GENERAL ASSEMBLY SECOND COMMITTEE
SEVENTY-SIXTH SESSION, 2ND & 4TH MEETINGS (AM & PM)
Delegates Underscore Unequal Access to Vaccines, Education, Technologies
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world how ill-equipped it is to handle crises, needing new approaches to tackle health and climate change, as well as vaccine inequality, the digital divide and unequal access to education, Professor Mariana Mazzucato told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) today, as it began its general debate.
Despite reports warning against continued global warming, subsidies keep arriving at fossil-fuel‑based companies and industries, said Ms. Mazzucato of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College, London. A new social contract is needed making subsidies dependent on businesses transforming themselves in a green direction and prioritizing stakeholder value versus shareholder value.
On reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, she said taking the targets seriously means treating them as urgently as war. Social problems need the same level of urgency, but are also optimal chances for investment, innovation, a just transition and new social contract at the heart of public-private partnerships.
Addressing such issues, the representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines highlighted the severe impact of COVID-19 on public health in her region, as they are simultaneously fighting climate change on the front lines. Speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), she noted that many Caribbean countries are heavily dependent on tourism for survival and are now facing deep economic recession, with several having suffered economic declines in 2020 of over 50 per cent.
The bloc would achieve only limited recovery from the pandemic in 2021 due to long‑standing structural challenges they already face, she said. Small island developing States will need a new and recalibrated financing mechanism to reclaim progress eroded and address high debt levels, she added, stressing that prevailing conditions point to the need for debt forgiveness into 2022.
The representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, said COVID-19 is currently the primary focus in his region. All resources are being shifted towards the pandemic to ensure the Alliance has a population to recover with when it moves to that phase, a stark reality many small islands face. “How much more must we suffer before the international community seriously considers the vulnerabilities of small island States?”, he questioned, stressing the urgent need for high emitters to fulfil their obligations under the Paris Agreement on climate change.
On the Second Committee, he said its purpose is two-fold — to cover relevant issues in the current development agenda and address new and emerging challenges faced by developing countries. “Year after year, when the Committee meets, the development agenda remains under threat,” he said, as developing countries all have specific challenges that either hinder or completely stagnate development growth. “Unless we address these issues as a Committee, I am afraid we will not be able to achieve the 2030 Agenda.”
Kazakhstan’s delegate, speaking for the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said the pandemic has constrained the already‑restricted financial and fiscal space of those States, abruptly halting progress in almost all priority areas. Hit hard by restrictions on cross-border movements, the countries have experienced reduced trade and flow of essential goods, harming gross domestic product (GDP), which plummeted from 4.3 per cent in 2019 to 2.4 per cent in 2020, with foreign direct investment (FDI) contracting by 31 per cent to $15 billion in 2020, the lowest aggregate level since 2007.
Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana), President of the Economic and Social Council, noted that poorer countries are suffering restricted access to COVID-19 vaccines and possess sparser resources for recovery from the pandemic. Only about 40 per cent of the global population have received a first shot of a vaccine, with this number dropping sharply in developing countries. Concerning recovery, he said the global economy is forecasted to come out of its recession and grow by 4.1 per cent in 2022, but this figure fails to reflect the great disparity between rich and poor countries.
In an afternoon session, the Committee focused on information and communications technology (ICT), as well as globalization and interdependence. Several speakers said COVID-19 has underscored the vastness of the digital divide, emphasizing that international and regional cooperation are urgently needed for technology transfer, especially to developing countries.
The representative of Guinea, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, emphasized the importance of adopting a coordinated approach in addressing the digital divide, improving Internet access and boosting connectivity for development. The 2030 Agenda will provide needed educational opportunities in digital mechanisms, he noted, which can be used for development projects.
Speaking for the Africa Group, Morocco’s delegate noted that digital technology has been at the forefront of solutions to the pandemic, but his bloc has been unable to seize opportunities with only 28 per cent of the population having access to the Internet. The World Bank estimates that $100 billion investment is needed for good access to the Internet by 2030, with policy support and capital investments desperately needed.
The representative of El Salvador said people are living in an increasingly globalized world, with South-South and triangular cooperation needed for technology transfer and debt relief in developing countries. Further, universal affordable access to ICT is vital for closing the digital divide and promoting productivity as well as social inclusion.
Also speaking today were the representatives of the European Union, Australia (also for Canada and New Zealand), Guatemala, Malawi (for the Group of Least Developed Countries), Brunei Darussalam (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Ghana (for the Africa Group), Nigeria, Guatemala, Malaysia (for ASEAN), China, India, Ecuador, Singapore, Mexico, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Cuba, Burkina Faso, Nepal, Bangladesh, Armenia and the Philippines. Statements were also made by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 October, to continue its general debate and to take up the eradication of poverty, as well as agricultural development, food security and nutrition.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta), Chair of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), emphasized the need to ensure a global response and recovery from the COVID‑19 pandemic by accelerating implementation of development goals. Accordingly, the theme for the Committee’s general debate in 2021 is “Crisis, Resilience and Recovery ‑ Accelerating Progress towards the 2030 Agenda”. The United Nations must provide actionable recommendations and boost international solidarity in shaping the course of policies so that all countries emerge from the pandemic and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Committee will focus on impacts of COVID‑19 as well as related policy responses and review major impacts of the pandemic on the world’s economy to shed new light on the approach to macroeconomic policies, financial policies, trade policies and debt management, she said. It will also review the critical and cross-cutting issues of poverty eradication and food security. It will have important discussions about groups of countries in special situations, notably least‑developed countries, small‑island developing States and landlocked developing countries, which are the most affected by the pandemic. In addition, she said the Committee will be addressing a large number of topics on sustainable development.
MARIANA MAZZUCATO, Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value, Founding Director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, University College, London, said that the COVID—19 pandemic has shown that the world is ill-prepared to handle crises. New approaches are needed to tackle the health pandemic and climate crisis, as well as issues such as vaccine inequality, the digital divide and unequal access to education.
She said that despite the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warning against continued global warming, many subsidies continue to go to fossil-fuel-based companies and industries. A new social contract is needed so that subsidies are conditional on businesses transforming themselves in a green direction, and so that businesses prioritize stakeholder value over shareholder value. Governments need to be more proactive co-creators with mission-oriented and challenge-oriented approaches for change.
She stressed the importance of experimentation, investments, and collaboration across sectors, adding that without the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s redesign of policies, including procurement policies, and the creation of incentives for innovation and quality improvement, man would not have been able to get to the moon. For the public sector to achieve ambitious goals, it must undertake an internal revolution in how it is organized, she said. For example, outsourcing of capacity to consulting companies should not take the place of important investments in-house. The way to take the Sustainable Development Goals seriously is to treat them as urgently as people treat goals that arise when they go to war. Social problems require the same level of urgency and seriousness, but they are also opportunities for a new social contract at the heart of public‑private partnerships, investment, innovation and a just transition.
When the floor opened for questions, the representative of Slovenia asked about the main obstacles to changing capitalism to put it in line with Ms. Mazzucato’s messages.
Responding, Ms. MAZZUCATO said that a new governance structure around shaping markets, not just a patching up of systems, is needed to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. Noting that the business sector, or at least Fortune 500 companies, have spent over $4 trillion to buy back their own shares, she said that businesses must also consider stakeholder value, and not just shareholder value. Further, every Government today, as well as the United Nations, must stop being siloed.
The Dominican Republic’s delegate asked what international cooperation should look like “in order to get to the moon and not burn”.
In response, Ms. MAZZUCATO said that international cooperation has transformed science, referring to the European Organization for Nuclear Research as an example. Societal challenges must be approached similarly and with the same ambition and seriousness. Noting the difficulties to innovate faced by developing countries due to patent restrictions, she called for the redesign of tools, such as procurement policies and intellectual property rights, in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Smaller countries can focus on increasing productivity through vocational training and putting in place good working conditions.
The representative of Brazil asked about necessary conditions for developing countries to participate in the global supply chain, so that they do not face difficulties like those witnessed during the pandemic.
Responding, Ms. MAZZUCATO said that challenges that countries are facing must be examined. An intersectoral approach and industrial strategies are needed so that all sectors can transform, innovate, invest and collaborate in order to tackle those challenges and deliver sustainable inclusive growth.
COLLEN VIXEN KELAPILE (Botswana), President of the Economic and Social Council, noted that poorer countries are suffering restricted access to COVID‑19 vaccines and possess sparser resources for recovery from the pandemic. Only about 40 per cent of the global population has received a first shot of a vaccine, with this number dropping sharply in developing countries. Concerning recovery, the global economy is currently forecast to come out of its recession and grow by 4.1 per cent in 2022, although this figure does not reflect the great disparity between rich and poor countries. The pandemic has exacerbated many issues, including the number of jobs available and the employment of women, as well as efforts to combat climate change.
Even before the pandemic, efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals were insufficient, he said, but now the global community risks losing a decade of development. International solidarity is critical in ending inequality, but as the pandemic has taught, this must go beyond current efforts to include science and technology. The world needs to build on current momentum in this respect to further its global development agenda. The Second Committee has an important agenda in achieving development goals and putting the world on the path to recovery from the pandemic. In addition to international assistance, it is also vital to help developing countries in mobilizing sufficient internal revenue.
BOUBACAR DIALLO(Guinea), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that the Committee’s work, especially in the context of the pandemic, is crucial for the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Noting that official development assistance (ODA) is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, he urged donor countries to honour their commitments and to align ODA with the specific national priorities and strategies of developing countries.
He reiterated the urgent need to eliminate immediately the imposition of laws and regulations with extraterritorial impact on developing countries, adding that South-South cooperation and its agenda must be set by countries of the South and should continue to be guided by the principles of respect for national sovereignty, national ownership and independence. He said that he looks forward to the twenty-sixth Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow and the fifteenth Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming to increase climate ambition, build resilience and lower emissions. He also looks forward to the G20 Leaders’ Summit “to take the lead in ensuring a swift international response to the pandemic ‑ including the provision of equitable, worldwide access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines ‑ while building up resilience to future health-related shocks”.
SILVIO GONZATO, representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said that human life and health are inextricably linked to that of our planet. Increased international cooperation and strong multilateral institutions are needed to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges. Referring to the Euro Green Deal, he said the bloc is working to be the first climate‑neutral continent by 2050. However, all must step up efforts to reach emission targets and close the climate finance gap. In this regard, the Union is allocating €4 billion for climate finance until 2027. As economic growth must be reconciled with the planet’s health, people must change how they engage with nature, eat, travel and consume. Looking ahead to the climate change conference in Glasgow and the Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, he said that, although global shocks have tested partnerships, they have also presented opportunities for all to work together.
MITCH FIFIELD (Australia), also speaking on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, stressed the importance of Member States and partners sharing experiences and doubling down on collaboration to meet development goals. The global community is off track in efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda, and the road ahead is now even more difficult, given the wide‑ranging and deep impacts of the pandemic on all aspects of sustainable development. The world faces many challenges, not least of which includes responding to the social and economic impact of a global pandemic. But the international community should not lose sight of the long game, the issues which must be addressed if it is to achieve a prosperous and stable global community. It should learn the lessons of COVID‑19 and look to strengthen health systems and build a collective response to future pandemics through a coordinated approach. An essential part of that response will be supporting equitable access to safe and effective vaccines. The global community must also respond urgently to the global challenge of climate change, as it risks rolling back many development gains achieved over decades.
OMAR CASTAÑEDA SOLARES (Guatemala), speaking on behalf of several Latin American countries, said the COVID‑19 crisis has severely impacted the health and economic spheres and has increased vulnerability to climate change as well as loss of biodiversity. The international community must work together in recovering from the pandemic, assisting those suffering from natural phenomena, and increasing access to education, health services, food and nutrition to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Expressing deep concern over food insecurity worldwide, he said Guatemala is working in several areas for sustainable and comprehensive food systems as part of its preparation for the upcoming World Food Summit.
The region has been exposed to extreme weather conditions, which have negatively impacted living conditions and increased vulnerability to other natural hazards, he said. It is vital to reduce the risk of disasters as well as the resultant losses facing many families in the region. Developed countries have a historic responsibility to address such problems in line with various accords, including the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. He called on them to shoulder their duty to reduce emissions and make finances available for developing countries to mitigate the effects of climate change.
CLEMENT AMAMAI DIMA NAMANGALE (Malawi), speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries and associating himself with the Group of 77, said there is a danger that while some States will recover from the pandemic, others — such as those least developed — could sink deeper into poverty and debt. Finance remains key to achieving sustainable development, and that calls for strong commitments matched by strong and requisite action. He underscored the commitment of least developed countries to climate change action and net zero greenhouse gas emissions, adding that 50 per cent of climate adaptation finance should be directed towards least developed countries and small island developing States.
Turning to inequality in the area of information and communications technology (ICT), he said that while few create and own technology, its impact reaches everybody and its consequences are far-reaching. He noted the role of the United Nations Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries in helping least developed States to promote innovation and called for its work to be supported. Turning to the pandemic, he said that, now more than ever, cooperation and multilateralism are crucial to ensure the vaccination and safety of all. He went on to say that returning to the path of sustainable development requires significant investment in people and planet. “The key lies in ensuring that vulnerable countries, such as [least developed countries], are able to access affordable market financing and do not fall irreparably behind,” he added.
MAGZHAN ILYASSOV (Kazakhstan), speaking on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said the pandemic has constrained the already‑restricted financial and fiscal space of those States, abruptly halting progress in almost all priority areas of the Vienna Programme of Action and 2030 Agenda. Hit hard by restrictions on cross-border movements, the countries have experienced reduced trade and flow of essential goods, harming gross domestic product (GDP), which plummeted from 4.3 per cent in 2019 to 2.4 per cent in 2020, with foreign direct investment (FDI) contracting by 31 per cent to $15 billion in 2020, the lowest aggregate level since 2007. He stressed that landlocked developing countries rely on neighbouring countries to access international markets, which have restricted development prospects under the pandemic. Impacts on global supply chains and transport networks has further limited an already small share in the world trade.
He called for international support to increase domestic resources, and in sectors including debt relief, ODA and trade. Landlocked developing countries also need assistance in achieving digital connectivity critical for their integration into world markets, and in increasing exports by improving trade and the smoother flow of goods. He further noted the need to diversify markets and products, and expand productive capacity. The international community must also help those States address the devastation of climate change and increase climate mitigation to ensure food and water security, protect livelihoods and prevent mass refugee and forced migration flows. Rapid technological innovation is also critical for economic structural transformation and accelerating implementation of the Programme of Action, he said, harnessing the full potential of technological breakthroughs and promoting competitiveness and regional prosperity across the globe.
NOOR QAMAR SULAIMAN (Brunei Darussalam), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), reviewed some of the efforts that the group and its member States are making to advance sustainable development. They include the development of a Strategic and Holistic Initiative to Link ASEAN Responses to Emergencies and Disasters, also known as ASEAN SHEILD, and a comprehensive framework to help the region emerge more resilient and stronger from the pandemic. She called for enhanced collaboration and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and for preparations to begin now to deal with future public health emergencies. “We stress the need for vaccine multilateralism and urge that COVID-19 vaccines be considered as global public goods, accessible to all,” she added.
Recovery from the pandemic is the time to develop and implement policies for inclusive and sustainable development while also taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital revolution, she continued. Digital technologies helped to keep ASEAN as a vibrant economic community during the pandemic and it will continue to do so in the future. She drew attention to ASEAN’s blueprint for a circular economy that will close the loop on finite resource wastage. She underscored the emerging significance of the blue economy, urged greater cooperation in environmental protection and conservation, and reaffirmed ASEAN’s commitment to contribute to meeting climate change goals.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), noted the severe impact of the pandemic on public health in her region, at the same time as they are fighting climate change on the front lines. Many Caribbean countries are heavily dependent on tourism for survival and are now facing deep economic recession, with several suffering economic declines in 2020 of over 50 per cent. They would achieve only limited recovery from the pandemic due to long‑standing structural challenges in 2021. Small island developing States will need a new and recalibrated financing mechanism to reclaim progress eroded and address high levels of debt. She also emphasized that prevailing conditions point to the need for debt forgiveness into 2022.
The pandemic is only one among many challenges CARICOM faces in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, she said. Their classification as middle-income countries excludes them from accessing concessional financial mechanisms, which restricts them from considering and appropriately addressing structural obstacles. A multidimensional vulnerability index is needed to build resistance to future shocks. Adding that the region continues to grapple with the destructive effects of climate change, she emphasized the urgent need for significant emissions reduction in developed nations.
WALTER WEBSON (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States and aligning himself with the Group of 77, said managing the pandemic is currently the primary focus of his region. All resources are being shifted in that direction to ensure the Alliance has a population to recover with when it moves to that phase of the pandemic, a stark reality which many small islands face. This reality becomes even more glaring, as the region confronts the challenges of climate change — more frequent and intense storms, sea-level rise, droughts and increased temperatures. These challenges lead to food insecurity, high energy costs and displacement of peoples and lands. The question then begs to be asked: “How much more must we suffer before the international community seriously considers the vulnerabilities of small island States?” It is vital that high emitters fulfil their obligations under the Paris Agreement and move the accord to full implementation mode.
His region believes that the Second Committee’s mission is two-fold — to cover relevant issues in the current development agenda and address new and emerging challenges faced by developing countries, he said. “Year after year when the Committee meets, the development agenda remains under threat,” he added, as developing countries all have specific challenges that either hinder or completely stagnate development growth. “Unless we address these issues as a Committee, I am afraid we will not be able to achieve the 2030 Agenda.” For over 30 years, his bloc has been calling for special attention to inherent challenges of small islands States, believing that responses to their sustainable development should be better tailored to unique development needs. COVID-19 has uprooted lives and reversed hard-earned development gains, but Alliance nations were already in danger of failing to achieve full implementation of the 2030 Agenda prior to the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many underlying flaws of the multilateral system, as well as the need for continued and effective partnerships, he continued. This year, again, due to COVID-19 and protocols in place, the Committee will be unable to fully address agenda items before it. However, the bloc intends to fully use the limited space it is afforded this session to continue addressing its high priority issues. Stressing that time is not on his region’s side, he called on all delegations to support Alliance priorities, as it will support those of others. Currently, small island States are facing harsh socioeconomic fallout from business disruptions, sporadic island closures and lockdowns, a plummeting tourist sector and drastic reduction in remittances.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), speaking on behalf of the African Group and aligning himself with the Group, highlighted the importance of removing export barriers to provide African countries with therapeutics and diagnostics and to ensure full access to the COVID-19 vaccines. Noting that climate change impacts pose an existential threat to many African countries, including African small island developing States, he called for transformative action to implement the Paris Agreement and to focus on the needs of developing and least developed countries in Africa.
He stressed the urgent need to provide African countries with an effective economic stimulus package that incorporates debt relief and deferred payments, including through the waiver of all interest payments on bilateral and multilateral debt, noting that addressing the liquidity needs of low- and middle-income countries is vital to pre-empt the larger threat of insolvency. He called on development partners to respect their commitments related to transfer of technology and financing, in particular ODA and climate financing.
TIJJANI MUHAMMAD-BANDE (Nigeria), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said there are no easy solutions to the Committee’s work, yet it must be transparent, commit to actions and long-term investments, and more effective international cooperation. A universal, rules-based, open, non‑discriminatory and equitable trading system plays a critical role in stimulating economic growth and development. Fair and equitable trade is necessary to foster a realistic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, build resilience to future shocks and pursue transformative development strategies to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. Combating illicit financial flows and ensuring the recovery and return of illicitly acquired assets can provide immediate resources to finance development in the COVID-19 era and beyond. The global community needs to ensure that development gains are not eroded by corruption, which fuels irregular migration patterns. This can have unwholesome consequences for inter-State and human relations. For this reason, Nigeria welcomed the report of the High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda. It asks for the political will of Member States to support the panel’s recommendations for systemic reforms.
The representative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) presented the Secretary-General’s report on science, technology and innovation for sustainable development. The report notes that a second technological wave is based on artificial intelligence, robotics, the “Internet of Things”, blockchain and other technologies associated with industry. This wave is in its early stage. It states that Governments and enterprises in many parts of the world have scaled-up investments in innovation, but increased investment has not translated into equal access to benefits of these innovations.
Outlining areas for further policy guidance, the report highlights strengthening research cooperation and science and policy interfaces, promoting North–South, South–South and triangular cooperation on science, technology and innovation. Other areas include working towards more equitable access to scientific knowledge, technologies and information on successful and innovative business models, as well as promoting an inclusive debate on frontier technology for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), presented the agency’s latest report on Culture for Development. Highlighting culture’s contribution to economic and social development, as well as increased investment in it, he said UNESCO aims to increase efforts to adapt culture to the new digital environment. It can be a productive sector — an economic stimulus, as well as an engine of development. When a delegate pointed out that culture itself is not a Sustainable Development Goal, he said it is linked to education, urban policies and climate change, covering many areas relating to sustainable development. “This is why UNESCO would like each SDG [Sustainable Development Goal] to include a point on culture. Culture helps to fight against inequalities, against racism and against a lot of things related to the SDGs,” he said.
The representative of Guinea, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, said it is vital to adopt a coordinated approach in addressing the digital divide, improving Internet access and boosting connectivity in developing countries for development. It is undeniable that globalization has assisted with various aspects of development but has also brought challenges that should be addressed at the global level.
The 2030 Agenda will provide needed educational opportunities in digital mechanisms, he added, which can then be used for development projects. The Group encourages the use of technology for new products, although compensation may be needed for loss of jobs. Emphasizing the benefits of international cooperation, he said his Group needs broadened access to financial services and cross-border payments, as it is concerned about an impending economic financial and food crisis due to COVID‑19.
The representative of Kazakhstan, speaking for the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said his bloc sees culture as a drive for the Sustainable Development Goals, especially those related to poverty eradication, education, gender equality and sustainable production and consumption. Many nations in the Group have also been challenged by climate change and debt service. As the pandemic has highlighted the need for digital connectivity, he said, more needs to be done to close the digital divide. Efforts are needed to improve connectivity in South Asia and the Internet in Southeast Asia.
The Group would like to see the needs of landlocked developing countries highlighted in the Secretary-General’s next report, he said. They are still marginalized in respect to ICT, which would help in various economic avenues, including their potential to improve exports. Calling on multilateral and regional banks to make investments in ICT, he said this would help ensure progress in reaching the 2030 Agenda.
The representative of Morocco, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the growing digital divide is exacerbated by the pandemic. While digital technology has been at the forefront of solutions to the crisis, Africa has not been able to seize opportunities with only 28 per cent of the population having access to the Internet. The World Bank estimates that a $100 billion investment is needed for good access to the Internet by 2030. However, policy support, in addition to capital investments, is also needed. Noting that the pandemic has accelerated emergent technology leading to notable innovation, she highlighted that 13 per cent of all new and modified health technology is African. These include COVID-19 tracker applications, and handwashing stations. Recognizing the opportunities abound for Africa to benefit from and engage in e-commerce, she called on development partners, international financial institutions and the private sector to place ICT at the centre of sustainable development responses.
The representative of Guatemala, speaking on behalf of the Like‑Minded Group of Supporters of Middle‑Income Countries, said a revamp of development financing is needed in his bloc. While middle‑income countries represent 75 per cent of the world’s population, they face diverse and significant challenges to achieving sustainable development, such as inadequate health care and education systems, economic bottlenecks and economic dependence.
Expressing concern about the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in low-and middle-income countries, he said that the vaccine must be treated as global public goods worldwide. Access to modern technology has boosted productivity, helped reduce poverty and helped increase resilience to external shocks. In that regard, the potential uses of modern technology are important to middle-income countries in accessing development finance. However, their inability to access resources to new borrowing has impeded their efforts to respond to the planetary crises. Enhanced cooperation is needed to tackle socioeconomic inequalities, empower women and foster sustainable development.
The representative of Malaysia, speaking on behalf of ASEAN, said the bloc was continuing to pursue connectivity in the region. The Association is attempting to emerge more resilient from the pandemic, to bolster society and achieve long-term growth. ASEAN adopted a work plan on education for 2021‑2025 to improve educational opportunities, especially in ICT.
The bloc is also working to enable financial inclusion in the region, implementing a previous ASEAN agreement. Enhancing cybersecurity for operations is key, especially with the rise in global attacks and threats, is vital, as is having an accessible and operable ICT in the region. ASEAN aims to adopt a new normal, as it builds back better, recommitting itself to using ICT in achieving the 2030 Agenda.
The representative of China said their country is working to achieve a better life through the Sustainable Development Goals, with the view of building a global development community. China has relied on technical innovation and is seeking to combine innovation with high quality. It is important to pursue cooperation in science and technology, working jointly to implement the 2030 Agenda. In fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, it has used new technology for prevention and control. It is important to make vaccines more available in developing countries, he said.
The representative of India said that science, technology and innovation are critical in addressing COVID‑19 response and recovery. Through technology, India was able to supply food, transfer cash, and provide cooking fuel. Further, 800 million Indian women entered the economic system, and an open platform facilitated the delivery of vaccines to millions. However, issues such as misinformation and infiltration of cyberinfrastructure threaten the digital divide. Noting the importance of technology cooperation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, she said that India has been sharing its experience and expertise with development partners. Deepened economic insecurity has made collaborative work in public health, research and development, and the securing of supply chains essential to strengthening the global economy for the benefit of all.
The representative of Ecuador, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Like‑minded Group of Supporters of Middle‑Income Countries, said COVID‑19 shone a spotlight on the importance of ICT in health technology and financial operations, but also made bare the huge digital divide. The United Nations system must continue its actions to coordinate support for middle-income countries in COVID—19 recovery efforts and programmes. Culture is essential to sustainable development and is an important factor for social inclusion, generating jobs and supporting efforts to eradicate poverty.
The representative of Singapore, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and ASEAN, said that, while some have been able to leverage the trend towards rapid digital transformation to foster growth, many have been unable to harness the use of digital technologies and solutions. She called for an inclusive, multilateral approach to managing the digital sphere, noting that the United Nations Global Digital Compact is an important proposal that warrants further discussion. The international community must also make a concerted effort to find concrete digital solutions for greater efficiency, productivity and optimal resource management. She added that rapid digital transformation requires an open, inclusive global digital architecture achieved through common standards and interoperable systems, as both societies and economies benefit from seamless connectivity.
The representative of Mexico highlighted the importance of ICT in achieving both the Sustainable Development Goals and an inclusive recovery from the pandemic. Without such technology, it would have been impossible to develop a COVID-19 vaccine so rapidly. He expressed concern, however, over a lack of access to the vaccine. Noting that 57 per cent of the world’s population has no access to the Internet, he pointed out the risk that “the digital divide becomes the development divide”, and further, called for greater participation for women and girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. “Leaving no one behind means leaving no one offline,” he added.
The representative of El Salvador, aligning himself with the Group of 77, said people are living in an increasingly globalized world. South‑South and triangular cooperation are needed for technology transfer and to assist with the debt needs of developing countries. Universal affordable access to ICT is vital for closing the digital divide and promoting productivity as well as social inclusion. The launch of El Salvador’s Digital Agenda 2020 to 2030 gives opportunities to develop digital skills by providing laptops and bringing technology to historically stigmatized communities.
The representative of Morocco said the COVID—19 crisis has emphasized the vital role played by ICT, along with the need to address the digital divide among developing countries, especially in Africa. Welcoming the Secretary-General’s initiative to build a panel and road map on digital cooperation, she said China is willing to cooperate with the panel to build cooperation favourable for digital transfer, especially for remote areas. The digital sector is cross-cutting and should be seen as such, affecting diverse areas of the economy.
The representative of Iran, associating himself with the Group of 77, said that one reason behind unequal access to ICT is the use of unilateral coercive measures and illegal sanctions by some countries. To resolve this problem, the international community should reject such illegal acts and move towards their total elimination. He added that developed countries and relevant stakeholders must provide enhanced cooperation to developing countries to address the digital divide. Discussions regarding ICT must be guided by specific principles of international law, including State sovereignty, non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries and accountability by platforms and transnational corporations. Globalization can play a pivotal role in advancing sustainable development, but that will require multilateral efforts to make it more inclusive, equitable and sustainable, he said.
The representative of Saudi Arabia pointed out that the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of real-time connectivity that facilitates communication and work, urging that digital transformation has been necessary to adapt to the challenges posed by COVID-19. Her country’s recovery plan has embraced digital transformation, resulting in national strategies for digital and economic growth and the development of a robust digital system to achieve the 2030 Agenda. She also called for the international community to pool its efforts in this area and to provide capacity-building assistance to help bridge the digital divide.
The representative of Kenya, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that about 3.6 billion people across the globe, largely from developing nations, do not have access to the Internet, contributing to widening inequalities in socioeconomic opportunities. She called on all stakeholders to act so that the benefits of ICT extend to all, unlocking the potential of the African continent and all developing nations. Noting the role of ICT in the context of COVID‑19 response and recovery, she said that Kenya has placed ICT at the centre of its development plans to transform its economy. It has also prioritized provision of broadband access so that its citizens can access the Internet.
The representative of Cuba, aligning himself with the Group of 77, noted the unprecedented socioeconomic impact of the pandemic and stressed the need to ensure that the United Nations role in promoting multilateralism remains clear. Any protectionism or coercion must be avoided, as must any actions that defend strictly national interests. He added that the international community must work towards collective solutions to the challenges that all of humanity is facing.
The representative of Burkina Faso, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that digital technology has played a vital role in addressing the challenges posed by the pandemic and in improving resilience, as it has accelerated the use of big data and artificial intelligence in the public sector and has led to better tracking of infections. For its part, the Government has taken this opportunity for structural digital transformation to create an environment for wealth creation, to improve public services and to promote a secure cyberspace by combating cybercrime. The pandemic has also demonstrated the pressing need to prioritize science, technology and innovation in policymaking and when allocating resources, he added.
The representative of Nepal, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said that the pandemic and impacts of climate change have jeopardized the ability of States such as hers to compete with advanced societies. ICT has proved essential, including in the COVID‑19 context, in delivering health services and providing continuity in jobs and education. Achieving universal connectivity and broadband coverage remains a priority to address the digital divide. Similarly, effective governance of ICT has become urgent, as economies, societies and systems continue to be digitized. Noting the need for ongoing support of development partners, she said that Nepal is working on unlocking the potential of digital technology in various sectors, including finance, tourism, education and health.
The representative of Bangladesh, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said the pandemic has put a spotlight on the role of ICT, as well as on the immense value of culture on development. Rising nationalism and the culture of exclusion, however, are depriving millions of basic supplies and services, digital education and digital health solutions. Noting that a multi-pronged approach is needed, he called on development partners to facilitate the transfer of technology and invest in digital infrastructure development. It is important to prepare future generations so that they may reap the full benefits of technology in an equitable manner. Emphasizing that no one must be left behind in development, he said that Bangladesh is working with others to facilitate knowledge exchange and find innovative solutions to address the global crisis.
The representative of Armenia, aligning herself with the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries and the Like-Minded Group of Countries Supporters of Middle‑Income Countries, said that ICT has shaped new models for the exchange of knowledge and information and have mitigated the challenges posed by the pandemic by facilitating the spread of global events and infection data. These technologies form the cornerstone of Armenia’s development agenda, and the Government has established benchmarks relating to the same to promote the development of high-tech industry within the country. Armenia is also home to creative educational centres designed to introduce teens to the fields of science, technology and engineering. Noting that women and girls are still underrepresented in these fields, she said that Armenia prioritizes their stronger participation.
The representative of the Philippines, aligning himself with the Group of 77, ASEAN and the Like-Minded Group of Countries Supporters of Middle-Income Countries, detailed his country’s domestic agenda relating to ICT, including the Government’s work to redesign public services, to improve citizen access to digital opportunities, to promote cybersafe infrastructure and governance, to improve broadband Internet access and to create “smart cities” that harness the power of technology to foster a culture of digital innovation. He also underscored that the economies of middle-income countries have been severely impacted by the pandemic, and that these States are facing serious development challenges, including in the areas of poverty eradication, addressing inequality and protecting the environment. To address these issues, he called on the United Nations — in consultation with international financial institutions — to develop transparent measures of progress on sustainable development that go beyond per‑capita income.