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Photo: Mary Cruse / Unfold Stories

Everything is Connected: Making Good ID Matter

  • Viewpoint
  • By Mary Cruse (Good ID)
  • 22 October 2019

Discussions about identity must take into account the changing social issues and political landscapes of our time, if we are to make them relevant, says Mary Cruse

"The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not."

Greta Thunberg, U.N. Climate Action Summit (September 2019)

From the streets to the corridors of government power, the words echo: “change is coming.”

Concern over the catastrophic consequences of climate change has been mounting for some time. But at this year’s UN General Assembly, murmurs of dissent grew to a roar. From Greta Thunberg’s moving speech at the Climate Action Summit, to the global climate strike, there is now a sense of momentum behind climate action that is impossible to ignore.

Action on climate change is one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a series of targets designed to achieve a better future for people and planet. Nations around the world are working towards these goals, with a view to meeting the targets by 2030.

From zero hunger to gender equality, the SDGs address a broad range of social needs, but despite this breadth, the goals are also deeply interlinked. For instance, reducing inequalities is profoundly interwoven with improving access to education and tackling poverty.

This indivisible quality is also evident when it comes to SDG 13: climate action. When we talk about the consequences of climate change, we’re talking about the impact on human health and wellbeing, on clean water and sanitation, on consumption and production, and on countless other facets of life.

The same is true for SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, including the target striving toward legal identity for all. The identity conversation is deeply interwoven with socio-political issues, from climate, to health, to democracy. This is particularly true when we talk about Good ID, because ethical, political and social issues shape every aspect of the discussion. Recognizing these intersections is vitally important, both for how we talk about identity, and for how we think about identity.

The identity conversation is deeply interwoven with socio-political issues, from climate, to health, to democracy. This is particularly true when we talk about Good ID, because ethical, political and social issues shape every aspect of the discussion.

Framing the conversation

The issues surrounding identity and identification programs are not always easy to communicate. The Good ID conversation involves tackling highly complex theoretical and practical challenges – this can dissuade the wider public from engaging with the issues at stake.

With this in mind, an effective way of communicating the movement’s significance might be to highlight the intersections between identity and broader social issues. Let’s take the recent swell of action behind climate change as an example. We know that climate is an issue with a strength of feeling behind it, so by highlighting the intersections between the environment and identity, we can better promote the importance of the identity discussion. And those linkages are everywhere.

Take migration – a key issue in the digital identity space. Millions have already been displaced by climate change and the figure is growing every day. Lack of formal, portable identification is a real issue for refugee populations, and climate refugees are no different. And so talking about identity issues in the context of persons displaced by climate and extreme weather events is a way to highlight the importance of Good ID. It’s important that the community is vocal about the role that quality identity services and interoperability can play in protecting vulnerable populations, ensuring that Good ID is part of the broader conversation.

Dakota Gruener, Executive Director of ID2020, sums up the integrated nature of identity: “Digital identity is a conversation relevant to lots of different, trending issues – health, privacy. So what is imperative for our community is to make the linkages to these other important trends and movements.”

Gruener continues: “The challenge I’d pose to the identity community is that we need to make the case to people beyond the community. We need to go out there and talk about the points of connection to other issues people care about – health, education, climate, homelessness – the list could continue indefinitely. We need to build on the momentum that already exists behind these issues to highlight identity issues and accelerate the identity movement.”

Ultimately, climate is just one of the core issues that seeps into the identity space.

Good ID is a broad, far-reaching topic that intersects with many other social and political issues, and recognizing those connections can help us to better understand and better promote the importance of the identity conversation.

We can’t talk about women’s rights without talking about healthcare; we can’t talk about poverty without talking about racism; and we can’t talk about digital identity without talking about climate, poverty, gender, race, healthcare – the list goes on

Informing the debate

The impact of identity issues on wider political and social discussions has implications for how we promote the Good ID conversation; but this interconnectedness also impacts on the identity conversation itself. When we’re discussing issues like decentralization, interoperability and data privacy, we must be careful to contextualize our discussions within the broader social and political environment.

Eric Noggle, Senior Director of Research with the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion, explains: “I think social shifts are a big thing. Especially in the climate that we're in right now. For example, take the push for economic interconnectedness in the identity space, versus some of the nationalistic trends we’ve seen emerging in the wider political sphere. Or the connection between decentralized ID and questions about the power of the state. Wider social issues are always going to have really important implications for how we think about ID.”

Any discussion of identity, ID and identity systems must take into account changing socio-political landscapes; and the Good ID movement must evolve in parallel with and respond to broader events.

Take the issue of climate change as an example: as increasing numbers of climate refugees begin to move between borders, issues of portability and foundational ID will become even more prominent than they are at present. As extreme weather events become increasingly more common, universally accessible identity and digitized support services will become more of a necessity than ever before.

Broader contextual issues need to be considered when we think about identity issues now and into the future – not just in the context of climate change, but also in regards to other socio-political issues and events. We can’t talk about women’s rights without talking about healthcare; we can’t talk about poverty without talking about racism; and we can’t talk about digital identity without talking about climate, poverty, gender, race, healthcare – the list goes on.

Sustainable change and long-term impact can only be achieved when we view social issues holistically. What this means is that Good ID cannot be addressed in isolation. We need to be a part of the broader social discourse; to identify the linkages and reflect on what that wider context means for our work.

Change is coming. Let’s make sure that we’re part of the conversation.