The sixteenth edition of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held from 6 to 10 December 2021 in Katowice, hosted by the Polish government under the aegis of the United Nations. An important Internet governance event, the IGF is a global platform that facilitates exchanges between stakeholders on Internet-related public policy issues: governments, intergovernmental organisations as well as private firms, the tech community, the academic world and civil society.
In January 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres set out ten priorities to move from an “annus horribilis” to an “annus possibilitatis”. The ninth placed the priority on seizing the opportunities of digital technologies, insisting on the roadmap for digital cooperation and its implementation which notably includes “the strengthening of the Internet Governance Forum”, and affirming that “an open, free and secure digital future is possible”.
A successful hybrid format. Katowice, the capital city of the Silesian Voivodeship, a city prospering thanks to its mining resources – coal in particular – and its steel industry, was chosen to host the Forum in a hybrid format: at the MCK international conference centre and online. Special attention was paid to the quality of the hybrid format proposed to ensure meaningful participation from both those present on site in Poland and those connected thousands of miles away. Having been present in person, I can confirm that the exercise was a success: the free flow of exchanges and the handover between speakers, moderators and participants allowed for fruitful and detailed discussions, including in the traditionally very active IGF chat. The IGF village was also both physical and virtual, with an IGF France stand manned by Afnic.
From language to cultural diversity. Although the plenary discussions were interpreted into the 6 official languages of the United Nations, this should be extended to enable all participants to contribute in their chosen language. Fostering multilingualism is a key factor in inclusion in the light of global issues regarding the development of the Internet and Internet governance.
Encouraging greater participation in the Forum. The global Forum was held following intense preparatory work actively supported by Poland, represented by Krzysztof Szubert, the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (UN IGF MAG) and its chairperson, Anriette Esterhuysen. This work resulted in an engagement phase initiated on 31 August with the aim of engaging people in IGF discussions and identifying synergies between different activities to facilitate cooperation. These synergies tend to develop both at a thematic level, with the development of good practices, and with national and regional IGFs like France IGF, the 2021 plenary session of which was held on 25 November.
“Fostering multilingualism is a key factor in inclusion in the light of global issues regarding the development of the Internet and Internet governance”
After Paris in 2018, Berlin in 2019 and a 100% online global IGF in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this 2021 edition brought together some 2,700 on-site participants and over 10,000 in total representing 175 countries. Held under the theme “Internet United”, all current central issues concerning the evolution of the Internet were addressed, from inclusion to trust in cyberspace. 6 key themes:
- Economic and social inclusion and human rights,
- Universal access and meaningful connectivity,
- Emerging regulation: market structure, content, data and consumer/user rights regulation,
- Environmental sustainability and climate change,
- Inclusive Internet governance ecosystems and digital cooperation,
- Trust, Security, Stability.
At a time of talk of a Digital Decade in the EU with support for a set of digital rights and principles, the hosting of the Internet Governance Forum demonstrates the vitality of the multi-stakeholder model when it comes to addressing global issues regarding Internet-related public policies. If changes are needed, they are to promote concrete results in the light of the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to develop multilingualism which lies at the heart of international society and, of course, to strengthen interactions with national IGFs which are cornerstones of the model.
 Address by the UN Secretary-General at the General Assembly to examine the report on the UN’s activity, 28 January 2021.