By Barnaby Lewis
The recent G20 conference held in Rome saw leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies set out their ideas for human progress and called for standards to enable that journey.
Running from October 30–31, the Italian-hosted event was an opportunity to share ideas and outline plans for action. The theme of COVID-19 and the potential for the ongoing pandemic to obstruct progress on issues of global importance, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, was at the center of discussions.
When the participants have left and the banners have been taken down, observers of meetings like the G20, and even this month’s COP26 in Glasgow, can find themselves asking whether there will be meaningful change. The leaders of this year’s G20 have left little room for such doubts. They came with a clear mission to discuss and identify ways to “recover better from the COVID-19 crisis and enable sustainable and inclusive growth in our countries and across the world,” and they left with a common statement of intent that addresses every one of the obstacles on the path to recovery and growth. Standards are mentioned multiple times, with delegates in agreement that they have an important role to play in a number of sectors.
The G20 2021 Leaders’ Declaration covers a lot of ground in 15 pages. That may seem lengthy, but given the scale of the challenges, it’s actually quite compact. Standards are mentioned frequently in a number of contexts. Leaders said that standards are instrumental in areas including sustainable finance, transport and travel, and reporting on both financial and sustainability initiatives.
It comes as no surprise that the specific role of standards in addressing public health concerns and delivering quality testing and care is also highlighted in the Declaration. However, it is in the area of digital economy, higher education, and research that ISO standards really come into their own. Leaders agreed on the role of technology and innovation as key enablers for the global recovery and sustainable development. International standards are essential in establishing the protocols, systems, networks, and infrastructure that build those enabling technologies, allowing them to work securely and efficiently.
Beyond the technical underpinnings that standards provide, leaders were universal in their recognition of “the importance of policies to create an enabling, inclusive, open, fair and non-discriminatory digital economy that fosters the application of new technologies, allows businesses and entrepreneurs to thrive, and protects and empowers consumers, while addressing the challenges related to privacy, data protection, intellectual property rights, and security.”
In a statement, the leaders of the G20 said: “Mindful of the need to support a better inclusion of micro-, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in the digital economy, we commit to reinforce our actions and international cooperation towards the digital transformation of production, processes, services and business models, also through the use of consensus-based international standards and the improvement of consumer protection, digital skills, and literacy.”
About the author
Barnaby Lewis is digital communication specialist at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).