Committed to connecting the world


Sustainable Development Forum

Speech by Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

Sustainable Development Forum - Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: International Organizations in Action

24 October 2019 - Beijing, China

It is a pleasure to be here for the first Sustainable Development Forum and I would like to thank the organizer China Centre for International Knowledge on Development for inviting ITU.

As we know the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are very ambitious addressing a wide range of challenges including ending poverty and hunger, providing quality education for all, and bringing clean water and sanitation to everyone.

If we look at the 169 targets set to achieve these 17 Sustainable Development Goals, it is clear that they can only be met by widespread high-speed access to information and communications technologies (ICTs).

For example, halving the number of deaths and injuries on the road will only be achieved by using smart transport management techniques, including collision avoidance radar and autonomous vehicles. Doubling the rate of energy efficiency will only be achieved through the use of smart meters, and innovative energy saving solutions. Substantially increasing water-use efficiency will rely on ICTs to control irrigation and identify and remedy water leaks. Combating climate change can only be achieved by reducing greenhouse gas emissions through clean technologies.

So as the UN specialized agency for ICTs, ITU has a major role to play in achieving these goals. ITU is the organization that maintains the international treaty that governs the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits known as the Radio Regulations, develops the international standards for ICTs, and encourages countries to implement an enabling environment to encourage investment in broadband services, and helps develop the necessary digital skills.

ICTs are essential for social, economic and environmentally sustainable development. They bring benefits for health, education, transportation, productivity and innovation.

The radio frequency spectrum is a limited natural resource that has ever increasing demands placed upon it. ITU is responsible for ensuring its efficient and effective use and for sharing this important resource amongst the various interests that are dependent on its use.

International harmonization of spectrum is essential to avoid harmful interference between different devices and services and to create a worldwide market.

International standards are essential to ensure interoperability between different manufacturers equipment, and ensure security, quality of service and bring down costs through economies of scale.

ITU is harmonizing the spectrum and developing the standards for 5G, Internet of Things, Block Chain, Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing and other emerging technologies through our wide membership of 193 governments, but crucially thanks to the work of thousands of experts from over 900 private sector companies, research institutes and other organizations that are members of ITU. These include China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Huawei, ZTE, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and about 30 other Chinese companies, as well as 13 Chinese universities including Tsinghua University and Zhejiang University which signed Memorandums of Understanding with ITU this year.

We do this in partnership with other relevant bodies, for example our Focus Group on AI for Health is a joint group with the World Health Organization, our group developing standards for digital financial services, is in partnership with the World Bank Group and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructure, and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To achieve the Sustainable Development Agenda, it will be essential to ensure that everyone everywhere has access to affordable broadband services in their local language.

Right now, almost half of the world's population remains unconnected. Most of these are people living in remote, rural areas and isolated communities which are hard to reach either due to topography or poor return on investment. So ITU's priority is to bring them online so that they too can benefit from remote health services, financial services, increased productivity and the opportunity to innovate.

I would like to congratulate China for is efforts in this regard. This week I had the opportunity to visit one of its model smart villages in the Zhejiang Province, near the beautiful Mogan mountains. The village has a 5G base station, innovation centre, and is trialling autonomous vehicles. It was most gratifying to meet a number of young innovators at the innovation space who have returned to the village from living and working in the cities. Smart villages could potentially help reduce or even reverse the trend to urbanisation which is causing so many of the world's problems.

Next week ITU's World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 begins in Sharm El Sheikh to amend the Radio Regulations to facilitate new innovations including 5G. It has a number of items on its wide-ranging agenda that can bring low-cost connectivity to the remote, rural areas and isolated communities – for example through the use of high-altitude platforms or low earth orbiting satellites networks. I very much hope that with these developments it will be possible to connect everyone and ensure that no one is left behind. Only when everyone is connected will the SDGs be achieved.

Let me conclude by emphasizing the importance of collaboration, coordination and cooperation. These are at the heart of ITU's activities, from our work on standards and spectrum management, to some of our major annual events such as the World Summit on Information Society Forum, and the AI for Good Global Summit which are open to all. With so many different organisations and sectors all dependent today on ICTs, this is more important than ever before. We all need to bring our own specific competencies to the table, pool our resources and avoid duplication of effort.

I look forward to further strengthening our cooperation with DRC and CIKD to ensure that together we can accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Thank you.​