IGF 2021 – Day 0 – Pre-Event Global Economic Recovery: Where Are We?

The following are the outputs of the captioning taken during an IGF virtual intervention. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.



>> MODERATOR: Hello, very good morning to you all. We are still waiting for some panelists to join. Welcome to this session, my name is Jonathan Charles I'm the Managing Director of communications of the European bank for reconstruction and development and for many years I was a BBC presenter and foreign correspondent, so this is our high level leaders panel, the 16th annual IGF forum, and the next few minutes we will be giving ourselves through a session which is answering the question, global economic recovery, where are we at? We are joined by our panel, some of whom are in Katowice, Poland. The fallout has underscored the need to take concerted reaction to revive the stifled global economy and unlock growth factors in developed and Developing Countries. 

Economic growth was uneven before the pandemic, of course. The digital economy can play a fundamental role for an enabler for opportunities of economic improvement. The importance of investing in communication technologies and making them available to all segments of populations is one of the lessons of the recovery. The ICTs offer opportunities for both develop and Developing Countries as accelerators towards high value information economies that can offer equitable and sustained growth for all. At the same time, the ongoing digital divide is becoming the new face of global inequality. This is a pressing challenge and closing the gap must be a top property priority. They will discuss platform‑driven services, how can that pave the way to economic recovery and sustainable development? So let's begin our discussion I will introduce the panelists, some of whom I think are still joining, and I think with us from Slovenia is Bostjan Koritnik, the Minister of Public Administration, perhaps you would like to say a few words to start our debate. 

>> BOSTJAN KORITNIK: Hello, I just feel honored to be invited to this great panel, and I must apologize up front, I will have to leave early, so the technical difficulties will have some impact. So please proceed. I won't take any more time. Thank you. 

>> MODERATOR: Perhaps you could give a few words though on how you see the issues we are facing. 

>> BOSTJAN KORITNIK: First, as for the lessons learned, I would say that? Just the year and a half, the COVID‑19 pandemic has radically changed the role into perception of digitalization of our economies and accelerated its pace. Digital technologies are now imperative for working or learning, entertaining, socializing, and shopping, and accessing everything from health service to culture. And they offer immense opportunities for improving service delivery, participatory processes and engagement with our citizens. The pandemic has also taught our Governments to what extent it is possible to make better decisions with the use of data and the data already used as a key resource for startups and small and medium sized businesses and for development of products and services and, therefore, we should further support the implementation of advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, big data, IoT and Blockchain. Accelerated utilization has ‑‑ digitization has brought us many benefits but has exposed the weaknesses of our digital space, expanded the digital divide. And, therefore, we should pay attention, these technologies are trust worth Y. human centric and focused on fundamental rights and values. Finally, in order to make the digital transformation successful, we should not only invest in new technologies and the connectivity, but above all in people and their skills to be able to use these technologies. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much indeed for the moment. Now, I think some of our panelists are on site in Katowice. I'm hoping that Iyad Mohammad Alkhatib, the Minister of Communications and Technology from the Syrian Arab Republic. Can you hear me, and if you can, say a few words. 

>> IYAD MOHAMMAD ALKHATIB: Yes, I can hear you. Thank you very much. Good evening, good day, everyone. I'm so pleasured to be with you in these meetings. As you know, the pandemic is now of krona, we heard about the fourth or fifth wave of the krona pandemic, the lesson we learned from the Coronavirus after 2019 all of the Cities around the world is locked down, so the bigger challenge which their Government faces how we collect all of the vital resources and infrastructure for the citizens in their homes. The Internet is contributed and remain to availability and reliability 24 per hours, seven days a week for the humanities in his cities in his homes. The rush traffic has moved from the road and the cities to the Internet. So the huge traffic in the Internet has been down. The big solve now is we need to build huge infrastructure of telecommunications, and network and Internet networks for accommodating the traffic which came from the humanities. That's why we need to spend a lot a huge investments to build these networks. The other way also, the digital services from the Coronavirus is a powerful element for the digital economic. Why? Because the development of digital services is so fast and grows so fast in compare of traditional economic. Thank you very much, Mr. Charles. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank very much indeed, Minister, and also onsite is Janusz Cieszynski. Are you there? 

>> JANUSZ CIESZYNSKI: Yes, I am. First of all, I would like to welcome you all to Katowice. The ones that are here on the ground, I would like to welcome the most but also everyone online. It's too bad that you couldn't be here, but it's great that we can speak. Thanks to the technology that has changed the way the world looks and I think the recent months, years showed that something which just a few years back we would say people can't come, well, then, we will call it off. And the first IGF was called off due to pandemic reasons, and now, it's probably not the first, not the second, not probably even the tenth event that you will be participating in online, and I think this shows how the world has changed very rapidly actually, and when we talk about public policy, usually the horizon for change is decades, maybe some, maybe a few years in some matters, and here we have proved that it's possible to change the world very, very quickly, and the change can affect our lives in a matter of months, 1.5 years or so. Why is that possible? Why I think it's so important that this is part of the United Nations' agenda, because technology and the Internet is something which has extremely significant economies of scale. 

Incomparable to other infrastructure investment, and other things we want to do to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and this has showed that there is investment to be made, but once it's made we can use it towards so many good goals and so many important things that we can copy and share and provide to billions of people across the globe. So this is why I believe that the digital transformation is something which will drastically increase the speed at which we will be able to achieve these goals. And I am very, very happy that we can now say that what probably futurologists have said before this is going to change the world, now, we can say that it was true, and that there is limitless possibilities to more things that we can do. And I'm very, very happy we are here to talk about it, and I hope that this event which is in Katowice and in a very important part of Polish history is actually 100% global event because people that participate in it don't necessarily have to be here. So a warm welcome to everyone, and I hope we will have very interesting panel. Thank you. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much. You are absolutely right. I was hoping to be with you in Katowice. Sadly, I can't, due to the U.K. Government self‑isolation restrictions at that end. So, of course, I'm joining you online. Now, before we hear directly live from panelists, we have a video message from Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana who is the Executive Secretary of UNESCO. Maybe we don't have a video message. Let's see what's going to happen. Give it a second. 

>> ARMIDA SALSIAH ALISJAHBANA: Excellencies, distinguished panelists and delegates allow me to extend my sincere thanks to USD of DESA for inviting me to speak that the IGF forum. I welcome the opportunity and once again perspective from Asia‑Pacific at this forum. Asia‑Pacific region in 2030 will be a vastly different place from what it is now, and digital connectivity will be a driving force. Every day we witness how emerging technologies are rapidly transforming development paradigms bringing a source of added value to production and consumption patterns and the way societies operate. Applications of new technologies enabled by portable and reliable digital connectivity for all can act as tools towards inclusive digital societies. Furthermore as very recent emergence of the Omicron variant, the pandemic is not going to ease soon and digital will continue to have important meaning as many of our activities remain. 

A key concern is Asia‑Pacific remains a digitally divided region in the world. While the region has a number of leaders in technology innovation, more than half of the 4.1 billion people remain offline, less than 5% of the region's population has access to high speed and portable Internet while countries in special situations face even more challenges in the pathways to digital connectivity. A further concern brought to this recovery is the digital divide may be widened. Investment in next generation networks appear to be falling short of projections. The digital divide that emerged during the pandemic related to access, speed, gender and rural isolation are deepening social economic inequalities in new ways. Nevertheless the new opportunities are springing up from these challenges. 

Allow me to highlight three. First, on the supply side, the region has critical window of opportunity to scale up investment in digital connective infrastructure and digital technologies. There is ample evidence that when COVID‑19 pandemic intensified in 2020, digital technologies in some countries such as China, Japan, Republic of Korea, and Singapore, helped to mitigate cluster outbreaks while gaining the public trust by sharing credible information in real time. Second, in terms of the demand side, investment in digital literacy and capacity will have Signet benefits. Digital education for lifelong learning with attention to the needs of children and youth at the forefront but also vulnerable groups such as the aged has taken on a new currency for a digital society. In this regard ESCAP and DESA have promoted regulatory sandboxes and experimentation for innovative deployment of digital technologies. 

We thank DESA for this partnership and look forward to further strengthen our joined work on promoting digital governance ecosystems. Third, there is an opportunity to strengthen global and regional cooperation in partnership with Governments, business sector and social groups. Only by working together we will ensure that these technology breakthroughs work for the economic, society environment, and inclusive and sustainable environment. In this regard he is cap is working with Member States so develop a practical Action Plan or implementation of the Asia‑Pacific super highway. The Action Plan, consists of stakeholders with 25 actions centred on connectivity for all, digital technologies and applications, and. This Action Plan will serve regional incorporated actions and we look forward to collaborating with you all including partners of the UN system and international organisations to bring in connectivity and digital transformation to a more inclusive digital society. Thank you very much. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Let's go live now back to Katowice. There should be Liu Zhenmin, who is the Under Secretary‑General for economic and social affairs. How do you see where we are right now. 

>> LIU ZHENMIN: Thank you for moderating this panel discussion on global economic recovery. I join my panelists in thanking all of the participants here. Also I want to take this opportunity because this is my first appearance at the IGF in Katowice to on behalf of United Nations welcome all participants to the 16th IGF in Katowice. We are now a community as IGF, 16th IGF in hybrid format, but we are encouraging more participants in person in the city. Dear colleagues, I think it's because this global pandemic has been affecting the world and disrupting the lives of human beings for almost two years so last year in 2020, we had to convene the IGF entirely virtual, but this is also due to the help of digital technology. But this year, we are able to convene this in hybrid. 

It means that there is some progress of recovery. But I want to share with all participants my department at UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UNDESA is one looking out for the economic global focus. Our latest analysis indicates that the economic growth is projected to expand by 5.6% in 2021. Following a correction of 3.6% in 2020. But this means there is a slow recovery. It means there will be a number of company that's have enjoyed growth in 2021, but the challenge is that this growth is uneven. Our latest data indicates that about half of UN membership, around 100 countries, their economic growth will not go back to their 2019 levels, the pre‑pandemic levels this year. So it means we should take still another year to get to the full recovery depending on the progress of the mitigation of the pandemic. So this is what we are going to confront in 2021, but we should not lose our confidence. But what we need to learn from 2021 will be how, what has made this progress for recovery? First, vaccination. 

You will see around the world you are seeing for those countries that have very good progress in vaccination, I think they also have enjoyed good progress in recovery, economic growth because the vaccination helps people to get into work, helps people to get into life, also for consumption. Second, the investment. I think for the past year, or even before, since 2020 for those countries who have been capable to invest with package of stimulus plans, I think they really help for economic recovery, but for those countries that have limited capacity for investment, I think, of course, their recovery has been slow, especially the case for countries of special situations and medium income countries, not so say that African countries, so investment is a big issue. So, third, I think it will be, we really have seen from past two years, this is the level of access to digital technology. 

I think digital technology has helped the world to be connected, to survive from the pandemic and has helped countries to recover, but this is uneven. There is still around half of population, 3.7 billion global population have no access to Internet, to digital technology. It means these people have not been Ben fitted to E‑learn, E‑commerce, and E‑education, I think E‑medical service, and all of the digital service. I think for those countries, they also can be slow in recovery. It means that digital technology has been important contributor to the global recovery. So what we need to learn from this recovery, current recovery also from pandemic that in the coming year we need to encourage our country to reinforce the efforts, first, to have global Max nation. They have responded and supported WHO to ensure that 70% of global population in each countries to be vaccinated by mid of 2022. 

I think this must be achieved. This must be achieved. Once this objective is achieved, the world would be relieved from the current pandemic. I think it is instrumental to the global recovery. Now, international connection has been seriously affected, travels has been affected, international tourism entirely damaged, global chain supply has been affected. So we must ensure that vaccination be ensured globally by middle of next year. Second, we encourage all countries to reinforce efforts for the investment. The investment not only to the infrastructure, but also how to keep the small businesses alive because for many countries small businesses are the main sources for attracting and providing the employment. So the employment becomes most serious issue, most serious social issue in all countries. So that's I think we need to be, only when we could keep to increase the employment in all countries, then we could avoid a social crisis in the third year of the pandemic. 

At the same time, investment must also be reinforced to help those countries which are perfecting the debt crisis, 44% of debt affecting countries that have been facing challenges, it will be even risk of debt default. So we need to ensure that in the coming months, we can help these countries. That's why the IGF has initiated a new plan for new amount for special rights, I think the Secretary‑General has appealed for those countries need to share special rights should contribute share to other countries which are in need. So avoid the kind of debt crisis or liquidity crisis for some countries is critical. So globally, we need to avoid ‑‑ we need to have avoid unprecedented crisis but we need to avoid financial crisis. Of course, certain areas through this IGF we need to promote and advance and encourage Member States to find a way how to narrow down this digital gap. Especially for those countries we have left behind in digital technology. I think it will be we really need international support and international help. So for the United Nations we want to make good use of this IGF in Katowice to appeal to all people in the world, support vaccination, support vaccination. Vaccinate yourself and vaccinate your family and it helps your family, help yourself, and help the world, help all of your countries. Only when this world is vaccinated, we should get back to the normal life, to the pre‑pandemic period. I thank you. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Very important message indeed there. Right, let's hear now from the Director of the International Telecommunications Union, Doreen Bogdan‑Martin. Doreen, how do you see where we are right now? 

>> DOREEN BOGDAN-MARTIN: Thank you so much, Jonathan. I'm assuming you can hear me. 

>> MODERATOR: I can. 

>> DOREEN BOGDAN-MARTIN: Super. A special thanks to our host, the Government of Poland. This is a very timely discussion. So where are we in terms of lessons learned? I would like to focus on, perhaps, just two, and I guess the first, and this picks up from previous speakers is the vital role of digital connectivity, and, of course, the wide disparity in digital access and use. Just last week ITU launched our new connectivity figures where we saw that COVID actually contributed to an unprecedented global connectivity boost. The number of Internet users grew by 17% over the last two years. Of course, this is the biggest increase that we saw in over a decade, but, of course, there is the flip side as the Undersecretary General has just mentioned. We have 2.9 billion people or 37% of the world's population that have still never, ever connected to the Internet, which, of course, means that throughout this pandemic they have been excluded from education, from employment, from getting information, and, of course, other services. On top of that, the 4.9 billion that we count now as connected are actually many of them struggling with connectivity. 

That's, perhaps, too infrequent, too expensive, to slow or too hard to access. And, of course, many of those that we count as unconnected are those that actually need connectivity the most. So that brings me to my second point, which is the big scope for partnerships to dramatically change the connectivity picture. COVID has shown us what we can achieve when we work together. Of course, vaccines a great example as the Undersecretary General has just stressed. At the ITU, we rolled out our reg for COVID platform when lockdowns began. It's a platform that enabled Governments, regulators, operators to share experiences. I think what impressed me the most, what inspired me was that we saw this incredible level of camaraderie by the industry to keep up with the unprecedented demand from the data that we got. We saw challenge that's all countries must tackle for successful recovery. 

So as we look to the future, we need to continue to address the digital divide, we need to invest in digital infrastructure. We need to continue to promote ongoing digital transformation and, of course, we need to build digital resilience to face future crises. And just like the COVID challenge, the global connectivity challenge is simply too large for any single entity to take on. I do want to encourage you to join us this afternoon. We have a session on our partner to connect digital coalition, which is a coalition to connect the world. We see it as a big game changer that will bring a whole of society approach pull together different parties, galvanize available resources and focus on concrete pledges and commitments and you can learn more about that as I mentioned in our session this afternoon. Jonathan, back to you. Thank you. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much indeed Doreen. We will be hearing from you later on. Let's go now to Simonetta Di Pippo the Director of the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs. How do you see where we stand right now? 

>> SIMONETTA DI PIPPO: Thank you very much. Good morning, everyone. It's really a pleasure for me to be here, and the moment is particularly timely. This event because yes, on one side COVID‑19, I would say another, among plenty of challenges that we as humanity have to face. In reality, the Office for Outer Space Affairs is the Office of the Secretary dealing with space affairs in the UN, and we strive to bring the benefits of space to everyone and in doing so connectivity is one of the topics we are dealing with a certain attention. And I have to say as was mentioned also by other colleagues in this panel discussion, well, sometimes we need, we collectively need the crisis to look at potential solutions when were there already, available, at least from technology standpoint, but we were, you know, a little bit scrambling in trying to bring in through the channels in the various systems, in particular when we talk about developing and emerging countries. 

So in a way, COVID‑19 helped us in pushing a little bit the connectivity agenda, but allow me to remind everyone that the Secretary‑General was instrumental in the language, the digital cooperation, the digital cooperation report in particular for what the office of outer space office is concerns recommendation 1A, connectivity everywhere and where mega consolations of satellites have a role to play and we are dealing a lot with this trying to support the Secretary‑General also in preparation of the common agenda Summit of the future that he called for September 2023 where I see connectivity across the board, the main seven high level tracks of part of the Summit of the future. Last but not least, space, and in particular space economy is, and in particular the part of space economy which is on the downstream which means how to use space‑based data and infrastructure to improve the quality of life on earth, well, for sure, and I would like to underline sure, the space needs to be considered more and more as an accelerator for the accomplishment, the achievement of the SDGs and as was mentioned several times, partnership is key and I would like to underline again that SDG number 17 is exactly partnerships for the goals. And this can be applied to what we are discussing here. So thank you very much for giving me the floor. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and let's start to dig a little deeper. With us in Katowice is Teki Akuetteh Falconer. Perhaps I can ask you, what do you see as the challenges impeding the achievement of the UN SDGs as a result of this pandemic? 

>> TEKI AKUETTEH FALCONER: Thank you very much. I think that if there is any emphasis that COVID‑19 has given to all of us is the fact that the entire world is more connected than we have made ourselves to be. The biggest challenge as we saw with COVID especially in my community is that it emphasized the importance of technology, and also emphasized the digital divide that continues to exist in communities like Africa. I could clearly see even with policies that were implemented in my country how the poverty line will continue to increase without adequate information on how to target the poor. I could see how poverty increased, how hunger was then extended to the more vulnerable because even distribution of resources, you know, could not be targeted to the most vulnerable. It definitely affected good health and quality of education. 

I will share an example of, and I lived in the city where there is a young boy I was helping. However within the period of the COVID, he had to drop out of school because he did not have access to technology that would help him connect. While the importance of technology is being emphasized in all of these, it is also showing the big gap that continues to exist between the rich and the poor. And we are even seeing that in the extent of, you know, the distribution of vaccines and all of that that if there is anything that I would love to talk about here, it's the importance of the fact that we are not an island, and no community is isolated from the whole. As we have seen with the spread of COVID and we have seen how it impacts, it is very important that we ensure that no one is left behind. And in order to do this, we need to ensure that our countries are collaborating, industry is collaborating, and civil society and everyone else that is important is brought in to ensure that we meet the SDGs. Thank you, Jonathan. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We will hear from you again. I know you have to go in a minute, but we are hearing a little bit about what the obstacles might be on SDGs. What do you see as the obstacle standing in the way of digitalization, further acceleration of digitalization? 

>> BOSTJAN KORITNIK: If I may add to what the other panelists also emphasized, and in the past months we have learned that being connected is not a matter of choice or preference, but a necessity that enables us to go to school, work and communicate with the outside world. I believe it is essential to improve the broadband coverage and ensure the security of the 5G network. So we should do our utmost to ensure the digital connectivity is developed in a manner based on trust and transparency. Significant investments will be needed in the future to achieve connectivity goals, and this can be done in the form of more intense cooperation between the public and private sector. 

We should make large scale infrastructure investments attractive to the private sector, and we need to provide equal access to ICT, foster the development of necessary skills and ensure the inclusion of vulnerable groups such as disabled and the elderly. Only by doing that, we can enable equal connectivity for all. As the Slovenian Minister of Public Administration, I'm happy to say we are fostering connectivity. For example we are constructing large generation broadband networks in wide spot areas we are cofinancing with public funds broadband areas, and also we are ambitious when it comes to Smart cities and communities we want them to unify solutions in terms of data and interoperability and are prepared to help them with financial incentives. Thank you again for the opportunity to speak at this great panel, and stay healthy. Thank you. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much, you stay healthy as well. Thanks for joining us. I know you have to go. We have six minutes left. We have to end on time at 12:00. I would like to go to Iyad Mohammad Alkhatib the Minister of Communications and technology at the Syrian Arab Republic. What do you think is standing in the way of the UN SDGs because of this crisis? 

>> IYAD MOHAMMAD ALKHATIB: Thanks again. I think we face many challenges, especially for the Government for achieving the SDGs, but I will take discipline of the three items. The biggest and first one as my colleague mentioned, the infrastructure. The infrastructure must be strong, and must be powered to accommodate the traffic which comes from the citizens when the citizens log. We need to install many digital platforms. By these platforms can the Governments produce many, many of services for citizens, especially for E‑learning and E‑health. The other item in the same infrastructure, we need to explain and install a huge telecommunications networks and expand all of the network sectors to accommodate the traffic from the citizens. 

Due to items of challenge, we are talking about the content, digital content. We need to improve, we need to accelerate the digital content on the way for E‑health, for E‑business, for E‑commerce. That way we need to spread new digital transactions. All of the citizens must be learned about the digital transactions. The third one I'll mention about the very important things which is the human resources skills, especially for humans, and employees, not for private sector only, also for all of the nations’ sector, private and Government sectors. All of the employees must have skills, skills which mean change the mentality of how to handle their transactions. So I think in my opinion, I think we need to create a new curriculum oriented to the students in schools and universities. That's why we need digital adaptations. Digital adaptations is very important for the human resources and for human employees. Thank you very much. 

>> MODERATOR: We have five minutes left, so I would like to ask you quick fire answers now. What I would like to ask you all, you know, a large number of the world's population still aren't using the Internet as we heard today. What in your view then can be done, one thing that can be done to really accelerate that digitalization to unlock the Internet for all, really a quick fire answer of just one thing. Liu Zhenmin, perhaps I could ask you as Under Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs. One thing that would accelerate digitalization? 

>> LIU ZHENMIN: Reinforce international cooperation, definitely. You know, when we are talking about digitalization, we should not forget that our world today there are still close to 800 million people in this world that have no access to electricity. For those people with no electricity, what sense talking about digitalization. That's why I think for access to digital, for electricity, I also say access to digital technology we need really international cooperation. That's what I think would be to reinforcing the north/south cooperation as a triangular cooperation would be critical. To achieve that objective, we really need to reinforce the international call to action. That's why I think it will be United Nations could have very important role, but we need the support of Member States that we are appealing the support of Member States otherwise, other stakeholders in the next few years to really help the poor, help Developing Countries to have, ensure access of digital technology and have global access of the Internet. Thank you. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much, indeed. Doreen Bogdan‑Martin, one thing. What would the ITU like to see? 

>> DOREEN BOGDAN-MARTIN: Thank you. Very difficult. So assuming that we are tackling the barriers on infrastructure skills, connectivity, content, local language, my one thing would be to take a whole of Government approach to digitalization. 

>> MODERATOR: Okay. That's very clear. Thank you very much indeed. Simonetta Di Pippo, one thing. 

>> SIMONETTA DI PIPPO: Even shorter, we need to accelerate the achievements of the SDGs, and in order to do so, space is there to support this process, and trying really to be the centre across the board, the 17 SDGs for all Governments and all of the stakeholders. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much. 

>> TEKI AKUETTEH FALCONER: I would say access and for me access means making the cost affordable, building capabilities, and then also ensuring we have the right infrastructure, and the most important is that whilst we are talking about the people who need access in this room, we have to make sure we engage with them to know what access means to them as well. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and finally Janusz Cieszynski, one thing. 

>> JANUSZ CIESZYNSKI: I did back of the envelope calculations and I think we, we need 100 billion Euros to pay for 3 billion people to have Internet access. I think that's totally manageable and these are the financials that would make it possible to deliver this on the market basis, and 100 billion Euros when you look back on pandemic finance, well, it's 100% obvious that this is something which is achievable to the global economy, so 100 billion Euros. 

>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much indeed. Thank you very much to all of our panel for engaging. Apologies, by the way, for the technical difficulties at the start which delayed our start, but to everybody watching thanks for sparing the time. Bye!.