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

CSTD 12th Session: Opening Address
25 May 2009

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a great pleasure to be here with you this morning. I thank UNCTAD for the kind invitation. ITU has a long standing working relationship with UNCTAD in many areas including in the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development and more recently in the UN Group on the Information Society (UNGIS).

With just six years to go to achieve the WSIS goals and targets, I am both very pleased with the progress we have been making but also rather cautious about claiming victory before the battle has been well and truly won.

Indeed, this is no time for complacency.

Nonetheless, we can be very proud of what we have achieved in the past year – and especially in the past week, with the WSIS Forum, which closed on Friday, and to which so many of you contributed.

This time last year, at the 11th session of CSTD, I made a strong plea for us to ‘Stimulate, not complicate’. I asked whether we could make meetings shorter, and whether we could involve higher-level speakers in our meetings.

Last week, with the WSIS Forum, we did just that. And we achieved, in the space of a single week, far more than we had previously managed with the WSIS Clusters.

The presence of high-level speakers revitalized interest in WSIS, and allowed us to move forward boldly, with a firm emphasis on results rather than plans; and with actions rather than ideas.

At last year’s 11th session of CSTD I also asserted my strong conviction that we can only succeed with team-play – and today I would like to repeat that assertion.

Only as a team can we succeed – with each member of the team working with the others for the common good. This is one of the great things about having a number of different agencies involved in moving WSIS forward: we each have a clear role to play, and we all know that to succeed – and we will succeed – we must each work to support the other players.

At ITU, I believe we played our part well, last week, with the WSIS Forum, and I believe that this week CSTD will continue to play its part equally well:

  • In continuing to strengthen political willingness in supporting ICTs for economic growth and poverty elimination, I should rather say wealth creation; and

  • In conveying key WSIS concerns to the UN Economic and Social Council.

Measuring ICT was a key objective in the WSIS. More recently, ECOSOC recommended that the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, a multi-stakeholder initiative to improve the availability and quality of ICT data and indicators, continue working on ICT measurement to track progress in the achievement of WSIS goals and targets.

In particular, the Partnership meeting held during the WSIS Forum last week, provided a progress report on its work and debated the need to measure the social and economic impacts of ICTs.

The Partnership noted that while infrastructure and access indicators are widely available, indicators on ICT use (e.g. by households, individuals and businesses) are less frequent, especially in developing countries. To this end, the Partnership will continue to build capacities in developing countries to produce ICT statistics, including developing new indicators on e-government and providing guidance on measuring ICT impact.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One of the big successes last week was the high-level panels, which were introduced into the WSIS process for the first time, and which addressed some of the most important issues we face at a global level.

In the financial panel on Tuesday I was asked to assess the potential impact of the current global financial and economic crisis on the MDGs, and on the WSIS goals and targets.

I responded that I continue to remain both optimistic and confident.

The financial crisis will certainly challenge many businesses. But it will also give birth to new institutions, revitalize communications, and enable new entrants, new business models, and new technologies to emerge.

After the G20 summit last month, the Chief Executives of the United Nations’ Agencies met in Paris, and it was Mr Ban Ki Moon himself who chaired that meeting. We welcomed the G20 decisions, and reinforced our determination to take decisive and urgent action.

This will feed into next month’s UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development, which will take stock of evolving developments, and will, I am convinced, continue to emphasize the importance of strengthened financial regulation and oversight. Another sound basis for my remaining resolutely positive and optimistic is the incredible pace at which technology advances arrive. Look at how quickly mobile phones have proliferated – faster and more broadly than any technology in history – and you have to be encouraged by the advent of technologies like super-fast broadband.

Nothing is ever simple, however, and broadband itself brings its own problems – and notably that of how to keep the Internet safe, secure and trustworthy.

In short, the whole issue of cybersecurity, which we also addressed in a high-level panel last Tuesday. As the facilitator of WSIS Action Line C5 on Building Confidence and Security in the use of ICTs, we took the important step of launching the Global Cybersecurity Agenda, or GCA, in 2007.

Designed as a framework for cooperation and response, the GCA focuses on building partnerships and effective collaboration between all relevant parties, and we have made tremendous progress, particularly in the past year, with the opening of the GCA’s physical home at the IMPACT centre in Malaysia.

Another issue we addressed last week in a high-level panel was climate change – which could turn out, if we do not act now, to be even more critical than cybersecurity.

The panelists in the session reminded us that ICTs can play a critical role in combating climate change – through mitigation of its effects and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, ICTs have the power to reduce emissions in other sectors by 15%, creating savings of 800 billion dollars and 7.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.

They reinforced the need for an inclusive approach; the need for public private partnerships to ensure adequate funding for green initiatives; and the need to reflect the importance of ICTs in tackling climate change in the new global agreements which are to be negotiated at the end of the year in Copenhagen.

The needs of developing countries for financing to assist adaptation to climate change also need to be reflected in new frameworks. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to invite you to attend the ITU Symposium on Climate Change which is being held in Quito, Ecuador from 8-10 July, and to attend the Virtual Conference in Seoul, Korea, on 23 September.

Distinguished colleagues,

Before closing, I would also like to mention another event which we hosted at ITU last week, and which is directly relevant to WSIS and our work here this week.

That event was World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which we celebrated last Monday.

The theme of this year’s WTISD was ‘Protecting Children in Cyberspace’, and we were very grateful to have the patronage of Queen Silvia of Sweden.

In choosing this theme, ITU and its Members hope that the many activities that accompanied this event around the world will mark the start of a year-long 'Call for Action'.

A call for action which targets policy makers, industry, educators, parents and children, as well as helping garner further high-level international support for COP, the global Child Online Protection initiative.

ITU – together with other UN agencies and partners – launched COP as an integral part of the Global Cybersecurity Agenda. And I would like to stress COP’s importance not just as another international talking shop, but as an initiative with real power to make a difference in protecting children and young people online.

Children and young people around the world are actively being targeted by pedophiles, predators, and cybercriminals – often with truly tragic consequences.

But with the help of the same technology that wrong-doers use – and with the power of international cooperation and collaboration – we can offer children the protection online that they expect, deserve, and need.

Draft Guidelines for the protection of children in cyberspace have been prepared within the context of the COP Initiative, in close collaboration with numerous UN agencies and other organizations, including UNICEF, UNICRI, INTERPOL, the European Commission and the GSM Association. The Guidelines were presented as drafts for discussion last Monday, and were very well received by the WSIS Community. We would therefore welcome any comments on these drafts, which are available on the ITU website.

The final Guidelines will be issued in October at the ITU Telecom World 2009 event, here in Geneva.

In the meantime, we would like to take this opportunity to invite you to the ITU/MIC Strategic Dialogue on Safer internet Environment for Children which is being held in Tokyo next week.

The events last week concluded with a meeting of the United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS). UNGIS was created by the CEB after the Tunis phase of the WSIS. UNGIS was chaired over the past year by UNESCO and ITU will take the chair for the next year. I was pleased to see that UNGIS has been re-energized. The meeting concluded with:

  • a revised terms of reference for the group expanding the mandate to include science and technology,

  • they agreed on a concrete work programme which includes carrying out an open consultation on financial mechanisms

  • they also agreed to work on three joint iniatives – open access to scientific knowledge; child on-line protection; and science, technology, and innovation UNGIS will have an important role to play over the next year as we head towards a mid-term review of WSIS implementation next year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is just three and a half years since the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society concluded in Tunis. In those three and a half years we have made tremendous progress in connecting the world, and today the world has reached unprecedented levels of access to ICTs.

There are now well over four billion mobile phone subscriptions, and over 1.6 billion Internet users. Technological advances, innovative applications and devices, and falling prices are allowing more and more people across the world to join the information society.

But huge differences still remain in ICT levels between regions, and between developed and developing economies. While some speed down the fast lanes of the Internet superhighway, paying almost nothing for the privilege, others are stuck in the slow lane and yet are paying a small fortune to do so.

As partners in WSIS, we must continue to be bold in our approach to the initiatives we are implementing and be clear in evaluating what still needs to be done to meet the WSIS targets and goals.

We must all play our part – as a team – in ensuring that ICTs are made accessible and affordable to all people everywhere.

Thank you.