Internet Governance and sustainable development: the case of Small Island Developing States

7 November 2012 - A Workshop on Internet Governance for Development in Baku, Azerbaijan

Agenda

The United Nations Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS; www.un.org/special-rep/ohrlls/sid/list.htm) states that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are numerically significant being presently comprised of fifty-two (52) Nation States.

Currently, SIDS can be found in roughly in three regions: - the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea (AIMS) Region (comprising 8 Nation States); - the Caribbean Region (comprising 16 Nation States); and - the Pacific Region (comprising 14 Nation States). Such numbers do not include those SIDS which are not UN-member States, but though not counted these island states are nonetheless recognised by the UN-OHRLLS as SIDS.

The Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA; adopted in 1994) which was further complemented by the Mauritius Strategy of Implementation (MSI 2005 and MSI+5 Outcome document), both recognised that despite being afflicted by economic difficulties and confronted by development imperatives consistent to developing countries generally; SIDS have their own peculiar vulnerabilities and characteristics. Such difficulties in the pursuit of sustainable development are particularly unique, severe and complex.

The following serves as an identification of some of the critical issues for SIDS:

Small size - There are many disadvantages that derive from small size, including a narrow range of resources, which forces undue specialisation; excessive dependence on international trade causing vulnerability to global developments; high population density, which increases the pressure on already limited resources; over-use of resources and premature depletion; relatively small watersheds and threatened supplies of fresh water; costly public administration and infrastructure, including transportation and communication; and limited institutional capacities, domestic markets and export volumes leading to non-existent economies of scale.
Isolation – Due to their geographic dispersion, isolation from markets and remote locations many SIDS are disadvantaged economically by small economies of scale, high freight costs and reduced competitiveness.
Climate change and sea-level rise – Due to the coastal zone concentration in a limited land area, the adverse effects of climate change and sea-level rise present significant risks to the sustainable development of SIDS, and the long-term effects of climate change may threaten the very existence and viability of some SIDS.
Natural and environmental disasters – SIDS are located among the most vulnerable regions in the world in relation to the intensity and frequency of natural and environmental disasters and their increasing impact, and face disproportionately high economic, social and environmental consequences.
Brain drain - Owing to their small size there are not sufficient jobs for specialised fields nor can local industry compete with international multinational corporations for talented workers therefore many educated citizens leave SIDS to seek out job opportunities and enhanced financial gain in developed countries.
Reliance on Agriculture, Fishing and Tourism- generally owing to their common colonial past the majority of SIDS rely on Agriculture, Fishing and Tourism for income. These sectors have been particularly hit by climate change, natural disasters and the Global Economic Downturn, making SIDS in dire need of diversification of their economies and retraining of unskilled workers to ensure sustainability.

These critical issues accentuate other challenges facing developing countries in general, for instance, difficulties in benefiting from trade liberalisation and globalisation; heavy dependence on welfare and external funding which can be easily impacted by global economic decline; energy dependence and access issue; the limited freshwater resources; limited land resulting in land degradation, which affects waste management, and vulnerable biodiversity resources. (Source: http://sidsnet.org)

Indeed, issues relating to and resulting from the marginalisation of SIDS from the international Internet Governance (IG) debate are increasingly becoming critical as the Internet Governance (IG) agenda and discussions evolve and move rapidly forward to conclusions. Being so widely dispersed and twinned in regions with larger, more developed neighbouring countries means that such discussions pass without the meaningful input of the 52 SIDS.

This is due in part by lack of capacity and in part by their minority voice in the regions identified. On the path to the June 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) and leading to WSIS +10, a comprehensive SIDS position on Internet Governance issues is required, at all levels including Governmental/Public Sector, Academia, Private Sector and Civil Society.

This Workshop attempts, for the first time, to co-ordinate the SIDS IG Agenda and to address the potential impact of IG issues on human, social and economic development within the SIDS.

The Workshop will take the form of an interactive session with representative Workshop Panelists from the SIDS regions as well as stakeholder organisations and will seek to address the following at a minimum:

Access & Diversity in SIDS
Critical ICT Infrastructure and Internet Resource Issues in SIDS
How ICT can assist with the challenges and opportunities brought about by Emerging Issues in SIDS
Specific IG Issues relevant to SIDS and evaluation of Commonality of such IG issues amongst SIDS
Evaluation of the commonality and need for Capacity Development in the areas of Security, Openness and Privacy among SIDS
Development of an Action Plan and Research Agenda for moving forward