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Despite COVID-19 connectivity boost, world’s poorest left far behind 

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Digital connectivity is indispensable to overcome the pandemic, and for a sustainable and inclusive recovery. Photo: United Nations/Chetan Soni

Some 2.9 billion people still have never used the internet, and 96 per cent live in developing countries, a new UN report has found. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the estimated number of people who have gone online this year actually went up, to 4.9 billion, partially because of a “COVID connectivity boost”.   

This is good news for global development, but ITU said that people’s ability to connect remains profoundly unequal – as many hundreds of millions might only go online infrequently, using shared devices or facing connection speeds that hamper their internet use. 

“While almost two-thirds of the world’s population is now online, there is a lot more to do to get everyone connected to the Internet,” Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General said. 

“ITU will work with all parties to make sure that the building blocks are in place to connect the remaining 2.9 billion. We are determined to ensure no one will be left behind.” 

‘Connectivity boost’ 

The UN agency’s report found that the unusually sharp rise in the number of people online suggests that measures taken during the pandemic contributed to the “COVID connectivity boost.” 

There were an estimated 782 million additional people who went online since 2019, an increase of 17 per cent due to measures such as lockdowns, school closures and the need to access services like remote banking.  

Uneven growth 

According to the document, users globally grew by more than 10 per cent in the first year of the COVID crisis, which was the largest annual increase in a decade. But it pointed out that growth has been uneven. 

Internet access is often unaffordable in poorer nations and almost three-quarters of people have never been online in the 46 least-developed countries.  

A ‘connectivity Grand Canyon’ 

Speaking in Geneva, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU said: “The internet divide runs deep between developed and developing countries. Only a third of the population in Africa is using the internet. 

“In Europe, the shares are almost 90 per cent, which is the gap between those two regions of almost 60 percentage points. And there is what the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, has called in his Common Agenda blueprint for the future, “a connectivity Grand Canyon”. 

‘Digitally excluded’ 

The report found that younger people, men and urban dwellers are more likely to use the Internet than older adults, women and those in rural areas, with the gender gap more pronounced in developing nations. 

Poverty, illiteracy, limited electricity access and a lack of digital skills continued to hinder “digitally excluded” communities, ITU noted. 

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Development

Widodo emphasizes importance of G20 focus on resilient health systems,

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The G20 and advanced economies must work together to create a more resilient and responsive global health architecture to face future threats and pandemics, said President Joko Widodo of Indonesia in his address to the Davos Agenda 2022.

He said the International Monetary Fund should be tasked to mobilize resources to revitalize global health architecture. This should include a global contingency fund for medical supplies, building capacity in developing countries to manufacture vaccines and the creation of global health protocols and standards.

“The costs will be much lower than the losses we sustained due to the vulnerability of the system during the pandemic,” he said.

In discussion with Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Widodo highlighted that “the G20 will play an important role in mobilizing the development of this global health architecture” and added: “I trust that advanced economies will not object to supporting such initiatives.”

Widodo – whose country holds the presidency of the G20 during 2022 – invited all global business leaders to contribute their ideas to the G20’s three key goals for 2022: creating a more resilient global health system; optimizing digital technology to support societal transformation; and driving a fair and affordable transition to clean energy and a circular economy. “The benefits must be felt by wider society,” he said, adding that six of Indonesia’s sectors are “wide open” for foreign investment – export-oriented labour-intensive industries (including health), renewable energy, infrastructure, automotive (especially electric vehicles), tourism and value-added mining.

In response to a question on how Indonesia – a nation heavily dependent on coal-fired power – could accelerate its own energy transition, Widodo said that developing countries need technology transfer and financial support from advanced economies to ensure the transition does not burden their citizens. Indonesia needs $50 billion for its renewable power sector and a further $37 billion for forestry, land use and marine sectors. “Concrete outcomes can only be achieved through strong cooperation,” he said. “Technology and financing will be key.”

The president pointed out that, as part of its roadmap to reach net zero by 2060, Indonesia had slashed the coverage area of forest fires sevenfold, from 1.7 million hectares in 2014 to 229,000 hectares in 2021. The number of hotspots fell over the same period from 89,000 to just 1,300. The country has restored 3.74 million hectares of peatlands since 2016 and rehabilitated 50,000 hectares of mangrove forests in the past year. Its mangrove-rehabilitation target is 600,000 hectares by 2024 – the most ambitious such programme in the world, providing, he said, a “carbon sink equivalent to four tropical forests”.

To finance the green transition, Widodo has initiated a carbon trading system that will deliver “results-based payments” for actions that reduce carbon emissions as well as a carbon tax on coal-fired power plants, due to start in April.

“Indonesia has the potential to be a global market leader in carbon trading and is predicted to surpass the carbon trade potential of Peru, Kenya and Brazil, as countries with the same tropical forest cover,” he said. The government also plans to raise capital by issuing environmental and social bonds, and through REDD+ projects that reduce deforestation and promote sustainable forest management.

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Davos Agenda Session on Space and Climate Opens Up New Frontiers

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European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer connected live to a session on Thursday at the Davos Agenda 2022 from the International Space Station, somewhere high above the Pacific, to discuss how space research can improve life on Earth.

While in orbit on a six-month mission with the European Space Agency (ESA), Maurer will support a wide range of science experiments and technological research, including those that address transmissions of disease, the reduction of carbon emissions and human health-related activities. Knowledge gained through his mission will contribute to development that benefits life on Earth.

“We have worked hard in the past few weeks and months to send back cargo that we harvested for scientists to analyse all these samples that we produced in space, and to produce science and knowledge for humanity out of it,” he said.

He added that the cross-country and international collaboration aboard the space station should also be a model for how the world tackles major challenges, such as climate change. From his view, Maurer described the beauty of the planet, but also pointed out that he could see the impact of climate change from space.

“When we fly around the Earth (16 times a day), we cross over areas that are very arid and dry and I can see scars on the planet where people are digging deep to extract resources. So we are actively reshaping the planet. We are cutting down trees and burning down rainforests. I see the flames. I also see the flooding.”

Back on Earth, Al Gore, Vice-President of the United States (1993-2001); Chairman and Co-Founder, Generation Investment Management, explained how space technology and artificial intelligence can help address climate action. He highlighted the work of Climate TRACE, a global coalition created to make meaningful climate action faster and easier by independently tracking greenhouse gas emissions with unprecedented detail and speed.

“Some things you can see directly from space, like methane, but the difficulty of measuring CO2 emissions against a highly varied CO2 background on the Earth make it necessary to use AI to get precision we need,” he said. He added that if you consider something like GPS, it is clear how quickly the opportunities offered by space tech and space exploration can become integrated into our lives.

But the data and knowledge that is gained from space should not be limited to those who own satellites, said Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Technology, Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology of the United Arab Emirates. “If only countries with access to satellites get access to the data, we deny other countries the opportunity to benefit from that knowledge,” she said.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022, space is increasingly crowded and commercialized. While the diversification of actors is for many an exciting development, dated space governance frameworks are coming under considerable pressure, exposing fault lines between the ambitions of different players and the acceptability of their actions.

Echoing this message, Josef Aschbacher, Director-General of the ESA, noted that the volume of satellites indicates that regulation is important.

However, it will have to keep up with a fast-changing industry, which, according to Chris Kemp, the Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Astra, is currently seeing a revolution of sorts. “Access is increasing all the time thanks to significant falls in the cost of putting satellites into space and this has enabled a new generation of entrepreneurs to build companies, to take these companies public and provide new capabilities.”

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Development

World Economic Forum Annual Meeting rescheduled to 22-26 May

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The World Economic Forum is pleased to announce that it will hold its Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, from Sunday 22 to Thursday 26 May. Under the theme, Working Together, Restoring Trust, the Annual Meeting 2022 will be the first global in-person leadership event since the start of the pandemic.

The Annual Meeting 2022, returning to Davos-Klosters after a two-year hiatus, will offer world leaders an opportunity to take stock of the state of the world and shape partnerships and policies for the crucial period ahead.

Topics on the agenda will include the pandemic recovery, tackling climate change, building a better future for work, accelerating stakeholder capitalism, and harnessing the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, said: “After all the virtual meetings taking place in the last two years, leaders from politics, business and civil society have to convene finally in person again. We need to establish the atmosphere of trust that is truly needed to accelerate collaborative action and to address the multiple challenges we face.”

The World Economic Forum will continue to communicate closely with the Swiss government on the public health situation in Switzerland. The meeting will take place as long as all necessary conditions are in place to guarantee the health and safety of its participants and the host community.

During the Davos Agenda 2022, heads of state and government and international organizations shared their priorities for a challenging year ahead. They joined leaders from business and civil society and spoke on the global economic outlook, inequality, healthy futures, climate and resilience.

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