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Leaders Gather to Unlock Investment and Accelerate Off-grid Deployment

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The fourth edition of the International Off-Grid Renewable Energy Conference and Exhibition in Singapore is underway, gathering more than 300 high-level policy, intergovernmental, private sector and non-governmental participants from around the world. Delegates are sharing ideas and insights on the future of standalone and mini-grid renewable energy solutions and are identifying ways to scale-up their adoption.

Among the central themes in discussion is the challenge of connecting financing and investment with business owners and electricity consumers in developing countries – many of whom lack the resources and experience necessary to successfully secure finance. With standalone and mini-grid renewable energy solutions fueling new business opportunities and supporting improved livelihoods for both sellers and consumers, participants have heard various perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of a decentralised energy system.

The Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency, Mr. Adnan Z. Amin, outlined in his opening speech that the business case for off-grid renewables had never been stronger – a fact widely recognised by the private sector, from start-up entrepreneurs to large scale international firms. He stressed that what will bring power to the un-electrified is not development aid, but viable and sustainable commercial activity. A point the off-grid business community widely agreed on as the conference continued to share experiences and showcase good practices.

Habiba Ali, the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Sosai Renewable Energies Company from Nigeria, underlined that what was needed is not new thinking, but learning from successful models and examples around the world, and finding ways to replicate them to the extent possible in new countries and for different communities.

Harish Kande, co-founder of SELCO Foundation located in Bangalore encouraged industry to look beyond the opportunity off-grid presents for lighting and mobile phones, but to consider renewables in a more fundamental way with direct impact on livelihoods. Finance, he indicated, remains an impediment to current efforts but there are enormous socio-economic returns for the world if energy access can be prioritised locally.

Off-grid renewable energy can go beyond the energy access goal under SDG 7, confirmed Kaveh Zahedi, the Deputy Executive Secretary for Sustainable Development at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. He outlined that four million premature deaths linked to indoor air pollution could be tackled by increasing access to clean, low-cost energy. The role of decentralised renewable energy in tackling health will be discussed further at the Renewable Energy Solutions for Healthcare Facilities conference that follows IOREC.

A discussion on the socio-economic benefits of off-grid renewable energy on day two, brought together practitioners from the field showcasing real life examples of the impact decentralised solutions are having on rural lives.

So what will it take to ensure we leave nobody behind by 2030? Itamar Orlandi, Head of Frontier Power Bloomberg New Energy Finance fueled the debate with new estimates that universal access to energy requires USD 350 billion of investment. With grid extensions to remote communities likely to raise the cost of power, off-grid solutions led by renewables based technologies are the most effective way to achieve that access.

Better livelihoods and improved health through energy access delivered by off-grid renewable energy cannot be achieved without the policies in place to support it. To better understand what those policies are, IRENA took the opportunity to launch a new report on the policy and regulatory frameworks shaping the sector today.

At the conclusion of the event, the Director-General spoke of the inspiring that this had IOREC had been an enriching experience, saying that he was struck by the tremendous sense of optimism present in an event where participants from around the world came to find shared experiences and share inspiring stories.

In partnership with the Alliance for Rural Electrification, IOREC took place alongside other high-level discussions during Singapore International Energy Week including the Association of South East Asian Nations Energy (ASEAN) Ministers Meeting, chaired by Singapore and is co-located with the Asia Clean Energy Summit.

The two-day event is followed by the Renewable Energy Solutions for Healthcare Facilities conference, organised by IRENA on 2 November.

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How can digital technology support gender equality in the MENA region?

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The exponential growth of digital technology creates new opportunities for women to engage in the digital economy, including e-commerce. This can enable access to new markets for imports and exports, thereby connecting women-led businesses to the rest of the world.  In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, these opportunities must be seized, even if at present women in most of the MENA countries generally have lower access to digital technology than men. Closing the skills gap by training women in leadership and developing women’s business skills will facilitate the creation of start-up businesses and generate thousands of jobs that will transform the economy of the region.

On the occasion of the 63rd session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), UNIDO, together with the Permanent Missions of Italy and Jordan, Morocco’s Fédération des Technologies de l’Information, des Télécommunications et de l’Offshoring, FAO, ITU and UN Women, jointly hosted a side-event to address the question, “How can digital technology support gender equality in the MENA region?”

In her opening remarks, Sima Sami Bahous, the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations, said, “Jordan believes that digitalization leads to justice, inclusion and equality. We also believe that our efforts are well-focused on bridging the divide between men and women in the digital divide. We also believe that good governance is important for our drive for social inclusion and human resource development. These are the major issues that we need to look at and to see how they could best serve gender equality.”

In a panel discussion that followed, participants considered the practices for supporting gender equality in the MENA region that can be leveraged by digital technology. There was an emphasis on the power of designing training tool-kits for women in order to facilitate an understanding of how technology can be used to run their businesses more effectively and sustainable. A wide range of practices were presented, from the use of blockchain technology to track the quality of agricultural supplies to reaching new markets for import and export by use of new digital platforms. There was agreement that women must be included in the design of ICT infrastructure to tackle challenges such as lack of access to cash, capital and to basic technology.

A new major trend to be considered is cyber security. Ninety percent of the future workforce will require cyber security training as a part of ICT training and this could become a major generator of jobs for women in the MENA region.

Another issue discussed was how ICT can facilitate women’s empowerment in rural regions. The importance of strengthening the digital ecosystem was emphasized, in particular by boosting infrastructure in rural regions through enhanced gender-sensitive investments in digital infrastructure.

Mariangela Zappia, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, said, “For the Italian government, there is a growing awareness of how the digital economy can represent a powerful tool to transform the ways in which women live and work…Gender mainstreaming is an integral part of Italy’s development cooperation programme, especially in the Mediterranean and sub-Sahara regions, and in this regard, I would like to highlight the programme that we run together with UNIDO: Promoting Women Empowerment for Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development in the MENA region.”

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Artificial Intelligence and Frontier Technologies for Open Educational Resources

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The Artificial Intelligence and Frontier Technologies for Open Educational Resources (OER) workshop was part of the ‘Learning and Skills sessions’ held during UNESCO’s Mobile Learning 2019  (5 March 2019, UNESCO Headquarters, Paris), which focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI). The workshop presented the latest developments on how AI and frontier technologies can be used to share, use and develop OER, within the framework of the Ljubljana OER Action Plan and the current Draft UNESCO OER Recommendation.

The session highlighted how the fact that technologies have a significant potential to accelerate progress and support the development of inclusive Knowledge Societies based on human rights and the achievement of gender equality and empowerment.  From this perspective Open Educational Resources (OER)  – learning materials available on an open license which can be shared, modified and developed – is critical for progress towards the achievement of all 17 Sustainable development goals, and in particular Quality education (Goal 4), Gender equality (Goal 5), Reduced inequalities within and across countries (Goal 10) and Partnerships for goals (Goal 17).

Ms Zeynep Varoglu, Programme Specialist for ICT in Education, Communication and Information Sector, provided background on the Ljubljana OER Action Plan and the UNESCO draft OER Recommendation process, underscoring the importance of knowledge sharing for global development, and the key role of OER in this process.  Mr Mitja Jemrol, UNESCO OER Chair from Jozef Stefan Institute underscored that the benefits of AI in OER are immense, in particular for areas such as translation, personalization of resources and identification of resources for sharing, re-mixing. Ms Perrine de Coëtlogon, Chargée de mission Blockchain & Education, University of  Lille  outlined how blockchain has been used to support recognition and rewarding in other areas of education, and holds great potential for tracking the mix and remix of OER. Ms Shani Evenstein Chairperson, Wikipedia & Education User Group highlighted that Wikidata is the biggest OER that humanity has ever been created. Ms Evenstein outlined how AI is currently used by Wikidata to meet the three main challenges of it faces: updating of data, querying of specific questions, and the maintenance of a central database for libraries and museums worldwide.

The common theme echoed through all presentations is the potential for the revolutionary role AI and frontier technologies can play in mainstreaming OER and fostering inclusive Knowledge Societies.

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OECD urges more action on bridging digital divides, boosting skills and enhancing access to data

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The digital transformation is well under way, yet its scope and speed varies greatly across countries, sectors, people and places. Going digital will only fully benefit economies and societies if governments step up efforts to prepare businesses, people and policies for a digital world, the OECD said today.

More people are connected to the Internet than ever before, but gaps persist and new ones may emerge, according to data presented during the OECD’s Going Digital Summit taking place in Paris on 11-12 March. More than four in 10 rural households in OECD countries don’t have access to the fast fixed broadband needed to support the Internet of Things, whereas nearly nine in 10 households in urban areas have fast connections. A striking gap also remains between the way people with low and high levels of education use the Internet: over 40 percentage points’ difference in the case of Internet banking.

A digital divide by gender sees women lagging behind in information and communications technology (ICT) professions, and more than twice as many young men as young women are able to program. In some countries, the gender divide in Internet usage is still too high.

“The digital transformation is affecting every aspect of our lives. It is redefining social and economic interactions; it is raising concerns about jobs, skills, privacy and security. And it is testing our policy frameworks as we try to balance innovations that can greatly improve people’s well-being with many other concerns involving privacy, security, competition or equality, to mention just a few,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “We have a responsibility to get the digital transformation right so it empowers and improves everybody’s lives.”

The digital transformation of economies and societies brings a significant training challenge. Only 31% of adults have sufficient problem-solving skills to succeed in a digital world, and the highly skilled tend to benefit more from digital opportunities. Training must target those most in need, particularly low-skilled workers of whom only 40% receive firm-based training compared to 73% of high-skilled workers.

Data and data flows are an increasingly important source of value creation. Every day, data is produced equivalent to about 1.25 billion DVDs. Creating more value in the digital age requires enhancing access to and sharing of data, promoting interoperable privacy regimes to facilitate cross-border data flows, and opening up government data while taking account of national and private security concerns.

Broader concerns over online privacy and trust must also be addressed, as well as the impact of social networks on people’s mental health and on democracy. Cyberbullying is a growing challenge, with nearly one in ten 15-year-olds saying they are subject to it. The rapid development of Artificial Intelligence is revolutionising production and science and bringing direct benefits to consumers through applications like smart home appliances, improved healthcare and fraud detection but AI is also raising trust, safety and accountability concerns The OECD is seeking to address these by designing a set of guiding principles for AI.

Other key findings and recommendations include:

The Internet of Things is growing so fast that by 2022 three devices will be connected for every person in the world. But network capacity often lags behind. There are only seven fibre subscriptions per 100 people in the OECD area. Promoting competition and removing barriers to investment in infrastructure, especially fibre, can help increase access.

Most people, firms and governments are connected, but few are advanced users. Only 11% of small firms perform big data analysis compared to 33% of large ones. Governments can encourage more-sophisticated use of digital tools by investing in ICTs and skills.

Innovation is increasingly digital and data-driven, but not all countries innovate in the same way. Over 2013-16, about 33% of OECD country patents were in ICT compared to about 60% in China. Governments can boost innovation by promoting entrepreneurship, supporting basic research, and investing in R&D, patents and software.

The digital transformation is changing the world of work. OECD estimates show that automation may affect almost half of all jobs in the future, but four out of ten jobs created in the past decade were in highly digital-intensive sectors. It is vital that governments ensure fair transitions from declining to expanding job areas and strike a balance between flexibility and mobility on one hand and job stability on the other.

Trust fundamentally underpins the digital transformation, but almost a third of Internet users mistrust social and professional networks and 15% of EU citizens do not shop or bank online because of security concerns. Digital security risk management and improving online consumer protection should be strategic priorities.

Digital technologies and data transform how countries compete, trade and invest. For example, firms in the most digital-intensive sectors enjoy a 55% higher mark-up than other firms, and cross-border acquisitions of digital-intensive firms grew 20 percentage points more than those in other sectors over 2007-15. Reducing barriers to trade and investment, and addressing changing dynamics, can foster more market openness.

Two reports and an interactive data tool are being launched at the Going Digital Summit:

Going Digital: Shaping Policies, Improving Lives, which presents a comprehensive strategy for policy making in the digital age.

Measuring the Digital Transformation: A Roadmap for the Future, which proposes nine actions to build the next generation of data and indicators capable of dealing with the challenges of the digital transformation.

The online Going Digital Toolkit shows how countries compare in a raft of different areas from digital access and use to market openness, investment and trust, and featuring policy guidance and analysis to help countries realise the promises of digital transformation. 

The OECD Going Digital Summit culminates Phase I of the OECD Going Digital Project, presenting the main findings and policy messages from the last two years of work by the Organisation in this area. The summit brings together high-level policy makers responsible for policies related to the digital economy and key stakeholders, to exchange views and share practices and experiences around the seven pillars of the OECD’s Going Digital integrated policy framework: enhancing access, increasing effective use, unleashing innovation, ensuring jobs, promoting social prosperity, strengthening trust and fostering market openness. The 2019 Ministerial Council Meeting of the OECD, taking place next 22-23 May and chaired by the Slovak Republic, will precisely focus on “Harnessing the Digital Transition for Sustainable Development: Opportunities and Challenges”.

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