Geneva Science-Policy Interface

Acronym: GSPI

Address: Bd du Pont-d’Arve 28, CH-1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland

Website: https://gspi.ch/

Stakeholder group: Academia & think tanks

The Geneva Science-Policy Interface (GSPI) was launched in 2018 by the University of Geneva with the support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The GSPI strengthens co-operation between the research community and Geneva-based international organisations and actors, with the objective of generating impactful policies and programmes to address complex global challenges.

The GSPI fulfils its mission by creating opportunities for and supporting the design and implementation of impactful collaborations between the science, policy, and implementation communities by brokering actionable scientific knowledge for decision-makers and by contributing to the advancement, professionalisation, and recognition of the science-policy field in Geneva and beyond.

Digital Activities
As part of its activities on the interplay between science, policy, and implementation actors, the GSPI also tackles digital issues. With data being a centrepiece of evidence-based policies, several of the GSPI’s activities touch on digitalisation and the use of digital tools in domains such as health, development, and the environment.

Digital policy issues

Emerging technologies 

 In regard to emerging technologies and digitisation, the GSPI is involved in a number of ways. From the policy discussion standpoint, the GSPI organised in 2019 together with the University of Geneva a discussion entitled ‘Digitisation: What role for International Geneva’. The discussion explored what experience and know-how could Geneva-based organisations share so as to empower and protect users in the context of the digital revolution.

Policy discussions on new technologies, namely, the use of drones as part of humanitarian action, were also organised by the GSPI in previous years. The conversation centred around the practical use of drones to deliver humanitarian aid and what can be done by stakeholders such as policymakers, the private sector, and NGOs to maximise the opportunities and reduce the risks of such technologies.

The GSPI also addresses the role of digital technology in the domain of healthcare. Together with the Geneva Health Forum, the GSPI has established a working group to discuss the digitisation of clinical guidelines for management of childhood illness in primary care in low and middle-income countries. In line with the efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO), and the principles of donor alignment for digital health, the working group will provide recommendations in November 2020 on how digitalisation can improve the management of childhood illness.

The GSPI is also looking into how computational simulations can be harnessed to develop policy. Among other things, the GSPI argues that technology can allow for robust and safe policy testing, and a better understanding of policy processes.

Data governance 

On the subject of data governance, the GSPI organised with a number of other partners a discussion at the 2019 WSIS Forum on aerial data produced by drones and satellites in the context of aid and development. The session explored the interplay between international organisations, NGOs, and scientists and how they can work together to help monitor refugee settlements, provide emergency response in case of natural disasters, and scale agriculture programmes.

Artificial intelligence 

The GSPI’s 2020 Impact Collaboration Programme focused on data-driven decision-making as its annual theme. Selected projects covering housing policies, marine biodiversity, energy transition, and chemical waste management not only include digital data as source material, but many of them make innovative use of digital tools (artificial intelligence, online platforms

Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator

Acronym: GESDA

Address: Fondation Campus Biotech, Chemin des Mines 9, 1202 Geneva

Website: https://gesda.global/

Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations

The Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA) was established to explore how advances in science and technology can most efficiently be translated into and used as tools for the benefit of humanity as a whole. It wants to interlink the digital revolution with other disruptive fields of science and with the diplomatic world.

As part of its efforts on scouting emerging technologies, GESDA deals with three primary questions:

  1. Who are we? What does it mean to be human in the era of robots, gene editing, and augmented reality?
  2. How are we going to live together? How can technologies reduce inequality and foster inclusive development?
  3. How can we assure mankind’s well-being with the sustainable health of our planet Earth? How can we supply the world’s population with the necessary food and energy and regenerate our planet?

As far as methodology is concerned, GESDA aims to bring together people of different mindsets and communities to figure out how to use the future to build the present, and in particular the best of what is being explored in the world’s leading research laboratories. In order to achieve this, GESDA has started developing an overview of scientific trends at various time horizons (5, 10, and 25 years), which will provide the diplomatic community, the impact community (philanthropy, industry), and the citizen community worldwide with an outlook on the next possible science advances.

  1. GESDA will prepare these communities to understand the issues, opportunities, and concerns around upcoming disruptive sciences and technologies.
  2. GESDA will bring these communities to a decision point on specific actions and then help financially launch concerted actions through its Impact Fund.
  3. GESDA will convene the global scientific community  (one of the most interconnected around the world) in global discussions about future governance and geopolitics.

As of  November 2020, GESDA is developing its first thematic platforms in order to anticipate possible advances in four scientific frontier issues, as well as their related challenges:

  •  Quantum revolution and advanced artificial intelligence (AI), with for instance the challenge of privacy.
  • Augmented human, with for instance the challenge of advanced gene editing or neuroenhancement.
  • Eco-regeneration and geo-engineering, with for instance the challenges of synthetic biology, decarbonisation, and regenerative agriculture.
  • Science and diplomacy, with for instance the challenge of future world geopolitics, including multilateral conflict modelling, forecasting, and prevention.

 In 2021, the GESDA Board of Directors will choose and fund (in partnership with other foundations) a limited number of large-scale, high-impact initiatives aiming to :

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

GESDA was created as a global foundation in 2019. The founders are the Swiss Federal Council and the Canton of Geneva with the City of Geneva. It became operational in January 2020 with the ultimate objective to strengthen the contribution of Switzerland to multilateralism as the host country of the UN in Geneva.

It emerged out of recommendations by a high-level working group made up of experts from International Geneva, inspired by the importance of leveraging the assets of this multinational and multidimensional ecosystem.

Digital Activities

All the science fields at the core of GESDA’s target activities include big data and high performance computing, as well as digital frameworks and infrastructure.

However, GESDA focuses on ‘science anticipation’ in general and not only on digitalisation. It wants to interlink the digital revolution with other disruptive fields of science in order to cope with and to promote the developing so-called ‘info-bio-nano-cogno-convergence”. GESDA’s headquarters is the Campus Biotech in Geneva.

Activities, reflections, and discussions regarding the GESDA’s thematics are supported by an online weekly review of articles and editorials from the world press, as well as online content (blogs, websites, and chat tools) and top science journals. This weekly digest has been sent out since Summer 2020 and is titled ‘GESDA’s BESTREADS’.

Digital policy issues

GESDA is working on ten interdisciplinary and interrelated scientific emerging topics. Five of these topics are more specifically related to digital policy issues.

 

 Overview of scientific emerging topics under investigation as of November2020

 

Artificial intelligence 

The third wave of AI is about integrating contextual information, common sense, and higher order reasoning into machine learning algorithms. Instead of learning from large data sets, these algorithms will understand and perceive the world on their own, and learn by understanding the world and reason with it. This is the next step toward truly intelligent machines and artificial general intelligence (AGI, i.e. the fourth wave of AI), defined as the level of machine intelligence to have the capacity to learn and understand any intellectual task better than a human. A recent survey conducted by the Future of Humanity Institute found that AGI will be achieved with a probability of 50% in 45 years and of 10% in 9 years. This will have implications ranging from our understanding of fundamental science questions (abstracting new laws of physics) to new applications in virtually all areas.

Quantum computing and communication 

While the first special purpose quantum devices to support research are already in the pipeline, a significant amount of science and engineering is needed to demonstrate a quantum advantage for real problems and develop the first fault-tolerant scalable quantum computers (10 years). Large-scale quantum computing could be available in 25 years with an impact, for example, on chemical catalysis (i.e. carbon, nitrogen fixation), quantum-inspired machine learning, and quantum-driven discoveries and modelling (i.e. compounds, materials). At the level of networked quantum communication systems, they will evolve from a quantum Internet, which allows unconditionally secure communication through device-independent quantum cryptography, to a large-scale quantum network for unconditionally secure computations. At this stage, traditional RSA cryptography protocols will be crackable, raising questions of security and privacy, as well as access control to quantum computation.

Cognitive engineering and memory 

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

Social augmentation 

Future technologies at the convergence of digital and neuro- sciences will have a strong impact on future societies and the position of human beings therein. Depending on choices made, those technologies could augment social interactions and work towards citizen empowerment. Social, socio-technical, cultural, network-based, and immaterial innovations will probably bring forth important breakthroughs and possibly deliver many future-emerging innovations and offer the possibility to evolve towards a human-centered digital world.

Values, behaviours, and futures literacy 

Coming societal disruptions will affect our values and behaviours. At the same time, social understanding of (disruptive) technology is essential, should they be deployed at scale for the common good. Futures literacy, or the set of skills that allows people to better understand and ‘use-the-future’ (anticipate), for instance in how AI works, becomes an essential component for this. There is also a need to explore the education and training components in future science and technologies in order to ensure beneficial and inclusive deployment as well as to inform citizens, users, and leaders.

 GESDA is also already accompanying two projects on the digital evolution:

The International Digital Health and AI Research Collaborative (I-DAIR) project in collaboration with Fondation Botnar located in Basel, which was launched in September 2019 at the Graduate Institute Geneva. I-DAIR explores how inclusive and responsible AI research and digital technology can help advance progress in the field of health and ultimately create a platform for global research collaborations on the matter. It aims to forge ahead recommendations on digital health issued by the UN High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation and objectives set by the World Health Organization (WHO) in regard to universal health coverage.

The joint initiative of the University of Geneva and ETH Zurich to develop science in diplomacy; for example, digital diplomacy and online negotiation engineering.

Commission on Science and Technology for Development

Acronym: CSTD

Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://unctad.org/topic/commission-on-science-and-technology-for-development

The Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) is a subsidiary of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It was established to advise the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on science and technology issues through analysis and appropriate policy recommendations. It is the focal point of the UN for science, technology, and innovation (STI) for development.
Under the mandate given by ECOSOC, the CSTD leads the follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and advises ECOSOC accordingly, including through the elaboration of recommendations aimed at furthering the implementation of the WSIS outcomes.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is responsible for the servicing of the CSTD.

International Organization for Standardization

Acronym: ISO

Address: Chem. de Blandonnet 8, 1214 Vernier, Switzerland

Website: https://iso.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a non-governmental international organisation composed of 165 national standard-setting bodies that are either part of governmental institutions or mandated by their respective governments. Each national standard-setting body therefore represents a member state.

After receiving a request from a consumer group or an industry association, ISO convenes an expert group tasked with the creation of a particular standard through a consensus process.

ISO develops international standards across a wide range of industries, including technology, food, and healthcare, in order to ensure that products and services are safe, reliable, of good quality, and ultimately, facilitate international trade. As such, it acts between the public and the private sector.

To date, ISO has published more than 22 000 standards.

Digital Activities

A large number of the international standards and related documents developed by ISO are related to information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) that was created in 1983 and established a universal reference model for communication protocols. The organisation is also active in the field of emerging technologies including blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI).

The standards are developed by various technical committees dedicated to specific areas including information security, cybersecurity, privacy protection, AI, and intelligent transport systems.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence 

The joint technical committee of ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) for AI is known as ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 42 Artificial intelligence and is responsible for the development of standards in this area. To date, it has published one standard specifically pertaining to AI with 18 others in development.

ISO/IEC TR 24028 provides an overview of trustworthiness in AI systems, detailing the associated threats and risks associated and addresses approaches on availability, resiliency, reliability, accuracy, safety, security, and privacy.

The standards under development include those that cover: concepts and terminology for AI (ISO/IEC 22989); bias in AI systems and AI-aided decision-making (ISO/IEC TR 24027); AI risk management (ISO/IEC 23894); a framework for AI systems using machine learning (ISO/IEC 23053); and the assessment of machine learning classification performance (ISO/IEC TS 4213).

Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Cloud computing 

ISO and IEC also have a joint committee for standards related to cloud computing which currently has 19 published standards and a further 7 in development.

Of those published, two standards of note include ISO/IEC 19086-1, which provides an overview, foundational concepts, and definitions for a cloud computing service level agreement framework, and ISO/IEC 17789, which specifies the cloud computing reference architecture.

Standards under development include those on health informatics (ISO/TR 21332.2); the audit of cloud services (ISO/IEC 22123-2.2); and data flow, categories, and use (ISO/IEC 19944-1).

Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Internet of things 

Recognising the ongoing developments in the field of IoT, ISO has a number of dedicated standards both published and in development, including those for intelligent transport systems (ISO 19079), future networks for IoT (ISO/IEC TR 29181-9), unique identification for IoT (ISO/IEC 29161), Internet of Media Things (ISO/IEC 23093-3), trustworthiness of IoT (ISO/IEC 30149), and industrial IoT systems (ISO/IEC 30162).

 IoT security is addressed in standards such as ISO/IEC 27001 and ISO/IEC 27002, which provide a common language for governance, risk, and compliance issues related to information security.

 In addition, there are seven standards under development, some of which provide a methodology for the trustworthiness of an IoT system or service (ISO/IEC 30147); a trustworthiness framework (ISO/IEC 30149); the requirements of an IoT data exchange platform for various IoT services (ISO/IEC 30161); and a real-time IoT framework (ISO/IEC 30165).

 Up-to-date information on the ISO and IEC joint technical committee for IoT (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Telecommunications infrastructure 

ISO’s standardisation work in the field of telecommunications infrastructure covers areas such as planning and installation of networks (e.g. ISO/IEC 14763-2 and ISO/IEC TR 14763-2-1), corporate telecommunication networks (e.g. ISO/IEC 17343), local and metropolitan area networks (e.g. ISO/IEC/IEEE 8802-A), private integrated telecommunications networks (e.g. ISO/IEC TR 14475), and wireless networks. Next generation networks – packet-based public networks able to provide telecommunications services and make use of multiple quality of service enabled transport technology – are equally covered (e.g. ISO/IEC TR 26905).

ISO also has standards for the so-called future networks, which are intended to provide futuristic capabilities and services beyond the limitations of current networks, including the Internet.

Up-to-date information on the joint ISO and IEC technical committee that develops these standards (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Blockchain 

ISO has published three standards on blockchain and distributed ledger technologies: ISO/TR 23455 gives an overview of smart contracts in blockchain and distributed ledger technologies; ISO/TR 23244 tackles privacy and personally identifiable information protection; and ISO 22739 covers fundamental blockchain terminology respectively.

ISO also has a further ten standards on blockchain in development. These include those related to: security risks, threats and vulnerabilities (ISO/TR 23245.2); security management of digital asset custodians (ISO/TR 23576); taxonomy and ontology (ISO/TS 23258); legally-binding smart contracts (ISO/TS 23259); and guidelines for governance (ISO/TS 23635).

Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Emerging technologies 

ISO develops standards in the area of emerging technologies. Perhaps the largest number of standards in this area are those related to robotics. ISO has more than 40 different standards either published or in development that cover issues such as: collaborative robots (e.g. ISO/TS 15066); safety requirements for industrial robots (e.g. ISO 10218-2); and personal care robots (e.g. ISO 13482).

Autonomous or so-called intelligent transport systems (ITS) standards are developed by ISO’s ITS Technical Committee and include those for forward vehicle collision warning systems (ISO 15623) and secure connections between trusted devices (ISO/TS 21185).

Standards are also being developed to address the use of virtual reality in learning, education, and training (e.g. ISO/IEC 23843) and the display device interface for augmented reality (ISO/IEC 23763).

Network security 

Information security and network security is also addressed by ISO and IEC standards. The ISO and IEC 27000 family of standards covers information security management systems and are used by organisations to secure information assets such as financial data, intellectual property, and employee information.

For example, ISO/IEC 27031 and ISO/IEC 27035 are specifically designed to help organisations respond, diffuse, and recover effectively from cyberattacks. ISO/IEC 27701 is an extension to ISO/IEC 27001 and ISO/IEC 27002 for privacy information management, and details requirements and guidance for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and continually improving a Privacy Information Management System (PIMS).

Network security is also addressed by standards on technologies such as the IoT, smart community infrastructures, medical devices, localisation and tracking systems, and future networks.

Up-to-date information on the joint ISO and IEC technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Encryption 

As more and more information (including sensitive personal data) is stored, transmitted, and processed online, the security, integrity, and confidentiality of such information becomes increasingly important. To this end, ISO has a number of standards for the encryption of data. For example, ISO/IEC 18033-1, currently under development, addresses the nature of encryption and describes certain general aspects of its use and properties. Other standards include ISO/IEC 19772 that covers authenticated encryption, ISO/IEC 18033-3 that specifies encryption systems (ciphers) for the purpose of data confidentiality, and ISO 19092 that allows for encryption of biometric data used for authentication of individuals in financial services for confidentiality or other reasons.

ISO also has standards that focus on identity-based ciphers, symmetric and asymmetric encryption, public key infrastructure, and many more related areas.

Data governance 

Big data is another area of ISO standardization, and around 80% of related standards are developed by the ISO/IEC AI committee. The terminology for big data-related standards is outlined in ISO/IEC 20546, while ISO/IEC 20547-3 covers big data reference architecture.

ISO/IEC TR 20547-2 provides examples of big data use cases with application domains and technical considerations and ISO/IEC TR 20547-5 details a roadmap of existing and future standards in this area. A further eight standards are in development and include those for big data security and privacy (ISO/IEC 27045), terminology used in big data within the scope of predictive analytics (ISO 3534-5), and data science life cycle (ISO/TR 23347).

Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Privacy and data protection 

Privacy and data protection in the context of ICTs is another area covered by ISO’s standardisation activities. One example is ISO/IEC 29101 which describes a privacy architecture framework.

Others include those for privacy-enhancing protocols and services for identification cards (ISO/IEC 19286); privacy protection requirements pertaining to learning, education, and training systems employing information technologies (ISO/IEC 29187-1); privacy aspects in the context of intelligent transport systems (ISO/TR 12859); and security and privacy requirements for health informatics (ISO/TS 14441).

Digital identities 

Digital signatures that validate digital identities help to ensure the integrity of data and authenticity of particulars in online transactions. This, therefore, contributes to the security of online applications and services. Standards to support this technology cover elements such as: anonymous digital signatures (e.g. ISO/IEC 20008-1 and ISO/IEC 20008-2); digital signatures for healthcare documents (e.g. ISO 17090-4 and ISO 17090-5); and blind digital signatures, which is where the content of the message to be signed is disguised, used in contexts where, for example, anonymity is required. Examples of such standards are ISO 18370-1 and ISO/IEC 18370-2.

Digital tools

ISO has developed an online browsing platform that provides up to date information on ISO standards, graphical symbols, publications, and terms and definitions.

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?

  • Yes, ISO governance groups are also meeting virtually.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

Acronym: UNCTAD

Address: Palais des Nations, Av. de la Paix 8-14, 1211 Genève, 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?