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.

DiploFoundation

Acronym: Diplo

Established: 2002

Address: 7bis, Avenue de la Paix CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.diplomacy.edu

Stakeholder group: Academia & think tanks

DiploFoundation is a leading global capacity development organisation in the field of Internet governance.

Diplo was established by the governments of Switzerland and Malta with the goal of providing low cost, effective courses and training programmes in contemporary diplomacy and digital affairs, in particular for developing countries. Its main thematic focuses are on Internet governance (IG), e-diplomacy, e-participation, and cybersecurity.

Diplo’s flagship publication ‘An Introduction to Internet governance’ is among the most widely used texts on IG, translated into all the UN languages and several more. Its online and in situ IG courses and training programmes have gathered more than 1500 alumni from 163 countries. Diplo also hosts the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP).

Diplo also provides customised courses and training both online and in situ.

Geneva Internet Platform

Acronym: GIP

Established: 2014

Address: 7bis, Avenue de la Paix, CH-1202 Geneva

Website: https://www.giplatform.org/

Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations

The Geneva Internet Plaform (GIP) is a Swiss initiative operated by DiploFoundation that strives to engage digital actors, foster digital governance, and monitor digital policies.

It aims to provide a neutral and inclusive space for digital policy debates, strengthen the participation of small and developing countries in Geneva-based digital policy processes, support activities of Geneva-based Internet governance (IG) and ICT institutions and initiatives, facilitate research for an evidence-based, multidisciplinary digital policy, bridge various policy silos, and provide tools and methods for in situ and online engagement that could be used by other policy spaces in International Geneva and worldwide. The GIP’s activities are implemented based on three pillars: a physical platform in Geneva, an online platform and observatory, and a dialogue lab.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

Acronym: UNCTAD

Established: 1964

Address: Palais des Nations, Av. de la Paix 8-14, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Website: https://unctad.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is a UN body dedicated to supporting developing countries in accessing the benefits of a globalised economy more fairly and effectively. It provides analysis, facilitates consensus-building, and offers technical assistance, thus helping countries use trade, investment, finance, and technology to support inclusive and sustainable development.

UNCTAD also works to facilitate and measure progress towards achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs), through a wide range of activities in areas such as technology and innovation, trade, investment, environment, transport and logistics, and the digital economy.

UNCTAD’s work often results in analyses and recommendations that can inform national and international policy-making processes, and contribute to promoting economic policies aimed at ending global economic inequalities and generating human-centric sustainable development.

Digital Activities

UNCTAD is particularly active in the field of e-commerce, trade, and the digital economy, carrying out a wide range of activities from research and analysis to providing assistance to member states in developing adequate legislative frameworks and facilitating international dialogue on the development opportunities and challenges associated with the digital economy. UNCTAD also works to facilitate and measure progress towards achieving the SDGs, in particular through (but not limited to) its activities in the field of science, technology, and innovation (STI) for development. Consumer protection, gender equality, and privacy and data protection are other digital policy areas where UNCTAD is active.

Digital policy issues

E-commerce and trade 

UNCTAD’s work programme on e-commerce and the digital economy (ECDE Programme), encompasses several research and analysis, consensus building and technical assistance activities, as follows:

Research and analysis

UNCTAD conducts research and analysis on e-commerce and the digital economy and their implications for trade and development. These are mainly presented in its flagship publication, the Digital Economy Report (known as Information Economy Report until 2017), and in its Technical Notes on ICT for Development.

Consensus building on e-commerce and digital economy policies

UNCTAD’s Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-commerce and the Digital Economy meets regularly to discuss ways to strengthen the development dimension of e-commerce and the digital economy. The group’s meetings are usually held in conjunction with the eCommerce Week, an annual event hosted by UNCTAD and featuring discussions on development opportunities and challenges associated with the digital economy.

E-Commerce assessments and strategy formulation

The eTrade Readiness Assessments (eT Readies) assist least developed countries (LDCs) and other developing countries in understanding their e-commerce readiness in key policy areas in order to better engage in and benefit from e-commerce. The assessments provide recommendations to overcome identified barriers and bottlenecks to growth and enjoying the benefits of digital trade.

UNCTAD’s work on information and communication technology (ICT) policy reviews and national e-commerce strategies involves technical assistance, advisory services, diagnostics, and strategy development on e-commerce, and national ICT planning at the request of governments. Through an analysis of the infrastructural, policy, regulatory, institutional, operational, and socioeconomic landscape, the reviews help governments to overcome weaknesses and bureaucratic barriers, leverage strengths and opportunities, and put in place relevant strategies.

Legal frameworks for e-commerce

UNCTAD’s E-commerce and Law Reform work helps to develop an understanding of the legal issues underpinning e-commerce through a series of capacity-building workshops for policymakers at the national and regional levels. Concrete actions include: Assistance in establishing domestic and regional legal regimes to enhance trust in online transactions, regional studies on cyber laws harmonisation, and the global mapping of e-commerce legislation through its ‘Global Cyberlaw Tracker’.

Measuring the information economy

UNCTAD’s work on measuring the information economy includes statistical data collection and the development of methodology, as well as linking statistics and policy through the Working Group on Measuring E-commerce and the Digital Economy, established by the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-Commerce and the Digital Economy. Figures are published in the biennial Digital Economy Report and the statistics portal UNCTADstat. Technical co-operation here aims to strengthen the capacity of national statistical systems to produce better, more reliable, and internationally comparable statistics on the following issues: ICT use by enterprises, size and composition of the ICT sector, and e-commerce and international trade in ICT-enabled services. UNCTAD also produces the B2C E-commerce Index which measures an economy’s preparedness to support online shopping.

Smart Partnerships through eTrade for all

The eTrade for all initiative (eT4a) is a global collaborative effort of 32 partners to scale up co-operation, transparency, and aid efficiency towards more inclusive e-commerce. Its main tool is an online platform (etradeforall.org), a knowledge-sharing and information hub that facilitates access to a wide range of information and resources on e-commerce and the digital economy. It offers a gateway for matching the suppliers of technical assistance with those in need. Beneficiaries can connect with potential partners, learn about trends, best practices, up-to-date e-commerce indicators, and upcoming events all in one place. The initiative also acts as catalyst of partnership among its members for increased synergies. This collaboration has concretely translated into the participation of several eT4a partners as key contributors to the various eCommerce Weeks organised by UNCTAD and in the conduct and review of eTrade Readiness Assessments.

Consumer protection 

Through its Competition and Consumer Policies Programme, UNCTAD works to assist countries in improving their competition and consumer protection policies. It provides a forum for intergovernmental deliberations on these issues, undertakes research, policy analysis and data collection, and provides technical assistance to developing countries. The Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Consumer Protection Law and Policy monitors the implementation of the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection and carries out research and provides technical assistance on consumer protection issues (including in the context of e-commerce and the digital economy).

UNCTAD’s work programme on consumer protection is guided, among others, by the UN Conference of Competition and Consumer Protection (held every five years). In 2020, the conference will hold high-level consultations on strengthening consumer protection and competition in the digital economy, and international enforcement co-operation among consumer protection authorities in electronic commerce.

Given the significant imbalances in market power in the digital economy, competition policy is becoming increasingly relevant for developing countries. UNCTAD addresses this issue in the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Competition Law and Policy.

UNCTAD also runs the Research Partnership Platform, aimed at contributing to the development of best practices in the formulation and implementation of competition and consumer protection laws and policies.

Sustainable development 

UNCTAD works to facilitate and measure progress towards achieving the SDGs, in particular through (but not limited to) its activities in the field of STI for development. The organisation supports countries in their efforts to integrate STI in national development strategies, through initiatives such as Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Reviews and capacity building programmes (such as the Innovation Policy Learning Programme). The eT4a initiative is also intended to contribute to several SDGs, especially in relation to decent work and economic growth, innovation and infrastructure, global partnerships, and gender equality. Moreover, UNCTAD’s SDG Pulse offers statistical information on developments related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNCTAD’s Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development provides guidance for policymakers in formulating national investment policies and in negotiating investment agreements. The organisation is also part of the Toolbox for Financing for SDGs – a platform launched in 2018 at the initiative of the President of the UN General Assembly to assist countries and financial actors in exploring solutions to the challenges of financing the SDGs.

UNCTAD carries out research and analysis work covering various development-related issues, examples being its Digital Economy Report and the Technical notes on ICT for development. As the body responsible for servicing the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CTSD), UNCTAD also assists the CSTD in its sustainable development-related work, for instance by preparing studies and reports on issues such as the impact of advanced technologies on sustainable development.

Other UNCTAD activities designed to contribute to sustainable development cover issues such as climate change, the circular economy, and intellectual property.

Capacity development 

Many activities undertaken by UNCTAD have a capacity development dimension. For instance, its work on e-commerce and trade includes supporting developing countries in establishing adequate legal frameworks in these areas (e.g. its eCommerce and Law Reform work) and in producing statistics that can guide effective policy-making (e.g. the Measuring E-commerce and the Digital Economy activities and the ICT Policy Reviews ). UNCTAD’s E-Learning on Trade platform provides courses and training on issues such as trade, gender and development and non-tariff measures in trade.

UNCTAD also works to build capacity in STI policy-making in developing countries, through initiatives such as the Innovation Policy Learning programme and STI training provided in the context of the P166 programme.

Additionally, UNCTAD’s Virtual Institute – run in co-operation with universities worldwide – is dedicated to building knowledge for trade and development. Another area where UNCTAD provides capacity building for developing countries is that of statistics: The organisation and its partners assist national statistics organisations in the collection, compilation and dissemination of their statistics in domains such as trade, sustainable development, and investments.

Gender rights online 

UNCTAD runs a Trade, Gender and Development Programme dedicated to assisting countries in developing and implementing gender-sensitive trade policies, conducting gender impact analyses of trade policies and agreements, and strengthening the links between trade and gender. One notable initiative is the eTrade for Women initiative, dedicated to advancing the empowerment of women through ICTs.

Other initiatives undertaken in this area include capacity building on trade and gender, the Women in STEM: Changing the narrative dialogues, and the  Data and statistics for more gender-responsive trade policies in Africa, the Caucasus and Central Asia project.

Data governance? 

As data has become a key resource in the digital economy, data governance is a fundamental part of the work of UNCTAD. This is illustrated, for example, in the research and analysis work of the Digital Economy Report 2019, which focused on the role of data as the source of value in the digital economy and how it is created and captured. Moreover, some of UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and digital trade touches specifically on privacy and data protection issues. For instance, the eCommerce and Law Reform work dedicated to supporting developing countries in their efforts to establish adequate legal frameworks for e-commerce also covers data protection and privacy among the key issues addressed. The Global Cyberlaw Trackers offers information on data protection laws in UNCTAD member states.

Also relevant for data governance discussions is UNCTAD’s work on statistics, as the organisation collects and analyses a wide range of data on issues such as economic trends, international trade, population, and the digital economy. Moreover, UNCTAD’s SDG Pulse offers statistical information on developments related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNCTAD is also running several projects focused on improving the efficiency of data management in the context of activities such as maritime trade (e.g. the Digitising Global Maritime Trade project) and customs operations (e.g. the Automated System for Customs Data).

Digital tools

 UNCTAD has developed several digital tools and online platforms in recent years. Examples include:

Future of meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?

United Nations Human Rights Council

Acronym: UNHRC

Established: 2006

Address: Palais Wilson 52, rue des Pâquis, CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/HRCIndex.aspx

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Human Rights Council is a United Nations intergovernmental body whose mandate is to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, and to make recommendations on cases of human rights violations. The Council is made up of 47 member states, as elected by the UN General Assembly.

The Council works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), headed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is the principal human rights official of the United Nation.

Freedom of expression and privacy in the online space are two of the issues covered by the Council in its activities. These have been discussed at UNHRC sessions, and covered in resolutions adopted by the Council, as well as in reports elaborated by the special rapporteurs appointed by the Council. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has issued reports on issues such as: the use of encryption and anonymity to exercise the rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age; states’ surveillance of communications on the exercise of the human rights to privacy and to freedom of opinion and expression; the right to freedom of opinion and expression exercised through the Internet; etc. The Special Rapporteur on the righ to privacy has within its mandate the responsibility to make recommendations for the promotion and protection of the right to privacy, including in connection with challenges arising from new technologies.

Internet Governance Forum

Acronym: IGF

Established: 2006

Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Website: https://www.intgovforum.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The IGF provides the most comprehensive coverage of digital policy issues on the global level. The IGF Secretariat in Geneva coordinates both the planning of IGF annual meetings (working together with the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) and the wider IGF community) and a series of intersessional activities (run all year long). These activities could be summarised in three ‘multi’ initiatives:

  • Multistakeholder participation: It involves governments, business, civil society, the technical community, academia, and other actors who affect or are affected by digital policy This diversity is reflected in IGF processes, events, and consultations.
  • Multidisciplinary coverage: It relates to addressing policy issues from technological, legal, security, human rights, economic, development, and sociocultural perspectives. For example, data, as a governance issue, is addressed from standardisation, e-commerce, privacy, and security perspectives.
  • Multilevel approach: It spans IGF deliberations from the local level to the global level, through a network of over 150 national, subregional, and regional IGF They provide context for discussions on digital policy like the real-life impact of digitalisation on policy, economic, social, and cultural fabric of local communities. The IGF Secretariat supports such initiatives (which are independent) and coordinates the participation of the overall network.

The IGF ecosystem converges around the annual IGF, which is attended by thousands of participants. The last few IGFs include Paris (2018), Berlin (2019), online edition due to the pandemic (2020), and Katowice (2021), involving over 10,000 participants, more than 1,000 speakers in over 300 sessions.

The intersessional work includes best practice forums (on issues such as cybersecurity, local content, data and new technologies, and gender and access); dynamic coalitions (on issues such as community connectivity, network neutrality, accessibility and disability, and child safety online etc.); policy networks (on environment, meaningful access and Internet fragmentation); and other projects such as Policy Options for Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion(s) (which ran between 2015 and 2018) as well as a number of capacity development activities.

IGF mandate

The IGF mandate was outlined in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS, November 2005). It was renewed for another 10 years by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 16 December 2015, (70/125).

The main functions of the IGF are specified in Article 72 of the Tunis Agenda. The mandate of the Forum is to:

  • Discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability, and development of the internet.
  • Facilitate discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting international public policies regarding the internet and discuss issues that do not fall within the scope of any existing body.
  • Interface with appropriate inter-governmental organisations and other institutions on matters under their purview.
  • Facilitate the exchange of information and best practices, and in this regard, make full use of the expertise of the academic, scientific, and technical communities.
  • Advise all stakeholders in proposing ways and means to accelerate the availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world.
  • Strengthen and enhance the engagement of stakeholders in existing and/or future internet governance mechanisms, particularly those from developing countries.
  • Identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and where appropriate, make recommendations.
  • Contribute to capacity building for internet governance in developing countries, drawing on local sources of knowledge and expertise.
  • Promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in internet governance processes.
  • Discuss, inter alia, issues relating to critical internet resources.
  • Help to find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the internet, of particular concern to everyday users.
  • Publish its proceedings.

In fulfilling its mandate, the Forum is institutionally supported by the UN Secretariat for the Internet Governance Forum placed with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Its working modalities also include MAG and most recently the Leadership Panel, both appointed by the UN Secretary-General.

Digital policy issues

Until 2019, IGF annual meetings used to host sessions tackling a wide range of digital policy issues (for instance, IGF 2018 had eight themes: cybersecurity, trust, and privacy; development, innovation, and economic issues; digital inclusion and accessibility; human rights, gender, and youth; emerging technologies; evolution of internet governance; media and content; and technical and operational issues). In 2019, in an effort to bring more focus within the IGF, the MAG decided (considering community input) to structure the IGF programme around a limited number of tracks: security, safety, stability, and resilience; data governance; and digital inclusion. This approach was kept for IGF 2020, which saw four thematic tracks: data, environment, inclusion, and trust. The thematic approach did not mean that the IGF saw some digital policy issues as being less relevant than others, but rather that it encouraged discussions at the intersection of multiple issues. The Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) Digital Watch reporting for IGF 2020 and IGF 2019 illustrates this trend, showing that the IGF discussed a wide range of policy issues (across all seven internet governance baskets of issues) within the limited number of thematic tracks.

The leadership panel

In line with the IGF mandate and as recommended in the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the UN Secretary-General established the IGF Leadership Panel as a strategic, empowered, multistakeholder body, to address urgent, strategic issues, and highlight Forum discussions and possible follow-up actions to promote greater impact and dissemination of IGF discussions.

More specifically, the Panel provides strategic inputs and advice on the IGF; promotes the IGF and its outputs; supports both high-level and at-large stakeholder engagement in the IGF and IGF fundraising efforts; exchanges IGF outputs with other stakeholders and relevant forums; and feeds input from these decision-makers and forums to the IGF’s agenda-setting process, leveraging relevant MAG expertise.

The 10-member Panel meets at least three times a year.

Future of meetings

Since its first meeting in Athens (2006), the IGF has been a pioneer in online deliberation and hybrid meetings. In addition to individual online participation, the IGF has encouraged the development of a network of remote hubs where participants meet locally while following online deliberations from the global IGF. In this way the IGF has created a unique interplay between local and global deliberations through the use of technology. For hybrid meetings delivered in situ and online, the IGF developed the function of remote moderator, who ensures that there is smooth interplay between online and in situ discussions.

Social media channels

Facebook @IGF – Internet Governance Forum
Instagram @intgovforum
Twitter @intgovforum
YouTube @Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

International Labour Organization

Acronym: ILO

Established: 1919

Address: 4 route des Morillons, 1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland

Website: https://www.ilo.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The International Labour Organization (ILO) was established in 1919 and is therefore the first and oldest specialised agency of the UN. It is the only UN agency that has a tripartite structure consisting of government representatives, employers, and workers, and aims to promote labour rights, including the right to decent work. The ILO also works towards better dialogue on work-related issues and supports adequate employment opportunities.

It maintains over 20 economic sectors that are focused on industries such as health services, oil and gas production, and textiles. As part of its work, the ILO addresses many different topics including child labour, green jobs, and workplace health and safety.

Digital activities

Digital issues are present in a number of areas of the ILO’s work. One of these areas is the postal and telecommunication services sector that encompasses activities related to the Internet, in which  the ILO works on assisting governments, employers, and workers to develop policies and programmes aimed at enhancing economic opportunities and improving working conditions. It pays particular attention to major trends in this sector such as deregulation, and privatisation and how they affect the labour force. More recently, the organisation has started addressing digitalisation through topics such as skills knowledge, employability, and the future of work.

Digital policy issues

Future of work 

Perhaps the most visible digital issue in the ILO’s activities is the future of work. To address it, the ILO established the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work as part of its Future of Work Initiative. The Commission is composed of government, civil society, academia, and business association representatives. In 2019, the Commission published a landmark report titled ‘Work for a Brighter Future’ that calls for a human-centered agenda for the future of work and explores the impacts of technological progress in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics and on issues such as the gender labour gap and the automation of work. That same year, the ILO issued the ILO Centenary Declaration that, among other things, calls for ‘full and productive employment and decent work’ in the context of the digital transformation of work, including platform work.

The ILO has published several other research documents and reports on the subject including ‘Digital labour platforms and the future of work: Towards decent work in the online world’ that tackles working conditions on digital platforms and ‘Global employment trends for youth in 2020: Technology and the future of jobs’ that covers inequalities in youth labour markets arising from digital transformation, as well as investment in young people’s skills and many other underlying questions.

Through the non-standard forms of employment topic, the ILO also addresses crowdwork and the gig economy, as well as working from home (e.g. teleworking).

Privacy and data protection 

In regard to privacy and data protection, the ILO has published a set of principles on protection of workers’ personal data that tackles digital data collection and the security and storage of personal data.

Sustainable development 

The ILO, in line with the 2030 Agenda and more specifically sustainable development goal 8 (‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’) has created the DW4SD Resource Platform that maps out the interplay between sustainable development and decent work. The platform provides guidance and working resources to ILO staff, development partners, UN country teams, and other stakeholders.

Capacity development 

Capacity development is another digital-related issue addressed by the ILO. As part of its skills, knowledge, and employability initiatives, the ILO together with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has developed the ‘SKILL-UP programme’ that aims to assist developing countries to build capacity and improve their skills systems in relation to digitalisation and technological innovation. Aside from providing training to help empower women with digital skills, the programme also develops digital tools such as skill trackers where surveys covering different aspects of skills development are collected in real-time.

The iiO also has a Help Desk for Business on International Labour Standards that provides assistance to businesses on how to align their business operations with labour standards.

Data governance 

The ILO has a world employment and social outlook platform that provides datasets on measures such as the global labour force, unemployment, and employment by sector. The organisation also has a development co-operation dashboard with data on labour-related policy areas.

Digital tools

The International Training Centre, established by the ILO, provides online courses on a variety of labour issues. The ILO also organises webinars and uses a number of social media accounts.

Future of meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

Any reference to holding meetings outside HQ?

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?