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Opening remarks - 3rd Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on Smart Cities and e-Government

Speech by Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

Opening remarks - 3rd Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on Smart Cities and e-Government

21 September 2017, Bangkok, Thailand


Good afternoon.
And welcome to our 3rd Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on Smart Cities and e-Government. Thank you for joining us.

I am delighted to share the stage today with Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society, Dr. Pichet Durong kaveroj and the Secretary General of the World Smart Sustainable Cities Organization, Dr. Young-sook Nam.

Thanks to the Ministry, WeGO, the Australian Government and the other sponsors, together with the Forum Global, for their help in organizing this event.

The 21st century is the era of cities - big cities. Already, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2050, it will be nearly 70%. Our current model of urbanization is clearly not sustainable. How long did it take you to get here this morning? How long will it take to get back home? Our big cities are choked with congested traffic and air pollution - basic services like water and sanitation are not reaching everyone. And it is true of big cities everywhere.

So, we have to be smart about this; our cities have to become smarter. And that’s where information and communication technologies, ICTs, have the capacity to make a real difference. Just think of all the opportunities opened up by the Internet of Things. At ITU, we’ve created a new Study Group on the Internet of Things and Smart Cities and Communities. And this topic will no doubt be at the heart of the Annual Internet of Things Asia Pacific Summit that will take place here in two days.

But none of this progress can be possible when more than half of the world’s population is offline - 3.9 billion people.
Of these, two out of every three live here in the Asia-Pacific region. More than half of the world’s total offline population comes from just five Asian-Pacific countries - the majority from South Asia, where the share of the rural population is also the highest.

The good news is that most of the next 1.5 billion people to come online will also likely come from the Asia-Pacific region. And that’s why several urban stakeholders from the region are working together in ITU to chart out of their smart city transition.

ITU is involved in several smart city projects in Singapore, Wuxi and elsewhere to develop and implement key performance indicators. This tool will allow participating cities to measure their smartness and sustainability in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Just last week, the “United for Smart Sustainable Cities” Initiative, coordinated by ITU and the UN Economic Commission for Europe and supported by 14 other UN agencies released four new reports that shed light on cities’ experiences with e-governance initiatives, sustainability projects and smart-city financing models. These reports are available on the ITU website and have been developed thanks to the contribution of over 150 experts, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank WeGo for its contribution. 

Data is the key to smart governance and business.
Many cities around the world already claim to be ‘smart and sustainable’, but statistics and studies show otherwise. If we want to reach the targets set out by the international community under Sustainable Development Goal 11, developing the tools, such as KPIs, that will help cities become truly smart and sustainable is an urgent task.

To succeed, national governments, municipalities and local partners from civil society, academia and the private sector need to work together. And we must not forget anyone - not at a time when 80% of the world’s hungry and poor live in rural areas, with little or no access to the Internet.

It’s time we start talking about ‘smart villages’!
What Thailand is doing with the “Net Pracharat” programme is a perfect example. The Thai government has committed to install high-speed broadband networks for 35,000 villages this year - and all villages by the end of next year.

As the minister says we have to address “the disadvantages of the have-nots”.

ICTs now form the backbone of today’s digital economy; they will be central in driving digital government and smart sustainable cities.
Despite the rapid expansion of telecommunications and mobile technologies, the digital revolution has yet to reach all populations equally. The risk is that people with the most to gain from ICTs will be locked out of the benefits.

I started off by saying that the 21st century is the era of cities.
Let’s all work together to use ICTs to make our cities - big and small - inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Finally my thanks to the many distinguished speakers and moderators for their contribution to this forum. I am sure they will provide you a very productive and enjoyable forum.

Thank you.