Distinguished members of Parliament,
Commissioner Viviane Reding,
Mrs Da Graça Carvalho,
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are living through one of the most challenging periods in human history –
faced with a meltdown of the world’s financial systems on one hand, and the
prospect of irreversible global climate change on the other.
Last year, the biggest speculative financial bubble in history finally burst –
and this year we will all experience the consequences.
Consequences that include unemployment for millions of people and a dramatic
slowdown in investment.
With US interest rates close to zero, and the Bank of England’s rates at their
lowest in the bank’s 315 year history, there is also a real risk of deflation,
and little further room for manoeuvre at the policy level.
In a world where new financial business models have proved themselves totally
inadequate to the needs of the real world, ‘business-as-usual’ is simply not an
At such dramatic times, climate change may suddenly seem a less pressing issue.
But climate change is also happening right now, and poses far greater long-term
threats than the current financial crisis.
We’ve had a cold couple of months recently, and last year was relatively cool
compared to what we have become used to. But 2008 was still the tenth hottest
year on record, and the past decade was the hottest on record – with global
temperatures by average of 0.2 degrees warmer than the previous hottest decade
(which was 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 equipped to deal
with such challenges – the peoples of the developing world.
So, for climate change, as for financial crisis, business is also very much not
That makes this conference uniquely important.
Fortunately, in this dangerous and frightening new world, ICTs can play an
important – and indeed vital – role.
They will help us – as Paradiso, the organizer of this event, has said – to
‘proactively promote a new concept of progress, based on revised social,
environmental and economic objectives: a true sustainable development, more
sustainable economic growth, more equally shared resources, and eventually the
well-being of peoples around the world’. This is an opportunity to congratulate
Paradiso for their great contribution in organizing this event.
I am a true optimist.
I firmly believe in the power of ICTs to make the world a better place – and
most especially during these challenging times.
ICTs are the great enabler of modern society, helping people communicate across
distance and across cultural divides, facilitating trade, and providing access
to vital resources – especially in health and education.
In under two decades, ICTs have totally transformed not just the way we work and
play, but the whole way we communicate, access information, manage health and
produce wealth. They are at the very heart of all societies worldwide today,
both in the developed and developing world.
ICTs are ubiquitous. Indeed, the number of mobile cellular subscribers globally
has just passed the four billion mark. And well over one and a half billion
people now have access to the Internet.
So ICT is now a significant sector in its own right – typically accounting for
around 5% of global GDP and an even higher proportion of GDP growth, in addition
to its important facilitating role in many other sectors.
ICTs therefore have a key role to play in sustainability.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the current financial crisis, ICTs can help governments and industry alike
weather the economic storm – by reducing costs, boosting efficiency and
increasing productivity. And while economic crises come and go, the basic human
need to communicate continues.
Also, we should not forget that technological transformation is at the very
heart of our industry. So while the crisis will inevitably be very tough indeed
for many ICT businesses, I believe it will also revitalize the industry and
enable new entrants with new technologies to thrive.
It also makes sense to adopt ‘Green IT’, even when times are hard. The upfront
investment – even with a relatively short ROI of just two or three years – might
seem hard to justify in today’s economic climate. But look at the global climate
– and climate change – and remember that our whole future is at stake here.
Green IT helps businesses cut both immediate and medium-term running costs –
through energy-efficient technology, server virtualization and reduced travel
expenses, for example. And cost-efficiency is a critical factor in determining
which players survive, in a tough economic recession.
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 huge
ecological challenge too. Today, the ICT sector produces some two to three per
cent of total greenhouse gas emissions; a share which is forecast to rise as we
roll out more mobile and broadband networks.
The pursuit of energy-efficient ICTs is therefore vital, and I am pleased to say
that ITU is doing a great deal of work in this area – from promoting the
creation of new energy-efficient devices and networks to developing technical
standards to limit and reduce the power requirements of ICT equipment and
ITU is also working to identify radiofrequency spectrum that can be used for
climate monitoring and disaster prediction, detection and relief, and is a
strong supporter of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, in partnership with
the United Nations Environment Programme and ICT service providers and
ICTs may themselves contribute to global warming, but they are also a critical
tool in helping reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, forecasts
estimate that they could help cut emissions by 15 to 40% – by enabling
intelligent transport systems, smart buildings and better supply chain
management, for example.
I believe we must continue to invest in 3 areas:
Innovation in services and applications, innovation in our
business models, innovation in the way we see ourselves.
Infrastructure development that will lead to more job
Capacity Building that will increase innovation and ensure
most efficient use of infrastructure.
By doing this, we will enter the knowledge society, which is the
highest level of the information society that we are in.
Before I close, I would like to say a few words about a subject very close to my
heart: ICTs and the developing world, and in particular the 49 UN-designated
least developed countries, the LDCs.
If we think ICTs are important to our society, and our sustainable future, then
this is doubly true for the LDCs.
Already, ICTs have brought remarkable change and progress to LDCs, particularly
in the early years of the new Millennium.
Since the year 2000, the number of fixed-line subscribers in the LDCs as a whole
has risen almost 30-fold, from 3.8 million to 107 million. Mobile cellular
subscriber growth has been even more rapid, giving LDCs a combined total of over
110 million cellular subscribers – up from just 800,000 mobile connections at
the start of the Millennium.
This is absolutely crucial for both social and economic progress.
At both the macro-economic and micro-economic levels, it has been clearly
demonstrated that mobile subscriber growth in developing countries directly
supports economic growth.
At the macro-economic level, Leonard Waverman, of the London Business School,
has demonstrated that every extra 10% increase in mobile teledensity in the
developing world leads to an additional 0.59 percentage points in GDP per
And at the micro-economic level, a Harvard University study found that Southern
Indian fishermen’s profits rose by an average of 8% – and consumer prices fell
by 4% – once they had mobile phones.
The next great ICT challenge for LDCs will be broadband, which is becoming
essential basic infrastructure in a globalized economy – as vital to economic
and social development as networks like transport, water and power.
There are positive growth trends – with 11 million Internet users in the LDCs by
the beginning of last year – but growth rates and access speeds are still
nowhere near fast enough.
Accessing information via a dial-up connection today is like being stuck on the
hard shoulder on the Internet superhighway, watching the rest of the traffic
rushing by. Locking users in developing countries out of the full online
experience will come increasingly close to locking them out of the modern
So ICTs can help us meet the Millennium Development Goals. But if we are to
build a sustainable future, we must ensure not just any old ICTs for the
developing world, but the latest, most energy-efficient, and cost-effective ICTs
are developed, rolled-out and deployed for the benefit of all.
This is only right and just. The world’s poorest countries gained little from
the global economic boom of the past few years and they generate only a minute
proportion of greenhouse gases. Yet they seem set to suffer disproportionately
from tighter economic conditions and the effects of climate change.
Let me therefore make a heartfelt appeal to keep the developing world in mind
during this conference and during our ongoing debates on ICT for a sustainable
global future. As we enter the knowledge society, a society where, as stated in
the Principle of the Tunis Agenda, every citizen of the planet can access, use,
create and shape information, let us dream of a better society.