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Three years ago, long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, a different kind of virus spread around the world: a piece of malicious software code launched by a nation state. It paralyzed computer networks in hundreds of countries, disrupted global shipping, forced pharmaceutical factories to shut down, and inflicted an estimated $10 billion of economic damage.

On the physical battlefield, a widely accepted set of rules, backed by international law, governs conduct, with the aim of protecting soldiers and civilians. Establishing common rules or guardrails is much harder in cyberspace, where borders can't be easily defined and the tools and tactics of combat are always changing. But it has never been more urgent.

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Fires. Floods. Hurricanes. Heatwaves.

It can be easy to feel helpless in the face of planetary disruption, particularly with a global pandemic that is — understandably — distracting many from the generational challenge of climate change. But there is an enormous transformational opportunity at hand.

The need to build back after COVID-19 offers an opportunity to work toward cleaner and more resilient societies that can grow with fewer emissions, create broadly shared opportunities in a low-carbon economy, and heal the planet. Governments are spending massively to stimulate the economy, including forms of green stimulus, and many around the world are demanding that we don't just re-build, but build back better. This is a task that no single country can bear on its own; indeed, addressing climate change and sustainability challenges is the ultimate focal point for reimagining multilateralism in the 21st century. It requires that companies and governments take chances, invest and innovate, and share their learnings with the world. But it also requires global cooperation, including new coalitions of unconventional partners that each hold one part of a complex solution.

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The COVID-19 crisis has put millions of people out of work and exacerbated economic inequality around the world. It has also squeezed years of digital transformation of the economy into just a few months — opening up new possibilities and challenges. Many workers will likely spend the next year or two in a "hybrid economy," with work continuing at least partially remotely. That means it will be more important for people to have the tech skills to succeed in a totally new workplace.

Connecting the more than 3 billion people who today lack reliable internet access to the communications tools and essential services they need to participate in the modern economy is an essential first step. Broadband is the electricity of the 21st century. Without universal access to broadband, the economic recovery from COVID-19 will be neither comprehensive nor inclusive. The pandemic underscores the risks of a digital divide — increasing the reliance of households, small businesses, and entire economies on internet access, while leaving those without it further and further behind.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered profound political, economic, and social shocks. For some countries, the worst of the crisis is already behind them, while others continue to grapple with severe health and economic challenges — and will still do so well into 2021. But as the world starts to rebuild, it is critical to focus not just on the speed but also on the quality of the recovery.

The recovery presents a rare opportunity for the world to confront climate change, create an inclusive internet, and safeguard critical cyber infrastructure. These goals are ambitious, especially in a "G-Zero" world in which the global order built after World War II — including the United Nations itself — is under strain and a time when many people feel that governments — in their towns, cities, and countries — are not up to the task. To achieve an inclusive, sustainable, and secure recovery, new alliances must be forged, involving governments, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals. The old solutions won't work.

And the old toolkit won't be enough either: 21st century challenges can't be solved with 20th century methods. That means new tools must be embraced, from digital education and training to carbon-negative technologies and more. Technology will play a key role. The United Nations, technology companies, and governments are collaborating on new ways to educate students, safeguard the internet, and measure changes in the environment. On the 75th anniversary of the UN, governments, companies, and NGOs will come together to discuss how to build a stronger, more resilient world.

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The annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the world's largest diplomatic event, normally entails leaders and representatives from the 193 UN member states descending upon New York for a full week of speeches, high-stakes meetings between governments, and street protests. UNGA has also had its share of surprising moments, like Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev (allegedly) banging his shoe on the desk, or Venezuela's Hugo Chávez suggesting that US President George W. Bush was the devil himself.

This year's UNGA will be very different because of COVID-19. Hotels in New York won't be full of diplomats, metal detectors, and secret service agents. The "contact sport" of diplomacy will go virtual, with great uncertainty over how improvisational breakthroughs often found on the sidelines of UNGA summits will translate to the digital world. And more individuals from around the world than ever before will be able to take part. In other words, UNGA will be very different, but hardly less important (or dramatic).

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