Commission on Science and Technology for Development, twenty-seventh session (Opening plenary)

Statement by Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Commission on Science and Technology for Development, twenty-seventh session (Opening plenary)

15 April 2024


Ana Cristina Amoroso das Neves, Chair of the CSTD,

Paula Narvaez, President of the Economic and Social Council and Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations in New York,

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union,

Shamika Sirimanne, Director, Division of Technology and Logistics and her able team,


Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

Dear Friends,

I want to extend a warm and heartfelt welcome to every one of you gathered here today for the 27th annual session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development. Thank you all for coming and thank you all who have collaborated in organizing this important session.  

UNCTAD has proudly served as the secretariat for CSTD since 1993 – a time when the Internet was still in its infancy, where none of us where addicted to our phones, and where artificial intelligence was a term confined to the realm of science fiction.

To say that the times have changed very rapidly is perhaps the greatest understatement of our lifetimes. So, allow me to say something more.

The thing about rapid change is not the rapidity of the change itself. It is the fact that not everything changes at the same speed. And that this creates lags, and creates tensions, and creates imbalances which ultimately challenge our economies, our societies, and our institutions, threatening to leave progress in the hands of a privileged few.

As we convene today, we find ourselves navigating an era brimming with technological advancements and innovations that promise to redefine the boundaries of what is possible. From aggrotech to fintech. From e-governance to e-learning.

For policymakers and business leaders alike, this data-driven, high rate of change means we are navigating unchartered waters. AI, green technologies, and the ever-expanding horizons of the Internet of Things, are redefining industries, labour markets, and the very nature of what it means to be productive.

These so-called ‘frontier’ technologies have experienced tremendous growth in the last two decades. According to our latest Technology and Innovation Report, in 2020, the market value of frontier technologies was already $1.5 trillion. By 2030, we project that this market could reach close to ten trillion, a growth more than twice the size of the entire GDP of India.

Data is the essential oil behind most of these frontier technologies, an increasingly key economic resource, crucial in the future of all decision-making. But, led by data, the digital divide could get wider than ever, a chasm between nations and within them. In the process, this may breed new forms of marginalization fuelled by algorithmic bias, lack of digital literacy and dwindling state capacities.

The risks are real. From cybercrime to the dangers of disinformation and hate speech, we must face the technology’s potential to harm communities and undermine progress. There are security issues, political interference, and a great unknown.

But the biggest risk of all is the risk of leaving billions of people in the developing world behind. In the past 10 years, 3 billion more people went online. But, in 2023, only 37 per cent people in low-income countries used the Internet. And average bandwidth in least developed countries a fifth of the global average.

We must also create a more level playing field for companies to compete in the digital economy. Businesses in developing countries should be able to create and capture value. Developing countries must not be relegated to just using, consuming, and importing data but must have the capabilities and opportunities to innovate, produce, and add-value in the digital economy.

 But the digital economy is increasingly characterized by very high levels of market concentration. along the entire global data value chain –Their actions have implications for all parts of the world – but most countries have limited power to influence the outcome.

This why this year’s CSTD, in the context of the Global Digital Compact and the Summit of the Future, will be absolutely key.

We want the CSTD to be at the forefront of building science, technology, and innovation policy capacity in developing countries, ensuring they are equipped to navigate the technological landscape of tomorrow, and empowered to keep pace with rapid change.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, we will be privileged to hear presentially and virtually from esteemed ministers and leaders from around the globe for those of you that are with us presentially a special thanks for your commitment. I am very eager to hear your unique insights and experiences.

Our agenda for this 27th session is ambitious and forward-looking. It focuses on three critical issues with profound global implications: data for development, international cooperation on STI, and the follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society. Next year, 2025, will mark two decades of the WSIS. This will prompt the General Assembly to undertake a comprehensive WSIS+20 review, which will require a lot of preliminary work, much of which will start here, and will start today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The challenges before us are vast. The opportunities and risks are real.

This is a moment of great potential, not just great peril and there is undoubtedly the promise of a better world.

Let this session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development mark a turning point.

Let our legacy be one where we did not simply witness change, but purposefully shaped it for the betterment of our world.

Thank you.