Statement to the World Telecommunication Policy Forum

Allow me to convey warm greetings to all those gathered for this important forum and to thank the Government and the people of Portugal for their generous hospitality. This meeting of the World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF) underlines the important role the United Nations family has in shaping dialogue in key policy areas of the world today. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) deserves to be commended for having played a pioneering role in this regard.

In the United Nations’ own work for development, we have glimpsed only the beginning of the benefits that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can provide in the field: from disaster relief to development in general, as well as our efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals. The new opportunities that the Internet offers have also a clear link to the social world, particularly in terms of freedom of expression, the free flow of information and ideas, and the instantaneous distribution of content, which are reshaping the way we see and understand events around the world.

These new insights bring a greater understanding between the peoples of the world, thanks to the Internet. For the United Nations, the Internet has become a powerful tool in our mission to promote peace and security, development and human rights. ICTs are also a factor of economic growth and development. It is, therefore, timely in this period of economic and financial crisis to look at the role ICTs could play to launch recovery and stimulate growth, as was done in yesterday’s strategic dialogue on ICTs.

Looking at the programme of this forum and Report of the Secretary-General of the ITU, I notice many areas of convergence with the work undertaken by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).

UNDESA is closely involved in dealing with ICTs and the environment. We share the view that ICTs will play a key role in addressing climate change. But, climate change is not just an environmental issue. It also has serious economic and social implications. Climate change is, fundamentally, a sustainable development challenge that should be linked more firmly to the broader development agenda, including poverty reduction and other internationally agreed development goals.

UNDESA recognizes the importance of Internet policy in the WTPF agenda, given that the Department deals with two key areas related to the Internet -- ‘enhanced cooperation’ and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) -- as set out by Heads of State and Government at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis in 2005.

The Tunis Agenda outlined the need for enhanced cooperation on public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and for monitoring performance in this regard. In 2007, UNDESA was entrusted by the United Nations Secretary-General to take charge of the process. The challenge that UNDESA has been facing is that the term ‘enhanced cooperation’ does not seem to provide much guidance as to what constitutes an enhanced level of cooperation in practice. Last year, UNDESA requested and received annual performance reports from core organizations involved in Internet governance.

The information obtained from these reports presents the following picture:

The performance reports suggest that the Tunis Agenda’s call for enhanced cooperation had been taken seriously by respondents. DESA has prepared a report on this process, the summary of which will be included in the United Nations Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of WSIS that will be submitted to the Commission of Science and Technology for Development next month.

UNDESA also provides the institutional home for the Internet Governance Forum. The concept of the IGF emerged between the two phases of WSIS. The intention was to fill “a vacuum within the context of existing structures” and to address “issues that are cross-cutting and multidimensional and that either affect more than one institution, are not dealt with by any institution or are not addressed in a coordinated manner”. The second phase of WSIS in Tunis requested the Secretary-General of the United Nations to convene the IGF with the mandate to deal with the broad range of issues related to Internet governance as defined by the Tunis Agenda in the section relating to Internet governance, from paragraph 22 to 82.

Through dialogue, the IGF seeks to develop a common understanding of these issues and raise awareness of the development dimension of Internet governance. By setting development and capacity building as its cross-cutting and overarching priorities, the IGF made it clear that Internet governance is not an end in itself, but should be responsive to the economic and social dimensions of development.

This development orientation, which provides a good mix between societal, economic and technological issues, is more relevant than ever today, during a period of unprecedented economic downturn. Our current economic difficulties should not let us lose sight of achieving the internationally agreed development goals.

The IGF is not a traditional United Nations process. Its purpose is to bring people together from all stakeholder groups. They are to meet as equals, neither to make decisions nor to negotiate, but to discuss, exchange information and share good practices. While IGF may not have the power to make decisions, it informs and inspires those who do. The forum develops a common understanding of how we can maximize the opportunities the Internet offers, how we can use it for the benefit of all nations and peoples and how we can address the risks and challenges.

In general, the IGF is seen as a successful experiment in international cooperation and its new approach to multi-stakeholder cooperation has spread to other organizations and forums. Last year also saw the spread of the IGF model at the national and regional level, from Latin America to East and West Africa, as well as Europe.

Initially, the IGF was given a provisional lifespan of five years. Within this time period, the Secretary-General was asked to hold “formal consultations with Forum participants” on the desirability of the continuation of the Forum. These consultations will be held at the fourth IGF meeting in Sham El Sheikh, Egypt in November 2009 to allow for a timely decision by the United Nations Membership before the five-year deadline expires. It will be up to all stakeholders to say whether they see value in continuing the experiment. A broad based consultative process has already been started and a questionnaire is available on the IGF Web site. Among other things, stakeholders are invited to let us know what has been the impact of the IGF, either directly or indirectly, and whether it has acted as a catalyst for change.

I urge you to share your views on the future of the IGF.

I look forward to continuing the excellent cooperation we enjoy among UNDESA, ITU and the other institutions involved in the WSIS follow-up and implementation and wish you well in your deliberations this week.

File date: 
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the World Telecommunication Policy Forum

Lisbon, Portugal, 22 April 2009