FAO Liaison Office in New York

The digital divide risks becoming the ‘New Face of Inequality’


FAO participates in the General Assembly’s High-level Thematic Debate on Digital Cooperation and Connectivity

April 27, New York

The President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, convened a one-day High-level Thematic Debate on Digital Cooperation and Connectivity on Tuesday, 27 April 2021, in the General Assembly Hall in the United Nations Headquarters. This Thematic Debate focused on “Whole-of-Society Approaches to End the Digital Divide” and highlighted the importance and urgency of political commitment at the highest levels to address the digital divide in support of COVID-19 adaptation, response and recovery efforts, in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The discussion reflected the unparalleled pace of global digitization and drew attention to the widening digital divide which risks becoming the ‘New Face of Inequality’, with almost half of the world’s population still offline.

FAO: bridging the digital divide requires more than just access

Technology can help us address systemic threats such as COVID-19, climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation and pollution – but only if we build the infrastructure, develop safe, trustworthy and inclusive digital technologies and regulatory framework with this strategic intent. Multilateral and multistakeholder cooperation around a common vision and Action Agenda is key to close the digital divide.

Data, digital technologies and related innovations are sweeping the planet at an exponential rate with the potential to unleash major structural transformations in the global economy. Speaking in the “Greening the Digital Future: Local, Regional and Multilateral Partnership” Panel,FAO Chief Economist, Maximo Torero, underlined that we need to connect the unconnected, but we must do so sustainably. The digital divide is not only about access but also about content and capabilities. We need to work to increase digital literacy and develop the capacity for innovative solutions. Closing the digital divide requires investment, but it must be inclusive. Simply introducing technologies is not enough to generate results. Social, economic and policy systems will need to provide the basic conditions and enablers for digital transformation.

Maximo Torero also noted that digital technologies can help us increase efficiency and productivity in agriculture and can help us use our natural resources better. In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, digital agriculture has the potential to deliver economic benefits through increased agricultural productivity, cost efficiency and market opportunities. It can also generate social and cultural benefits through increased communication and inclusivity and environmental benefits through optimized resource use as well as adaptation to climate change. Digital technologies can help us monitor agricultural activities, help us identify and understand problems, and help us to come up with viable and innovative solutions.

Maximo Torero was joined on the panel by Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO, Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL); Luis Neves, Executive Director, Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative; Eliane Ubalijoro, Executive Director, Sustainability in the Digital Age; Fred Onduri Machulu, Coordinator on technology transfer, LDC Group on Climate Change; and Rose Mwebaza, Director, UN Climate Technology Center and Network (Moderator).