Speakers Discuss Impact of Rapid Technological Change on Sustainable Development
The General Assembly, adopting four resolutions and one decision this morning, pledged its support for all those affected by a series of devastating recent volcano eruptions on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, designated two annual observance days — one to advocate for more women judges and another to spur global action to prevent drowning — while also holding a debate on the impact of rapid technological change on sustainable development.
Acting by consensus on all the items before it, the 193-member Assembly adopted additional resolutions encouraging further cooperation between the United Nations and the Collective Security and Trade Organization; supporting global efforts to prevent drowning deaths; and proclaiming 10 March as the annual International Day of Women Judges.
At the meeting’s outset, delegates debated the impact of emerging technologies — including artificial intelligence, the Internet of things, big data, blockchain, 3G, gene editing and nanotechnology — on the trajectory of sustainable development around the globe. Representatives highlighted the existing and potential benefits of technological innovation on efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including in such crucial areas as climate change. However, they also drew attention to a massive digital divide, which disproportionately impacts developing countries, noting that it has only widened as the world shifted further online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Rapid technological change is, first and foremost, a good thing,” said Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, in opening remarks. Noting that many people around the globe are understandably concerned about the growing field of emerging technologies, especially in light of the massive and widespread inequalities that exist today, he said some are worried that technological innovations will replace human workers. Calling for efforts to support worker re-training and to support national and local capacities to adapt to technological changes, he emphasized that closing the digital divide must be a top priority as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Technological advancements are only as smart as the policies we have in place to harness them,” he said.
The Assembly then turned to the four draft resolutions and one draft decision before it. The representative of Guyana, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), introduced a resolution titled “Solidarity with and support for the Government and people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as neighbouring countries affected by the impact of the eruptions of La Soufrière volcano” (document A/75/L.80), which was adopted without a vote. Noting that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has been in the throes of a series of explosive volcanic eruptions since 9 April — “a crisis of historic proportions” — she said the emergency is further compounded by the challenges of COVID-19 and comes ahead of a projected active hurricane season.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines thanked the Assembly, the United Nations and the wider international community for their strong support during the present crisis in her country. Noting that nearly one fifth of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ population was evacuated to safer areas, she said the country now faces daunting recovery challenges. “Without immediate and sustainable solidarity [of the international community] […] our life and living would be completely unbearable,” she said, thanking CARICOM, the Organization of American States (OAS) and many other regional and subregional actors for rallying in the hours after the first eruption and for remaining at the forefront of the recovery efforts.
The representative of the United States, also speaking on that item, noted that the volcanic eruption set off a chain reaction of multiple crises. Over 13,000 people were displaced in a region struggling to combat the pandemic. Calling on the international community to act immediately to bring relief to the people of that country, she said that her Government is supporting Red Cross efforts in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and will also assist in recovery and evacuation.
The representative of the United Kingdom noted that his country follows a policy of early action in disasters such as the one currently being experienced in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Therefore, the United Kingdom is assisting with immediate mobilization of urgent supplies and emergency relief, in addition to providing sustained contributions towards long-term recovery from the eruption.
Morocco’s delegate voiced his country’s solidarity with the people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as those of neighboring countries. Noting that the displacement, economic disruption and destruction of infrastructure wreaked by the volcanic eruption is compounded by the pandemic, he said his Government will be providing multidimensional assistance to the affected countries.
The Assembly also adopted its first-ever draft resolution titled “Global drowning prevention” (document A/75/L.76). It was introduced by the representative of Bangladesh, who described drowning as a “silent and preventable killer” that claims some 235,000 lives globally each year. She expressed her hope that the text’s adoption will pave the way for more attention and action at both the global and country levels, noting that drowning prevention has been entirely absent from the United Nations’ first 75 years.
By the terms of that resolution, the Assembly encouraged all Member States to take a range of voluntary actions to prevent drowning, including appointing a national focal point for drowning. It invited the World Health Organization (WHO) to assist Member States, upon their request, in their drowning‑prevention efforts and to coordinate actions within the United Nations system among relevant United Nations entities. In addition, it decided to proclaim 25 July as World Drowning Prevention Day.
Speaking in explanation of position on that item, the representative of the United States drew attention to his delegation’s previous statements on its position regarding the 2030 Agenda, Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.
Acting again without a vote, the Assembly adopted a draft resolution (document A/75/L.81) proclaiming the International Day of Women Judges to be marked annually on 10 March. Introducing that text, the representative of Qatar said allocating an annual day to promote the role of women in rule of law will provide the international community an opportunity to reassert the importance of women in public institutions, such as the judiciary. Pointing to the relatively low number of women occupying high-level judiciary positions, she said that, by promoting gender equality, such a celebration would also contribute significantly to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Member States also adopted a draft resolution titled, “Cooperation between the United Nations and the Collective Security Treaty Organization” (document A/75/L.78). By its terms, they invited the Secretary-General to continue regular consultations with his counterpart in the Collective Security Treaty Organization and encouraged both organizations to examine possible ways to further strengthen their interaction in the area of peacekeeping. They also invited both to continue their interaction in the interest of the consistent and comprehensive implementation of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Briefly introducing the text, the representative of Tajikistan described it as technical rollover of the 2019 resolution on the same topic, which was adopted by consensus and enjoys broad support among Member States.
The representative of Ukraine, explaining his delegation’s position on that item before its adoption, described today as a “sad day”, as the Assembly prepares to endorse cooperation between the United Nations and an organization that supports the Russian Federation-led military block. Emphasizing that the Collective Security Treaty Organization failed to respond to Moscow’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine and Georgia, he said his delegation is therefore forced to disassociate itself from the Assembly’s consensus on that item.
Georgia’s representative echoed those points, describing her delegation as a staunch supporter of the United Nations cooperation with all regional organizations that support its principles, said the Collective Security Treaty Organization does not meet that criteria. She expressed regret that Georgia’s proposals were not reflected in today’s resolution and disassociated herself from the Assembly’s consensus.
The representative of Mexico, also explaining her delegation’s position on that resolution, said language referring to international crimes should always be aligned with the legal instruments that codify them. In that vein, she pointed out that operative paragraph 2 uses the same language to refer to the trafficking of persons and the smuggling of migrants, which are not the same under international law and require different responses. Operative paragraph 2 seems to equate those two phenomena and treats them as carrying the same level of threat, she said.
In other business, the Assembly adopted a draft decision (document A/75/L.79) in which it endorsed the final report of the Open-Ended Working Group on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security.
Speaking on that item, the representative of Cuba welcomed the Working Group’s “unique, transparent and inclusive process”, in which all Member States were able to participate on an equal footing. However, he voiced concern about some of its final language, including references in paragraphs 3, 7 and 9 on complementarity of specialized fora. Welcoming the inclusion of references to the development of capacity, he said some critical elements should be made clearer in future documents. In some parts of the report there is too much stress on questions of application and the development of information and communications technology (ICT), he said, spotlighting the need for a regulatory framework to be developed in line with the pace of technology, and to be legally binding. Among other things, he also expressed disappointed with the elimination of the only mention in the text of the “purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter”, noting that Cuba would have preferred the report to make specific mention to unilateral, coercive measures that are a reality faced by many countries.
The representative of Iran also welcomed many positive elements of the Open‑Ended Working Group’s report. However, despite his delegation’s many calls to respect the view of all Member States — and not just a small group — the proposals of the Non-Aligned Movement were not taken into account. While Iran is disappointed with the parts of the report it views as unacceptable, it chose not to block the Assembly’s consensus, and instead disassociates itself from any part of the report that does not match Iran’s position as outlined during the course of the Working Group’s session.
The representative of Nicaragua also welcomed the work of the Open‑Ended Working Group, as well as the flexibility demonstrated by the majority of delegations and the difficult balance struck in its report. However, in the future, the position of the Non-Aligned Movement countries must be more fully taken into account.
The representative of Venezuela echoed concerns that the final text did not include references to ICT use as it relates to military capacity, as well as the fact that it did not include calls for a legally binding regulatory framework. Also missing from the Open‑Ended Working Group’s report are references to setting the rules for the use of ICT in cyberspace, and to threats or use of force against sovereign States. Emphasizing that the application of unilateral coercive measures related to ICT has only increased since the Open‑Ended Working Group began its work, he expressed regret over the lack of a specific reference to those measures in the report.
The Assembly will reconvene in plenary at 12 p.m. on Monday, 3 May, to pay tribute to the memory of Idriss Déby Itno, the late President and Head of State of Chad.
Rapid Technological Change: Impact on Achieving Sustainable Development Goals
VOLKAN BOZKIR (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, opening a debate on its agenda item titled “Impact of rapid technological change on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and targets”, described today’s discussion as a direct response to concerns expressed by Member States, noting that it builds on a 27 April high-level debate on digital cooperation and connectivity. “Rapid technological change is, first and foremost, a good thing,” he said. However, it must be managed well and be accessible to all. Citing several examples of how technology can advance sustainable development targets, he said it can help mainstream low-carbon solutions to address climate change; offer new health‑care options to more people; and design new systems for urban housing and sustainable transport.
However, he said, many people around the globe are understandably concerned about the growing field of emerging technologies, especially in light of the massive and widespread inequalities that exist today. Among other things, people worry that technological innovations — including artificial intelligence, the Internet of things, big data, blockchain, 3G, gene editing and nanotechnology — will replace human workers. Calling for efforts to support worker re-training and to support national and local capacities to adapt to technological changes, he emphasized that closing the digital divide must be a top priority as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, only 54 per cent of the global population uses the Internet, with the majority of those who are disconnected living in developing countries.
“Kick‑starting action on the digital divide must be front and centre,” he stressed, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare stark technological inequalities and spotlighted the need for efforts to bridge the divide. “We are at an inflection point in our history,” he said, urging Member States to seize the opportunity to usher in a “new industrial revolution” that connects all those who have been disconnected and disenfranchised. How the world chooses to frame its recovery will affect the course of human history for generations to come, he said, concluding: “Technological advancements are only as smart as the policies we have in place to harness them.”
SUVANGA PARAJULI (Nepal) noted that the pandemic has put science and technology at the forefront of human activities, pointing to medical breakthroughs in vaccines, as well as adaptations in remote work and education. However, it also exposed a vast digital divide, he said, pointing to the challenges facing manual laborers, service workers and other vulnerable groups. It is an unfortunate irony that the magnitude of rapid technological change only compares with the extent of the gaping technological divide, he said, stressing that the Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries must become a well-resourced institution. Pointing to various domestic policies in the technological field, he noted progress in research, energy, public service delivery, education, information and communication. Of particular note is an online service whereby citizens can deal with land-related matters without having to visit Government offices. Further, in line with Nepal’s plan to graduate from the least developed countries category in 2026, efforts are under way to enhance the use of technologies to bolster productivity, educational opportunities, health and social awareness, he said.
BRUNO RÍOS SÁNCHEZ (Mexico), praising the Secretary-General’s Road Map for Digital Cooperation, noted that artificial intelligence combined with robotics can make commercial production processes more efficient, while 3D printing allows for rapid creation of prototypes. Such processes should be considered from the perspective of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. During the pandemic, microdata and artificial intelligence was used to examine patients and enable contact tracing, while science was able to produce a vaccine. The lack of access, however, remains a major challenge. Existing structural inequalities are exacerbating the digital divide. Least developed countries are the least connected with only 19 per cent of their populations reaping the benefits of connectivity. Further, young boys and men have more access to technological education and tools than girls and women. This gender gap in the digital divide must be addressed. Technology on its own is not a solution unless it is used for the collective well-being, he said, calling on Member States to support the draft resolution to be introduced by his delegation on the impact of rapid technological change on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
MOHAMMAD KURNIADI KOBA (Indonesia) said rapid technological changes have played a key role in pushing forward the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, while at the same time deepening inequalities around the globe. “Closing the digital divide is an accomplishable endeavour,” he said, calling for a multi-stakeholder approach focused on sustainable infrastructure, improved access to digital technologies and sharing best practices. Policies that improve countries’ adaptive capacities must be adopted and implemented, and all people must have equal access. Efforts are also needed to address the negative effects of technologies, such as the spread of disinformation and data insecurity, he said, pledging Indonesia’s support for those efforts.