With combating inequalities high on the Biarritz agenda, Meredith Williams, lead researcher on financial regulation, G7 Research Group, says the G7 should do more to make sure everyone benefits from the technology revolution
Since the 1978 summit, the G7 has regularly addressed the growing digital divide and digital opportunities. Before the creation of the G7’s Digital Opportunities Task Force in 2000, the G7 usually focused on increasing technology transfers to developing countries. This issue now includes digitalisation and the expansion of information and communications technologies in developing countries. The G7 has historically paid little attention to the link between technology-oriented employment and education and skills training. However, there was a focus on the digital economy at the 2018 summit and France in 2019 is emphasising the fight against inequalities – including the digital divide.
The first reference to digitalisation in the form of ICT came at the 1983 summit. Across all summits, the G7 has produced a total of 15,541 words on digitalisation, an average of 353 words per summit. Between 1975 and 1999 the number of words ranged from zero to 422. The G7 first recognised the opportunities created by new technologies in such areas as ICT and life sciences at the 2000 summit, with a record 3,020 words.
Attention to digitalisation then lessened, with the number of words ranging between zero and 604. In 2013, the G7 acknowledged that the digital economy was a growing concern, with 2,498 words on open data, access to data, and the release of data for innovation and improved governance. Yet the 2014 summit had only 487 words on digitalisation, followed by 1,835 in 2015, 1,977 in 2016, 534 in 2017 and 1,120 in 2018.
Since 1975, the G7 has made 111 collective, politically binding, future-oriented commitments on digitalisation, or 0.2% of the total 5,525 commitments identified by the G7 Research Group. The first came in 1983, on actively pursuing trade in services and high-tech products. The next appeared in 1991, on the wide and rapid diffusion of advances in science and technology. The 1992 and 1994 summits each had one commitment. Between one and six commitments were produced in 1996, from 1998 to 2003, and in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011. The 2013 summit generated 18 commitments. The 2016 and 2018 summits had 23 commitments each, the most made to date.
The G7 Research Group has assessed 16 of the 111 digitalisation commitments for compliance by G7 members. Compliance averaged 71%, slightly lower than the overall 75% average for all issues. The highest compliance came from the 2000 summit, with full compliance for setting up the Digital Opportunities Task Force. The 2006, 2007 and 2009 summits had the lowest compliance at 33%. Generally, compliance scores have fluctuated but risen recently. The 2016 commitment on promoting international cybersecurity and international law and the 2017 commitment on fostering innovation to develop skills to boost economic growth each had compliance of 88%, up from the 2013 commitment with just 67%. Six months after the 2018 summit, compliance on the one assessed commitment related to Africa had 100% compliance.
Although the G7 recently complied well with its digitalisation and ICT commitments, there is room for improvement. In agreeing to such a wide range of commitments, spanning numerous subjects and addressing broad global challenges, the G7 has struggled to maintain a consistent focus on core issues. Yet it appears that when G7 leaders agree to specific digitalisation commitments, compliance scores are much higher, as seen with the high compliance rates from 2000 and 2016.
To improve their compliance, G7 leaders should consider making more commitments on digitalisation, focus on a specific subject and indicate a particular outcome that they want to achieve.
Leaders should also consider referring explicitly to the actions required to achieve compliance, and those actions should link to reducing digital inequalities. Compliance is higher with commitments that specify creating a task force, developing new frameworks or implementing a plan of action.
G7 leaders should consider inviting large technology and data companies (such as Google, Facebook and Amazon) to the summit to address topics such as data privacy and data protection, in order to create more transparency. There is mediocre compliance with commitments on data privacy and protection due to a lack of clarity and understanding of the impacts of releasing data for innovation. G7 leaders can bridge the digital divide with these large technology leaders by continuing previous discussions on the Open Data Charter.
Thus, G7 leaders should continue to make commitments on digitalisation, but must also understand the impacts of the digital economy on areas such as employment and education. They should take steps to make sure everyone can benefit from the technology boom, and fight against rising inequalities on a global scale as the central theme of France’s 2019 G7 presidency.