Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure and a privilege to be with you here in Ningbo today for the opening of this prestigious ICT and Development Forum.
In honour of the theme of Expo 2010, ‘Better City, Better Life’, ITU’s members have chosen the theme of ‘Better City, Better Life with ICTs’ for World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. This is being celebrated just two days from now, in Shanghai, on Monday, which marks the 145th anniversary of the founding of ITU back in 1865.
ICTs have changed beyond recognition since 1865, of course – and the biggest changes have taken place in the past twenty years.
Back in 1990, the internet as we know it today didn’t exist. There were less than seven million fixed telephone lines in the whole of China, and just 20,000 mobile cellular subscribers.
Compare that to China today – with more than 400 million internet users, at least 350 million fixed telephone lines, and over 800 million mobile cellular subscribers.
That means there are now more mobile cellular subscribers in China alone than there were in the whole world less than a decade ago.
At the same time, the past century has been one of unprecedented urbanization around the world.
Back in 1900, 14% of the world’s people lived in an urban environment, and there were just 12 cities with a population of over one million.
By the middle of the twentieth century, 30% of the world’s inhabitants were urban, and there were 83 cities with a population of over a million.
And in 2008 the world passed a historic tipping point, with more than half of the global population living in urban environments. Over 400 cities worldwide now have a population of a million or more, and there are around 20 urban agglomerations of over ten million people.
What does this mean for the future? And how will ICTs help shape that future?
I am an optimist, and I believe that we will see ICTs deliver extraordinary economic, technological and social progress – both in urban and rural areas.
We can also expect ICTs to transform the city of the future in quite unexpected ways – just as we could never have predicted how quickly people around the world would adopt mobile telephony, or the extraordinary growth of the internet.
So we can expect very clear technological advances. Such as ever smarter smartphones; flatter flat screens; voice-activated devices; cheap and super-abundant sensors and monitoring devices; massive increases in computational power; and continued convergence.
But we cannot be sure what we will do with all this new technology. As a species we are extraordinarily inventive and innovative, and I am sure that the citizens of 2030, looking back at today, will be surprised at what was achieved in the early decades of the 21st century.
Personally, I am absolutely confident that – as a result of ICTs – cities in every country in the world will become better places for those who live in them.
Here are some of the ways I think cities will improve:
I think they will be much more efficient than they are today. ICTs will deliver improvements in the way public transportation is managed, for example, and will also be able to keep passengers better informed – letting them know about delays or changes in schedules, for example.
We will also see huge improvements in energy efficiency, as natural light, wind, solar energy and rainfall are carefully harvested and used to keep cities running effectively. Green spaces will recycle their own water and help to fix excess carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere.
Cities will become safer, with fewer traffic accidents and fires, and reduced crime rates. ICTs will be used to help cars avoid one another and pedestrians or cyclists. Early warning systems will help prevent fires from breaking out or getting out of control. And better security systems – based on personal identity for instance – will make it harder to commit crimes and get away with it. Fraud will be reduced as secure electronic payments replace notes and coins.
Urban environments will become more healthy, as more frequent and remote monitoring of patients makes healthcare more a question of prevention than cure, and as ICTs play an increasing role in delivering both in-patient and out-patient care.
The delivery of education in cities will improve, with ICTs being both a key subject on curricula as well as being the key platform for transmitting ICT expertise to future generations. As we move towards fully-interactive online learning and resources, ICTs will make education more accessible, more affordable and more widespread than ever before.
I think also that cities will become cleaner and quieter than they are today, as electric, hydrogen and solar-powered vehicles take over from their petrol and diesel ancestors. Buildings will become carbon-neutral by trapping sunlight, which can be used for heating and lighting, and to provide the power for self-cleaning too.
And last but not least, ICTs will help cities become more human. There is nothing more fundamental than our desire and need to communicate with our fellow citizens. And ICTs will continue to facilitate and expand the way we do this, and create the opportunities for us to do so – wherever we are and whenever we want.
These are just some examples of how ICTs will improve living standards for citizens in the cities of the future, and how they will make life more comfortable and agreeable for us all. In short, ICTs will deliver a better quality of life.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As the UN specialized agency with responsibility for ICTs, ITU plays a key role in ICT regulation, standardization and development, and is firmly committed to connecting all the world’s people – wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances.
Across the world, cities will continue to grow and will continue to be of vital social and economic importance to nations’ futures.
So we must use every tool at our disposal – and ICTs in particular – to make cities better, and to make life better for the billions of people who live and work in urban environments.
Finally, ITU is very proud and highly appreciates the invitation of the organizer to be a co-partner with the Chinese Authority to organize this First Thematic Forum of the Expo 2010. On behalf of ITU, I wish to thank the host for all efforts they have made for the success of this Forum and I wish that you all enjoy it.