The 2016 High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development was the first major review of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs themselves in September 2015.
The HLPF was marked by passionate support for achieving the ambitious goals, and as the President of the General Assembly said in his opening statement, “We should shout from the rooftops that realizing the SDGs is possible with the mix of political ambition, multistakeholder partnerships and relentless focus.”
To that mix, we should add ‘connectivity’. Because without connectivity, it will not just be a question of ‘ensuring that no one is left behind’, but a question of not leaving half of the global population behind.
The latest estimates from ITU, published this week, ICT Facts & Figures 2016, show that even by the end of 2016, more than half the world’s people will still be offline. This is something we must urgently address, as connectivity will be essential to achieving each and every one of the 17 SDGs.
In the world’s 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs), just one in seven people will be online by the end of 2016, according to ITU’s latest estimates. But tremendous progress is being made, especially in Africa, where mobile broadband penetration will grow by over 50% during 2016, to reach 29%, up from just 19% at the end of 2015.
Nonetheless, as several participants noted at the HLPF in New York, we need a paradigm shift if we are to achieve the SDGs, and in particular goal 9c, which calls for us to “significantly increase access to ICT and strive to provide universal and affordable access to Internet in LDCs by 2020”.
This is crucial, because without universal and affordable connectivity we will not be able to address many of the issues raised in the UN Secretary-General’s 2016 Sustainable Development Report – including issues such as the 59 million children of primary school age who are not attending school today; the 38 million deaths annually from non-communicable diseases, most of which are easily-preventable; the 950 million people globally who live with no means of sanitation whatever; and the 50% of children in sub-Saharan Africa under the age of five who do not have registered births.
We have the technology
We have to do more – much, much more – to address this issue and to make sure that everyone, everywhere, understands the importance of ICTs, and their transformative potential in making the world a better place for all.
We need to do more to get the world connected, and to bring the benefits of that connectivity to people wherever they live, and whatever their means. We need to make sure that hospitals are connected to outlying clinics, and that clinics are connected to patients. We need to make sure that universities are connected to schools, and that schools are connected to students of all ages. And we need to make sure that governments are connected to the people they serve.
Once everyone is connected, we will also see extraordinary progress achieved towards each and every one of the SDGs through emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT); Artificial Intelligence (AI); robotics; and data-driven innovation.
While IoT is already well underway in the developed world – with some estimates suggesting 30-50 billion devices connected by 2020 – it is important to note how much it will also benefit populations in developing countries, where low-cost IoT applications could already be used to: check soil conditions in fields; monitor vaccine delivery and storage in real-time; measure air and water pollution levels in real-time; and provide remote diagnosis of diseases – among hundreds of other beneficial applications.
These are all goals that are perfectly achievable, and that we can see achieved within the framework of the Sustainable Development Agenda – and when we succeed, then truly no one will have been left behind.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin @DoreenBogdan has been the Chief of the Strategic Planning and Membership Department since 2008. She was previously the Head of the ITU/BDT Regulatory and Market Environment Division and was responsible for the programmes on Regulatory Reform and Economics and Finance.