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The Dilemma of the Digital Gap

We are living in the information society era. Smarter and more efficient use of information can help us bridge the digital gap. It can also promote better practices by public and private institutions since the increasing demand for transparency will prevent corruption.
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The United Nations (UN) Secretary General's report on "The Road to Dignity by 2030" highlighted the need for a new framework on sustainable development. This new framework would include financing, technology and investment in development projects and capabilities. On that note, Goal 17 of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focuses on its means of implementation, and establishes targets for each of the proposed categories.

Even with the advances already achieved on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there are new challenges ahead, such as an increase in world population, which is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030. Most of that growth will take place in the poorest countries, combined with an increase in life expectancy at birth. That means, we have to prepare the world for the needs of a significantly larger amount of people, with limited natural and economic resources.

The spillover from the global-financial crisis of 2008 affected cooperation in a negative way. In a resolution of the 65th General Assembly of the UN, it is clearly stated that "the financial and economic crisis... has reversed development gains in many developing countries and threatens to seriously undermine the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals."

Since then, the world's economy has been evolving at a two-speed track. Some countries have lagged behind, while others have experienced a very fragile, but continuous recovery, which means they are in a better position to increase cooperation.

This is where information and communications technologies (ICTs) play a decisive role in ensuring the post-2015 development goals' fulfillment. From the microprocessor (1946) to Facebook (2007), miniaturization technologies, satellite communications, mobile devices, cloud computing and artificial intelligence transformed our habits, made the world smaller, and promoted dialogue among cultures.

However, the truth remains that the digital gap between developed and developing countries, and between urban and rural areas, could represent a big challenge to equality among the world population. So it is important at this point to ensure that education and technology transfer help to assure that ICTs will not become another factor contributing to inequality.

Developed countries have committed themselves to ensure at least 100 billion dollars per year in "climate financing" for developing countries. These resources could be aimed at developing more efficient and environmentally friendly technologies within developing states. They can also be used to reduce the gap in the number of patents registered between the North/South countries, increase productivity within developing countries and help create and implement cleaner technologies.

Means of implementation should be designed taking into account the specific needs of the very poor, landlocked, Small Island, and post-conflict nations. Special needs of middle-income countries should also not be forgotten by developed countries.

The right technologies could aid these states to leapfrog into sustainable development. A lot of the technology needed to achieve or make progress on the proposed SDGs already exists. The problem is the lack of access to these technologies among the countries that most need it.

Goal 17 acknowledges the weight ICTs carry to achieve SDG goals and targets. The fact that ICTs are seen as a means of implementation implies that they go beyond a mere goal and should be seen as an effective tool to solve problems, address difficulties, overcome obstacles and seek solutions for the rest of the objectives.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the development of ICT infrastructures will foster national capacity-building, regional integration, job-creation opportunities, professional advancement and an enabling environment required to implement the new sustainable-development agenda. Making ICTs universally available can deliver important cross-cutting synergies across different sectors of society.

We are living in the information society era. Through technology, we have access to more data than our predecessors could have ever imagined. ICTs can help systematize and allocate all that data so we can do better research toward sustainable development. Smarter and more efficient use of information can help us bridge the digital gap. It can also promote better practices by public and private institutions, since the increasing demand for transparency will prevent corruption.

The issue of financing is crucial to putting this agenda forward. The funding needed to disseminate cutting-edge technology, as suggested by the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development, should come from a combination of public, private, domestic and international sources. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Leadership Council stresses the importance of adopting vehicles like Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Technologies.

In summary, ICTs are pivotal in increasing productivity and competitiveness in nations' economies, which should lead to a more equitable, fair, environmentally preserved and inclusive society, the cornerstone for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 17.

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