Innovations Must Reach World’s Most Vulnerable, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Summit, Urging Governments to Embrace New Technologies with Common Good in View

10 February 2019

Innovations Must Reach World’s Most Vulnerable, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Summit, Urging Governments to Embrace New Technologies with Common Good in View

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the World Government Summit, in Dubai today:

I am honoured to be with you at this annual gathering dedicated to shaping the future of Governments worldwide.  I thank our host — the World Government Summit Organization of the United Arab Emirates.  I also commend the organizers of Expo 2020 Dubai, who will use that gathering to showcase solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals.  The United Nations system looks forward to supporting this important effort.

In this fourth year of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the world faces an imperative:  to accelerate our work.  Certainly, there have been positive signs.  In many countries, people are living better lives than they were a decade ago.  There have been advances in promoting the rule of law and access to justice, though these are uneven.  Member States have made progress in strengthening institutions and improving public service delivery.  There is also growing public scrutiny of Governments’ commitments to the 2030 Agenda.

Yet, progress has not been rapid enough to meet the Agenda’s goals and targets by 2030, especially for the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups.  The world remains on a trajectory of increasing inequality.  It is facing armed conflicts, hunger, humanitarian crises, environmental degradation, the devastating impacts of climate change, rising intolerance and the erosion of human rights.

Multilateralism itself faces strong headwinds precisely when it is needed most.  It is up to us to bring back the trust and demonstrate that global institutions can meet global challenges and meet people’s expectations.  It is incumbent on us to ensure that we do not leave behind those that have been adversely impacted by globalization.  Leaving people, especially our youth, with a sense of unmet aspirations, no hope and life without dignity is a recipe for chaos.

It is our duty to meet what the Secretary-General of the United Nations recently called the biggest challenge that Governments and institutions face today:  to mobilize solutions that address the root causes of fear, exclusion, mistrust, anxiety and anger.

Beyond their traditional functions, Governments at all levels need to transform their ways of working in an era of unprecedented change.  An era of changing demographics; of increasingly rapid technological advances, such as in artificial intelligence.  An era marked by changes in the way we live together, in the way our communities are shaped.  An era of evolving labour markets and with them evolving expectations as to which skills our youth need to learn today to be equipped for the world of tomorrow.

They need to recognize the links between climate action and the broader 2030 Agenda — and share best practices on attracting financing for both.  And they need to work in more integrated fashion, considering the impact of policies on multiple sectors, addressing trade-offs and building on synergies for results in people’s lives.

Many Governments have been creating or reforming institutional mechanisms to spearhead SDG [Sustainable Development Goal] implementation through cross-agency and cross-sector collaboration.  Yet, overcoming sectoral boundaries remains a challenge for many countries.

We must all keep pushing the boundaries of transformation.  The ambition of the 2030 Agenda provides a road map for mobilizing every segment of society, as well as public, private, domestic and international resources.  Governments at national and subnational levels have a key role in creating the space and the enabling environments for these actors and the opportunities they present for every challenge we must face together.

Civil society and the media play crucial roles in ensuring accountability and giving voice to the voiceless.  Yet, in many places the space for civil society and journalists is shrinking and becoming increasingly dangerous.

We need to bolster democratic practices and create mechanisms for stakeholders to participate in shaping and building new solutions for people.  We need to stimulate private sector investment and create opportunities for business to support of sustainable development.  Overall, we need to foster whole‑of‑society approaches to address today’s most pressing challenges.

We also need to invest in innovation and innovators.  The United Arab Emirates has been a shining light in harnessing the power of artificial intelligence for improved delivery of services to its citizens, led by its pioneering Strategy for Artificial Intelligence.

New technologies, such as satellite image processing, mobile phone data and artificial intelligence have transformative potential for addressing development challenges and for measuring progress.  Surveys carried out through social media help to better understand conditions of refugees in conflict-affected zones.  Mobile data is being leveraged to measure child poverty.  These are a just a few examples of what is possible.

But, we need political leadership, resources and commitment to use the tools that are now available in a responsive and responsible manner ensuring we do no harm, respecting the rights of all individuals.  This is difficult with blurring lines that both help and hinder.  We must recognize that new technologies pose challenges and exacerbate existing inequalities.  People today have unparalleled access to information, resources and support.  Yet, access to new technologies varies widely across and within countries.

While working-age populations are growing fast in developing countries, new technologies, automation and artificial intelligence are beginning to have significant effects on labour markets.  Progress in self-driving vehicle technology will provide new opportunities to seniors and people with physical disabilities, but may also threaten the jobs of millions of taxi, transport and delivery drivers.  These labour market impacts will be fast, far-reaching and felt in developed and developing countries alike.  Government leaders need to be thinking innovatively on issues of re-skilling, safety nets and education.

These changes may also pose challenges for countries currently using traditional development pathways to grow their economies.  A growing digital divide may further aggravate these circumstances and limit the opportunities of people to gain new education, skillsets, health care and employment.  On the one hand, Governments need support in their strides to harness the benefits of innovation for achieving the SDGs.  On the other hand, Governments may need new capacities to promote the equitable distribution of the benefits of new technologies.

Advances in biotechnologies, for example, may create breakthroughs in medicine and other sciences, but will also give rise to serious and complex ethical questions and dilemmas.  Governments need to ensure that innovations are reaching and benefiting those furthest behind, especially those living in fragile and conflict-affected countries.  They need to ensure education, training and safety nets to support all those who are side-lined by innovation.

The Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, led by Melinda Gates and Jack Ma, will be making their recommendations in May this year, providing us with ideas for how the international community can work together to harness the benefits of technology while mitigating the risks.

The world’s people look to us to address these formidable challenges with the common good in view, and with the world’s most vulnerable in mind.  A more sustainable, secure and prosperous future for all can be ours.  But we must accelerate our work, increase ambition and deepen respect and solidarity within and among nations.

The United Nations, dynamic and renewed, will be your partner in this work. Through his ambitious reform agenda, the Secretary-General is transforming the way we deliver — by enabling us to move closer to the needs of those we serve; by addressing the contexts needed for achieving sustainable peace and security for all, namely by implementing the 2030 Agenda within and across borders.

Building on past World Government Summits, we can add today’s overarching theme of “Enhancing the lives of 7 billion” — the ultimate goals of the 2030 Agenda.  We believe by strengthening Government to deliver on the 2030 Agenda the impact will be felt the world over as we achieve our common 17 Goals.

For information media. Not an official record.