The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs). ITU allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, develops the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and strive to improve access to ICTs to underserved communities worldwide. ITU is committed to connecting all the world's people – wherever they live and whatever their means.
Through ITU’s work, we protect and support everyone's fundamental right to communicate. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets stimulate global action in the coming years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet. As acknowledged by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, “The spread of information and communications technology and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies, as does scientific and technological innovation across areas as diverse as medicine and energy”.
Indeed, increased connectivity, digital technologies, information systems and Internet use have the potential to reduce poverty and create jobs through applications and services, such as e-agriculture and digital finance; help end poverty and hunger; monitor and mitigate climate change and sustaining our natural resources; as well as improved efficiency and transparency. All three pillars of sustainable development – economic development, social inclusion and environmental protection – need ICTs as key catalysts. The development potential of ICT as crosscutting enablers must therefore be fully harnessed for achieving the SDGs.
At the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2018 (PP-18)1 in the United Arab Emirates (29 October to 16th November 2018) ITU members approved the Strategic plan for the Union for 2020-2023 (Resolution 71, Revised Dubai 2018). This Strategic Plan, covering the time-frame 2020-2023, is the first Strategic Plan fully within the time-frame of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The new Strategic Plan clear links to the SDGs and a vision to have an impact in achieving the SDGs. The section entitled Linkages with the Sustainable Development Goals highlights the most relevant SDG Goals for ITU, such as: SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure) and in particular Target 9.c; SDG17 (Partnership for the Goals) as a means of implementation; SDG 4 (Quality Education including Target 4.b); and SDG 5 (Gender Equality, in particular Target 5.b). The section also addresses other SDGs where ICTs, enabled by ITU activities, will have the biggest impacts such as: SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns), SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities), SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG 1 (No Poverty), and SDG 3 (Good-Health and Well-Being). In addition the revised Resolution 200 entitled “Connect 2030 Agenda for global telecommunication/ICT, including broadband, for sustainable development” closely aligns with the SDGs and their timeframe.
PP-18 also re-enforced the linkages between the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Action Lines and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; most notably those where ITU is the sole Action Line facilitator C2 (Information and communication infrastructure), C5 (Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs) and C6 (Enabling environment). The outcome document of the 2015 high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (UNGA Resolution A/70/125), called for close alignment between the WSIS process and the 2030 Agenda.
The effective implementation of the WSIS Action Lines can help accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. To that end, the WSIS SDG Matrix2, coordinated by ITU and developed in collaboration with the different UN Action line Facilitators, clearly shows the linkage between each Action line and the 17 SDGs. In addition, the WSIS Forum, held annually, serves as a key multi-stakeholder platform for discussing the role of ICTs as a means of implementation of the SDGs and targets, and is constantly evolving and strengthening the alignment between these and the WSIS Action Lines. The outcomes of the Forum are submitted to the HLPF32. As a key partner in the WSIS process ITU also contributes to the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), by providing a report of its WSIS implementation activities in order to populate the UN Secretary-General’s annual report, and also provide inputs to be considered in the preparation of the annual ECOSOC Resolutions on the Assessment of the progress made in the implementation of and the follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society, highlighting the cross-cutting role of ICTs in achieving the SDGs.
The governing bodies of the ITU Sectors have also embedded the SDGs as key goals in their activities. In this regard, 2017 marked an important milestone for the global discussion on the contribution of the ICT to the achievement of SDGs. The 7th ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-17), 9-20 October 2017, Buenos Aires, Argentina, was held under the overall theme of "ICT for Sustainable Development Goals” (ICT④SDGs). WTDC-17 provided a unique opportunity for the ITU Membership to discuss the future of the telecommunications and ICT sector and its contribution to the sustainable development. It also defined the contribution of ITU to the attainment of SDGs including SDGs under consideration by HLPF-19 (see below for more details) while underlining the role of WSIS framework as the foundation through which the ITU helps achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Furthermore, the 18th Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR-18), held in Geneva, Switzerland, 9-12 July 2018, under the theme of “New Regulatory Frontiers”, culminated with the adoption by ICT regulators of a set of best practice guidelines on new regulatory frontiers to achieve digital transformation. ITU monitors and tracks evolution of regulatory frameworks, and publishes such results in its ICT Regulatory Tracker. ITU also monitors and quantifies the impact of broadband, digital transformation and the interplay of ICT regulation on the global economy, including digital economy and circular economy, providing evidence of the importance of the regulatory and institutional variable in driving digital growth, and illustrates that broadband technologies, on one hand, and effective ICT regulation, on the other hand, can have positive impact on the growth of national economies and prosperity.
An in-depth view of the role of ICTs and ITU’s contribution to the goals to be reviewed at the 2019 High-Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (Goals 4, 8, 10, 13, 16 & 17) is provided in Annex 1.