Mr. Eliott Harris Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist

Remarks
at the “Digital Government and Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”
Fifth World Internet Conference

Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to join you at the fifth World Internet Conference on behalf of Mr. Liu Zhenmin, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

I wish to extend our deep appreciation to the hosts – the Cyberspace Administration of China and the Zhejiang Provincial People’s government, for organizing this important event.

The timeliness and importance of its theme — “Creating a Digital World of Mutual Trust and Collective Governance—Towards a Community with a Shared Future in Cyberspace” — can hardly be overstated.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the vital role of innovative technologies and digital/electronic government as a catalyst for:

• accelerating human progress,
• bridging digital divides,
• developing knowledge societies, and
• building trust in governance through increased public participation, transparency and accountability.

There is now a simultaneous proliferation of big data, data science, artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotics and other frontier and fast-emerging technologies. These technologies are changing the way people live and interact with each other, their environment, and public services.
In many respects, the digital revolution can be one of the greatest enablers of sustainable development. It has the ability to reshape our work, leisure and behaviors, and to affect everything from our food systems, energy, water and sanitation, to governance, education, health care and social services.
In July this year, the Secretary General launched the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation – co-chaired by Ms. Melinda Gates, from the United States, and Mr. Jack Ma, from China.
This Panel is tasked to map trends in digital technologies, identify gaps and opportunities, and to outline proposals for strengthening international cooperation in these areas. Such work is important to ensure a safe and inclusive digital future for all.
Excellencies,

One of the key publications at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs — the 2018 E-Government Survey — focuses exactly on these issues. The survey examines how digital technologies and innovations are impacting the public sector, and highlights a positive global trend towards higher levels of e-government development around the world.
Globally, almost two thirds of countries have already reached a rather high level of e-government development. All 193 Member States of the United Nations had national portals and back-end systems to automate core administrative tasks, and 140 countries provide at least one transactional service online.
The trend of improving the provision of online public services is positive and strong. But this is not just about improving institutional processes and workflows for greater efficacy and effectiveness of public service delivery. This is also about ensuring inclusion, participation and accountability to leave no one behind.

And therefore, we are particularly pleased to take note of a steady increase in the number of countries with specific programmes benefiting women and children, persons with disabilities, older persons, indigenous people, migrants and refugees, and people living in poverty.
Distinguished Guests,

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs recently launched our flagship publication — the World Economic and Social Survey 2018 — focusing on the theme of frontier technologies for sustainable development.
The Survey highlights how a great technological gap persists, largely explaining the “development divide” between developed and developing countries. Despite impressive gains, the digital divide between and within the countries persists with considerable risk that it could deepen between those who have access to Internet and online services, and those who do not.
Connectivity and access to new technologies remain elusive for some regions and countries— particularly African countries, least developed countries, small island developing States and landlocked developing countries—seriously compromising the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.
For example, while there are 90 mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 people in developed countries, there are only 41 in developing countries and less than 20 in the least developed countries.
In the effort to leave no one behind, an important step would be to leave no one offline.
There are various forms of digital divides, including in the areas of gender and accessibility. The proportion of women using the Internet is 12 per cent lower than that of men worldwide and 31 per cent lower in the least developed countries.
Of course, this situation varies by country and by region. This is particularly true of the digital transformation in the Asia Pacific Region.

The digital development trend is highly diverse across the countries in the region. Asia has performed strongly in e-government development from 2016 to 2018, according to the latest United Nations E-Government Survey.

There are many innovations in public service delivery in the region, thanks to strong collaboration between such stakeholders as the private sector and policy makers, which has enabled and expanded the opportunities introduced by frontier technologies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For all the potential benefits of technology and innovation, we must be careful not allow them to result in polarization and division. Artificial intelligence, for example, could harm vulnerable populations, reinforce existing inequalities, widen digital divides and adversely affect jobs and economies, if not effectively framed by carefully formulated policies.
Our Survey discusses some of these policies. For example, we must plan ahead and rethink training and employment as well as social policies. Curricula in schools and universities must be adapted to reflect the technological advances and innovations being achieved, while on-the-job and life-long learning opportunities must be enabled and promoted. Social protection systems and other traditional policies must accompany technological change.

We should also consider the ethical risks and unknown consequences of new technologies. While constantly pushing the frontiers of knowledge, we should always be mindful of our respect for human rights, for example.

We must foster innovation in areas where it will make a difference for the lives of the poorest countries and people. To the extent possible, we should ensure that our efforts to facilitate new technologies prevent and or reduce the threat that technology might be misused for criminal or other undesirable activities.
Distinguished guests,

These questions, together with data protection and taxation, are at the heart of Internet governance, and they are a significant part of ongoing discussions in the UN context.

These issues and others will be discussed at the 13th meeting of the Internet Governance Forum, which takes place next week in Paris, from 12 to 14 November, under the overall theme of “Internet of Trust”. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, as well as President Emmanuel Macron of France, will address the Forum.

The Internet Governance Forum is an open and inclusive platform that brings all stakeholders together as equals to discuss public ‎policy issues related to key elements of Internet Governance.

I hope that I can count on your continuing engagement in the Internet Governance Forum and other vital United Nations processes related to the Sustainable Development Goals, and that you will bring the messages of Wuzhen to these forums, for the benefit of all.

I wish the Fifth World Internet Conference a great success.

Thank you.

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