Opening Address to the 12th Internet Governance Forum
Your Excellency, Madam Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation,
Mr. Michael Møller, Director-General of UNOG,
Mr. Pierre Maudet, Conseiller d’Etat
Mr. Rémy Pagani, Maire de Genève
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the United Nations, I am honored to welcome you all to the twelfth annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum.
As this is the second time the Forum is taking place at UN premises, after the 2011 IGF in Nairobi, I am also honored to welcome you to the United Nations.
We are in Geneva, the place where the foundations of this forum were set.
I would like to remind us all about how the forum was created, and why.
Exactly 14 years ago, in December 2003, the Government of Switzerland hosted the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
The Summit was focused on identifying concrete action lines to advance the information society and the use of information and communications technologies as tools for development.
The Summit brought into focus the concept of ‘Internet governance’, which remains critical today for developing internet policy in an open, transparent, inclusive and multi-stakeholder manner.
The final document of the Geneva Summit requested the UN Secretary-General to set up a multi-stakeholder working group on Internet governance, whose report, released in June 2005, paved the way to the establishment of the Internet Governance Forum.
The Tunis Agenda on the Information Society, adopted at the end of the second phase of WSIS, in November 2005, considered the recommendations of the working group and mandated the UN Secretary-General to convene the Internet Governance Forum.
Today, the IGF, as a multi-stakeholder, open, and inclusive forum on Internet-related policy issues, remains vital today.
12 years on, the forum is returning to Geneva, the place where ‘it all started’.
I would like to thank the Government of Switzerland for hosting us here.
Madam President, Mr. Maudet, Mr. Pagani, thank you for being our hosts.
Geneva is also home to many international and intergovernmental organizations.
This IGF is a timely opportunity to further integrate the experience and expertise of these organizations into global Internet governance processes.
I was fortunate to work with many of them during my service as Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations Offices in Geneva and other international organizations in Switzerland from 2012 to 2013.
So, it is also a homecoming for me on a personal level.
Why did I start with such a ‘history lesson’? Simply because I believe that, while we try to prepare ourselves for the future, we should always be aware of the past to understand why we are where we are.
Over the past 12 years, the IGF has made crucial contributions to public policy on internet – from human rights online, to cybersecurity, to critical internet resources and to harnessing the internet for sustainable development.
The world has undoubtedly changed since 2003 and the Internet has changed, too.
In 2003, we were talking about the ‘information society’. Now we talk about ‘digital economy’, ‘frontier issues’, ‘digitalization’, ‘the Internet of things’, and ‘artificial intelligence’, among others.
The Internet and digital technologies have become more and more part of our lives and societies.
The challenge we face is how to harness the technologies to maximize the benefits to society while minimizing the negative impact.
The theme of this year’s IGF is ‘Shape your digital future’.
A key question is how we can make sure that information and communication technologies do not create more divides among people and regions;
And how we ‘shape our digital future’ in a way that bridges the divides and bring societies together – not just today’s generation but also tomorrow’s.
This is where the IGF continues to add value – by serving as an open and inclusive space that fosters discussions and collaborations on these critical policy issues.
The UN General Assembly recognized this relevance and the potential of the IGF, when it renewed the mandate of IGF in 2015.
The renewal of the IGF mandate came just a few months after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.
The importance of information and communication technologies is elaborated as part of the SDG4, SDG5, SDG9 and SDG17.
I want to draw your attention to SDG9, which calls for significantly increasing access to information and communications technology and striving to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.
Achieving this target is just three years away.
I believe the outcomes of the IGF community’s work will be a valuable contribution toward the SDGs and a more inclusive and sustainable digital future for all.
As the week ahead unfolds, I hope it will give you more reasons to continue to be part of the IGF process. Globally, but also within your regions and countries.
I wish you all to have a fruitful discussion and a pleasant stay in Geneva