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Address by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia H.E. Mr. Sven Mikser at the UN General Assembly Plenary meeting on Impact of rapid technological change on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, 18 October 2018

18.10.2018

Madam President, Mr. Secretary General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

Estonia aligns itself with the statement delivered by the European Union.

In my national capacity, please allow me to thank you for convening this timely debate on impact of rapid technological change on the achievement of SDG-s. Estonia has enjoyed a very particular development path. In 1991, when Estonia regained its independence, Estonia was a recipient of development aid. By 1998, Estonia was already a donor. This accelerated development path was, in no small part, due to adoption of the ICT and e-governance solutions. Digitalization brought Estonia more economic growth, more resource efficiency, and more human development.

Madam President,

Estonia strongly believes in the principles of efficiency, equality and empathy. Estonia wants to improve efficiency in the world, so that we could make better use of our resources. Estonia is a strong advocate for equality, we believe in levelling the playing field for everyone on their path to digitalization. Estonia truly values empathy, we want to help others in their development. Digitalization improves government effectiveness and overall efficiencies, improves transparency and trust in public processes, and enhances citizen engagement to build more inclusive and cohesive societies, and thus it is crucial for achieving the promises of 2030 Agenda.

Furthermore on efficiency – we strongly believe that ICT can revolutionize entrepreneurship, education, employment in general, even healthcare. Digital online services provide economic growth; bring down unnecessary barriers between citizen and state, between businesses and sectors, and exceed geographical limits. Estonia has shared its knowledge with many nations of the world and will continue to do so, in cooperation with UNDP, African Union and all those interested and willing.

Madam President,

Just recently during the High Level week here at the UN, Estonia launched the cooperation project with UNDP to support the development of e-governance. The cooperation project is a major initiative to support the digital transformation of UNDP and developing countries. The aim of the project is to share Estonia’s e-governance expertise with nearly 170 countries and territories. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia provided the seed funding of €102,000 to launch the project.

This project will allow fellow Member States to benefit from Estonia’s experience and hopefully find a way to replicate that model in your respective countries. Certainly, everyone’s digital transformation will be unique, tailored to the particular conditions of the country.  However, without a doubt, the cooperation project has immense potential to have an accelerating effect on development globally. While we are proud to initiate this cooperation project with UNDP,  the seed funding and expertise provided by Estonia, needs to be leveraged and scaled up for the cooperation project fully realize its potential in helping countries to make their digital transformation. I would like to invite all interested partners to join us in this great undertaking to support the digitalization of the world.

Madam President,

No amount of technical expertise or technology will help countries to truly digitalize, unless there is political leadership and political will to drive that process. Therefore, the role of leaders cannot be overemphasized.  I would just like to highlight a few examples from Estonia how digitalization looks like, if political leadership gets it right. For instance, e-ID allows us to sign documents electronically, which brings great economic benefits – the estimate is that Estonia saves 2% of GDP worth of time and money annually by using digital signatures. Secondly, in 2017, 96% of people declared their income tax electronically. Tax declarations are automatically prefilled, making the verification and submission of a declaration a matter of minutes. And last but not least, Estonia is the first country to introduce online elections. More people are willing to cast their vote - thus more democracy.

Madam President,

Despite all the great benefits of digitalization, it is clear, that it is not the cure to all ills. Not only that but it will even present its own set of challenges. However, these obstacles can be overcome, if one keeps working at them. All things considered, Estonia’s experience shows that the benefits far outweigh the risks.  New technologies should always be seen as enablers. They create equal opportunities, if supported by proper policies. The risks related to them should not be ignored – also because they do not replace but rather enhance most of our conventional risks. But well set international legal space should be able to deliver for humankind. The truth is that the world cannot afford not to be digital, if we are to achieve the sustainable development goals. We all need to work together to make it happen, and Estonia is determined to do its part.  

I thank you!

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