President to UN: Pandemic brings global tech, governance opportunities

President Kaljulaid addressing the UN from Pärnu County.
President Kaljulaid addressing the UN from Pärnu County. Source: Social Media

President Kersti Kaljulaid has called on nations to seize the opportunity and change the model of global governance to one that also takes into account cyber security. Addressing both a UN Security Council (UNSC) summit, and the 75th UN General Assembly – this year taking place remotely due to the pandemic – the president also took an optimistic stance on what could be learned from the pandemic, particularly in terms of technological leaps forward.

"The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of technology and has radically changed jobs, education, communication and services," Kaljulaid said.

"Because of these changes, it is important to seize the opportunity to create better rules for participation in the global service market. This is especially important for people who have found it difficult to participate in the job market so far, but who can work online globally. For this, we need a model of global governance that also takes into account cyber security," the president went on, according to spokespersons, also tweeting out the same message.

The president has been based in Pärnu since last week, and was addressing the UNSC and the UN General Assembly via video link, from the municipal government buildings in Häädemeeste, about 40 km south of Pärnu city.

Her presentation focussed on the advantages of digital technology, citing the example of Estonia as the world's first digitally-transformed state, where all public services run online.

"Disruption by pandemic was limited to up-scaling e-education and distant working. We saw less of a scramble than any other country in moving everything online which had previously run on paper," Kaljulaid said, adding that Estonia wants the same situation for the rest of the world.

"We want equal opportunities for people globally to work from distance wherever they are. We want equal opportunities for people with special needs, and for house-bound women, to be able to work through digital means, intermittently as their schedule allows."

President Kaljulaid said she supports UN Secretary General Guterres' call for a global ceasefire, calling on all to to support this by year end, adding that Estonia desires a global free market for labor, which does not require migration, but rather enables people to stay where they are.

By way of example, she said that around 30 percent of jobs in Estonia can be carried out remotely, and the country, as a late industrializer, serves as a role model for countries looking to leapfrog ahead with the help of technologies. 

"In a way, the pandemic and its aftermath gives us an opportunity for a great global technological leap. Digital solutions can make our societies more equal, more resilient, more accessible and sustainable," she went on.

UNSC summit: Old threats not completely gone away

The UNSC summit-level debate on Thursday was chaired by president Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, and aimed to both draw attention to new threats to security and to look towards post-COVID-19 global governance.  

However, digitization requires nations to purge themselves of corruption and bureaucracy in order to be effective, she said, in increasing efficiency and bringing nations closer together. 

This does not mean that long-standing threats have evaporated, she went on, citing ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Syria, and the Sahel – whose peacekeeping efforts Estonia's defense forces contribute to in the French-led Operation Barkhane, in Mali – as well as human rights violations following last month's presidential election in Belarus, and the recent, disastrous explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. 

The president also warned against using the pandemic as a pretext to lift sanctions, restrict humanitarian aid or to have the effect of contributing to the consequences of conflict. 

"New divisions have emerged. This, my friends, is unacceptable," she said. 

The UN General Assembly meeting is taking place virtually this year, with national speeches being supplied by heads of state in the form of pre-recorded videos. 

The president's full speech is here

Estonia holds a non-permanent seat on the UNSC for 2020 and 2021.  


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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