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

Virtual International Symposium on ICTs and Climate Change
New York, USA
23 September 2009

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you – wherever you are in the world today – for this first Virtual Symposium on ICTs and Climate Change.

I would like to thank the Korea Communications Commission for its help in setting up and hosting this bold experiment – an attempt to conduct an entirely virtual symposium, and to thereby demonstrate the power of information and communication technologies to combat climate change.

Many people have worked hard to make this event happen, and I am grateful for their efforts. It’s one thing to champion the cause of virtual conferences, but quite another to put the theory into action, and it’s a success we can all be proud of.

Korea, too, can be proud, I believe, in having dedicated some 80 per cent of the national 38 billion dollar fiscal stimulus package to green measures – the highest percentage in the world. Nearly a million green jobs will be created in Korea in the next four years.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said, “Climate change is one of the most fundamental challenges ever to confront humanity. No issue is more fundamental to long-term global prosperity. And no issue is more essential to our survival as a species.”

These are strong words, but the ever-growing mountain of scientific evidence demonstrates that we are fast running out of time to address this vital issue.
I am therefore glad to see that climate change has finally been elevated to the top of the political agenda – at the national, regional and global level.

Seven out of ten disasters are now climate-related and more than 20 million people were displaced by sudden climate-related disasters last year. The World Health Organization estimates that some 300,000 deaths a year are already attributable to climate change.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Information and communication technologies – ICTs – are major weapons that we have at our disposal in the climate change battle. They provide the means and opportunities for green industry and a green economy.

Climate Change negotiations will be taking place in Bangkok next week and the week after, and I invite you to join ITU in our efforts to highlight the importance of ICTs as a cross-sectoral tool to combat climate change.

In addition, let me ask for your support in raising awareness of the need for ICTs to be high on the agenda at the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December.

Today, I am attending this virtual conference from an office in New York, where I have been participating in the General Assembly Summit and the Leadership Forum on Climate Change with a number of global leaders, at Ban Ki-moon’s invitation, ahead of Copenhagen.

Thanks to the power of ICTs, I am able to be with you right now – even though it is the middle of the night here in New York; at the start of the working day in Geneva, and early in the afternoon in Seoul.

A number of core issues were raised by Ban Ki-moon ahead of yesterday’s UN Summit. I would therefore like to address four of these today in turn, as they will be crucial in the search for consensus and success in Copenhagen – and because each of them has an important ICT angle.

Firstly, we must take action to assist the poorest and most vulnerable in adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change.

Key to adapting to climate change will be better climate information, and ITU is working hand-in-hand with the World Meteorological Organization, the WMO, on this very matter.

To give you an example of our cooperation, just last week, following the WMO’s World Climate Conference 3, ITU and WMO held a joint seminar on the use of radio spectrum for meteorology, aimed at weather, water and climate monitoring and prediction.

We plan to organize similar ITU/WMO seminars on a regular basis, as radio-based ICT applications such as remote sensors are currently the main source of observation and information about the Earth's atmosphere and surface.

To sum up, better climate information comes from better monitoring and better remote sensing systems – and ITU works hard to ensure not only that the technology is available and effective, but that the communications protocols are in place too.

This is particularly important for Small Island Developing States, SIDS, who will be among the first to be affected by dramatic climate change, and who will therefore be the first who have to adapt to it.

Secondly, we must ensure that developed countries set ambitious mid-term mitigation targets. If the developed world cannot even put its own house in order, it would be more than unfair to ask the developing world to take up the slack.

The kind of conference we are having today makes a real difference, and at ITU we are working to increase remote participation both in our own events, in events across other UN organizations, and indeed across the wider business environment – and I am looking forward to announcing some important progress on this front within the next few weeks.

Remote access works for both passive participation, where people are simply watching a remote event, and for active participation, where people are interacting with one another in real-time – just as we are doing today.

There are many other areas where ICTs will help the developed world cut its emissions.

Next generation networks, for example, could reduce energy requirements by up to 40 per cent, compared with today’s networks, through a combination of fewer switching centres, more modern equipment with multiple power modes, reduced requirements for air-conditioning, support for advance services, and more efficient routing of traffic.

Digital broadcasting, for its part, results in a massive – almost ten-fold – reduction in the power consumption of broadcasting transmitters. And the actual number of transmitters can also be reduced by transmitting several programmes in one frequency channel.

My dear friends,

Thirdly, we must support actions by all countries to slow the growth of their emissions.

Here, too, the role of ICTs is absolutely crucial.

ICTs themselves contribute around 2 to 2.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions every year, and this percentage is likely to grow as ICTs proliferate.

But at the same time, ICTs are a potent, cross-cutting tool that can help to limit, and ultimately reduce, emissions across other sectors of the economy – by as much as 15 per cent in total emissions. Notably this is through the production of clean energy; the development and introduction of more energy-efficient devices and networks; and the safe disposal of equipment at the end of its life cycle.

Efforts are also being focused on more standardized power supplies and batteries; smart devices and buildings; new low-consumption devices; and of course the use of ICTs in travel management and paperless meetings.

ICTs are also essential when it comes to monitoring and reporting on climate change issues. Satellites, for example, are an invaluable tool in recording and helping to prevent deforestation – bearing in mind that our forests today store more carbon than the entire atmosphere.

Fourthly, we must ensure that there is predictable scaled-up financial and technological support for adaptation and mitigation actions by developing countries.

ITU – with its unique mix of 191 Member States and over 700 Sector Members and Associates – is well-placed to act here, and we devote a great deal of effort to ICT capacity building, technology transfer and public-private partnerships.

Distinguished colleagues,

ITU is committed to achieving climate neutrality – both within ITU and across the ICT sector – and to working with our membership to promote the use of ICTs as an effective tool to combat climate change.

As the steward of the global framework for spectrum management, ITU will provide the necessary radio-frequency spectrum and orbit resources for satellites that monitor the climate and which conduct remote sensing of the Earth.

As the pre-eminent global body for standardization in the field of ICTs, we will also work to limit and reduce GHG emissions; develop global methodologies to measure the impact of ICTs on climate change; and promote the use of more energy-efficient devices and networks – through the adoption and development of technical standards.

And as a core function of our development mission, we will help Member States take full advantage of ICT applications for environmental management and sustainable development, and to use ICTs to adapt to, and mitigate, the effects of climate change.

This is why it is so important to bridge the digital divide: countries can only use ICTs to combat climate change if they are connected.

Climate change is a global battle that we cannot afford to lose.

I therefore invite you to join ITU in making ICTs a major part of the solution, and to help build an information society that is both energy efficient and sustainable.

Thank you.