Speech from Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General

Havana, Cuba
11 February 2009

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

We are living through one of the most challenging periods in human history, faced with the prospect of irreversible global climate change.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has said that 2009 is the year of climate change, and he put the issue in the clearest possible terms last month when he warned that:

“Climate change threatens all our goals for development and social progress. Indeed, it is the one true existential threat to the planet.”

Two weeks ago, Ban Ki-moon urged world leaders and top-level business executives to launch a global ‘Green New Deal’ that creates jobs and fights climate change by investing in renewable energy and technological development.

Climate change risks transforming the very face of the world we live in. At current rates of extinction, scientists predict that two-thirds of all bird, mammal, butterfly, and plant species will be extinct by the end of this century.

In Geneva, where I live, we have had an unusually cold and snow-filled winter, and the whole of last year was relatively cool compared to what we have become used to.

But 2008 was still the tenth hottest year on record, and global temperatures over the past decade were an average of 0.2 degrees warmer than the previous hottest decade – which happened to be the 1990s.

Climate change presents us with incredible challenges, including food and water security, with new forecasts suggesting that half the world’s population could face climate-induced food crisis this century.

Inevitably, most of those people will be the ones who are least well equipped to deal with such challenges – the peoples of the developing world.

If we want to ensure a safe and prosperous existence for our children and grandchildren, we must act now.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As the leader of ITU, the UN specialized agency responsible for ICTs, it is my mission to connect the world and ensure that all people, wherever they live, have access to the vast range of benefits ICTs offer.

This of course presents not just a huge development challenge, but a giant ecological challenge too. Today, the ICT sector produces some two to three per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. But this share will inevitably rise, as we roll out more mobile and broadband networks, and as many more of the world’s people gain access to ICTs.

Fortunately there is also good news concerning ICTs and climate change.

ICTs themselves are becoming much greener, and the ICT sector has a great deal to offer in creating a cleaner, greener world. ‘Green IT’, for example, helps businesses cut both immediate and medium-term running costs – through energy-efficient technology, server virtualization and reduced travel expenses, for example.

And while ICTs may themselves be a contributor to global warming, they are also a critical tool in helping reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

By applying ICT to global infrastructure and industry, we enable significant opportunities for emission reductions, and can leverage huge cost savings. This is partly through ICTs’ unique ability to allow us to measure, optimize and manage energy consumption, and also in ICTs ability to enable intelligent transport systems, smart buildings and better supply chain management.

So the ICT industry – by helping other sectors reduce their emissions – could contribute as much as 15 per cent in global emission reductions by 2020. And if businesses around the world systematically used ICTs they could unlock global energy efficiency savings of over 500 billion Euros.

At ITU – as a responsible global international organization – we are taking climate change very seriously indeed, and are undertaking important work on how ICTs can help prevent and avert climate change.

As a first step, we ourselves aim to achieve climate neutrality for all our own operations within three years.

At a broader level, we continue to take the lead in promoting the creation of new energy-efficient devices and networks, and in developing technical standards to limit and reduce the power requirements of ICT equipment and services.

To look at just one example, we are leading the move to Next Generation Networks through our NGN Global Standards Initiative, which is one of the largest, most ambitious and most wide-ranging standardization projects ever undertaken. NGNs will do many things, but – perhaps most importantly – they will reduce power consumption by up to 40%.

Distinguished colleagues,

Another area where we believe ICTs are invaluable is in the monitoring and mitigation of natural disasters.

With an unprecedented increase in vulnerabilities – stemming from population growth, environmental degradation and, most significantly, climate change – both the frequency and the impact of disasters has dramatically increased in recent years.

In the global effort to confront this challenge, ITU is helping developing countries to build resilience through the use of ICTs at both the national and the community level.

Working together with Member States, we are designing national emergency telecommunications plans that integrate climate change adaptation into national policies, strategies, and programmes.

So while it is true that not all disasters can be prevented, their impact and all the underlying risks can nonetheless be reduced.

Among other activities, we are designing and implementing Early Warning Centres; we are deploying Geographical Information Systems for mapping specific hazards associated with climate change; we are deploying equipment for coordinating rescue operations and setting up telemedicine facilities in an effort to enhance the response capabilities of countries; and we are reconstructing telecommunication networks disrupted or destroyed by disasters.

I have also launched the ITU Framework for Cooperation in Emergencies, which has created a standby fund to finance activities aimed at mitigating the impact of disasters and which provides a platform for multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral partnerships.

ITU, in collaboration with its membership, is also identifying the necessary radiofrequency spectrum for climate monitoring and disaster prediction, detection and relief – including a promising cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in the field of remote-sensing applications.

Last but not least, we are also a member of – and a strong supporter of – the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, GeSI, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme and ICT service providers and suppliers.

Cooperation at every level is vital to our success. We will therefore continue to join efforts in the context of the UN system, in order to ‘deliver as one’ with a principal focus on ICTs and climate change.

Back at the beginning of the decade, UN Members adopted the Millennium Declaration as a renewed commitment to human development, including the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Climate change impacts will tend to offset progress being made to meet the MDGs by 2015, however – so it is crucial to empower developing countries by facilitating their access to the ICTs needed for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

We feel passionately about this issue at ITU, and as its leader I am absolutely committed to working with our members to address this most important of issues.

This is one battle we simply cannot afford to lose.

Thank you.