accountability. Gigahasmappedover1.1millionschoolsin50countries.
  • It creates models for innovative financing. It could cost over $400 billion to connect every unconnected school. Gigaisworking withadiverse array ofpartners to develop solutions for affordable, sustainable connectivity and aims to mobilise $5 billion to catalyse investment in vital connectivity infrastructure.
  • Giga supports governments contracting for connectivity. It helps governments to design the regulatory frameworks, technology solutions, and competitive procurement processes needed to get schools online. Giga and its partners have connected over 2.1 million students in over 5,500 schools.

Social media channels (2)

Facebook @ITU

Flickr @ITU pictures

Instagram @ituofficial

LinkedIn @International Telecommunication Union

Podcast @ITUPodcasts

TikTok @itu

Twitter @ITU

YouTube @itutelecommunication

1 – In the work of ITU the issues related to critical internet resources are dealt with as ‘internet public-policy related work’.

2 – In the work of ITU the issue of digital standards is addressed as ‘International standards’.

3 – Within the work of ITU, the work related to the IoT also includes ‘Smart cities’.

4 – Within the work of ITU, child safety online is addressed as ‘Child online protection’.

5 – Within the work of ITU, the issues related to inclusive finance are addressed as ‘Digital Financial Services (DFS)’.

6 – Within the work of ITU the rights of persons with disabilities are addressed as ‘ICT /digital accessibility for all including persons with disabilities’.

7 – Within the work of ITU, gender rights online is addressed as ‘Gender digital divide.