By SDG Lab at UN Geneva

Technology and the digital transformation, including youth and future generations in governance and decision making, and preparations for the UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 28) were among the key themes that emerged from the 2023 World Government Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The SDG Lab participated in this future-oriented event to tune into diverse perspectives on the future of sustainability in the region.

The Summit sought to identify ways for governments to better anticipate and respond to potential risks, including those brought about by the climate crisis. The Summit showed optimism and appetite for a future where governments are defined by new technologies and “moonshot” thinking.

Technology and digital transformation

Li Junhua, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, underscored the role of digitalization in achieving the SDGs, and pointed to the Global Digital Compact, expected to be adopted by Member States at the Summit of the Future in 2024, to ensure that the digital transformation works to the benefit of all people. Li highlighted the role of the Joint SDG Fund in accelerating the Goals by mobilizing and pooling resources to fund implementation in digital transformation, among other areas.  

Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia, outlined the challenge of bridging the digital divide between countries and between generations, and stressed that governments have the responsibility to make sure digital transformation is inclusive.

Kyriacos Kokkinos, Deputy Minister of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy, Cyprus, mentioned that to keep up with the accelerating digital transformation, governments need to reimagine national public institutions, staffing policies, and procedures for accountability. 

Arancha González Laya, Paris School of International Affairs, SciencesPo, and former Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, said for business and political leaders to stay ahead and prepare societies and economies for future challenges, it will be crucial to invest in foresight practices, anticipating methodologies, and the development of a “futures” mindset. It is crucial to incentivize politicians, practitioners, and emerging leaders to adopt “long-termism,” which helps to better navigate change and uncertainty, show direction, and set standards, she urged. 

Youth and future generations

The inclusion of youth’s and future generations’ perspectives in policy and decision making emerged as another recurring element of the Summit’s deliberations, with an emphasis on: quality education and future-oriented learning; intergenerational dialogue; and including youth in national and international processes. “Education is the foundation of a world at peace,” underscored Henrietta Fore, former Executive Director, UNICEF, calling for more inclusive educational systems that provide safe and empowering spaces for all learners.  

Participants at the Summit’s Future of Education Forum acknowledged that young leaders must be informed about opportunities for engaging in policy-making processes and have access to capacity-building environments for their voices to be effectively heard. Active listening, trust, and “normalization of failure” are paramount for educational systems to unlock the natural talents of youth, boost their confidence, and allow them to innovate and challenge the status quo, underscored teacher and co-founder of Google for Education Esther Wojcicki. 

The road to COP 28

With the UN Climate Change Conference to be hosted by UAE in December 2023, many conversations centered around what to expect from COP 28, which will include the first Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement on climate change and aim to ramp up the ambition of countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

In a panel titled, ‘The Roadmap to COP 28,’ the COP 28 Presidency highlighted the need to eradicate water and energy poverty while keeping the 1.5°C target alive, urged focusing on operationalizing the loss and damage fund, called for investing in Nature-based Solutions (NbS), and stressed UAE’s vision of climate action as an opportunity to promote inclusive growth. With a promise to create an inclusive COP, UAE’s Climate Envoy Sultan al-Jaber – a controversial choice for his role as CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) – called on participants to “make COP 28 a COP of unity.”  

The World Government Summit took place from 13-15 February 2023 under the theme, ‘The Future of Governments.’ The summit addressed six themes:

  • Accelerating Development and Governance;
  • Future of Societies and Healthcare;
  • Exploring the Frontiers;
  • Governing Economic Resilience and Connectivity;
  • Global City Design and Sustainability; and
  • Prioritizing Learning and Work.

The Summit also included a parallel program on ‘SDGs in Action,’ under the banner of ‘Redesigning the Future of Our World: 2030 Agenda and Beyond.’


The SDG Lab at UN Geneva contributes to the implementation of the SDGs by supporting Geneva-based actors in leveraging expertise and knowledge into policy, practice, and action. The SDG Lab is committed to advancing critical dialogue on how we ensure future scenarios adopt a holistic approach to sustainable development that leaves no one behind.