Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

UN Meeting

20 May 2010, Vientiane, Laos PDR



Cloud of words: ITU, ICTs, UN, development, commission, broadband, Cybersecurity,...Distinguished colleagues,

It is a great pleasure to be with you here in Vientiane today.

I have come here from China, where ITU has been participating in a number of activities relating to Expo 2010, including the ICT & Urban Development Forum which was held in Ningbo last weekend, and the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day celebrations which were held in Shanghai on Monday.

The theme of WTISD this year was ‘Better Cities, Better Life with ICTs’, which tied in to the theme of Expo 2010 itself. It was therefore very encouraging to see that so many of the national and corporate pavilions highlighted ICTs as one of the key enablers to a better city and a better life.

Before giving you an overview of ITU’s global activities I would like to say just a few words about ITU’s core mandate and how this fits in with the work of the UN system.

I will then look at a number of other global areas which are key to ITU and are also highly relevant to the UN and its work, including ICTs and Climate Change; Emergency Telecommunications and Disaster Relief; Connecting the World; the newly-launched ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission; and Cybersecurity.

ITU’s core mandate and how it fits in with the UN system

ITU was founded in 1865 and is easily the oldest of the United Nations organizations. Since 1949, ITU has been the UN specialized agency for information and communication technologies – ICTs. That means we are responsible for the regulation, standardization and development of ICTs worldwide. And we are committed to connecting the world.

What does this mean in practice?

It means that without ITU we would have no communications networks. No fixed or mobile phones. No radio. No television. No email. No internet. And no satellite services. As it is, we do have all of those things – because of ITU.

ITU is unique among UN-specialized agencies in having a mix of public and private sector members. That means that in addition to our 191 Member States we also have around 700 members comprising the world’s leading ICT operators, equipment manufacturers, software developers, service providers, R&D organizations and local, regional and international ICT bodies.

This has allowed us to support the United Nations in its mandate, by facilitating worldwide access to ICTs.

We are committed to working as part of the ‘UN delivering as One’ – and we are proud of our membership in the UN Chief Executives Board and to have observer status in ECOSOC and UNGA.

Our commitment to the UN has been reinforced by the opening of our UN liaison office in New York last year.

ICTs and Climate Change

Looking at climate change now, ICTs can help us address this global issue. While ICTs themselves contribute 2-3% of annual greenhouse gas emissions, they can help reduce emissions in other sectors by 15%.

ITU is addressing climate change in a comprehensive manner.

Our Radiocommunication Sector facilitates, at a global level, the use of satellites and sensors for monitoring of climate conditions and data gathering, and has developed standards for more energy-efficient wireless transmission equipment and devices.

Our Standardization Sector is working actively to develop standards to measure the impact of ICTs on the reduction of GHG emissions and to accelerate the deployment of more energy efficient devices and networks, such as NGN, which are estimated to be 40% more energy efficient.

And our Development Sector provides emergency communications assistance directly to developing countries suffering from the effects of extreme weather events – I will say more about this subject a little later on.

ITU itself is also committed to achieving climate neutrality and is pioneering the use of ICTs as a key tool to reduce GHG emissions. In September last year we organized the first-ever virtual conference on ICTs and Climate Change, with more than 400 virtual participants and 19 experts speaking virtually from 9 different locations.

We are also actively contributing to the work of ‘UN Delivering as One’ on climate change, together with other UN agencies, and will be playing an active role in the run-up to COP-16 in Mexico at the end of the year.

Emergency Telecommunications and Disaster Relief

We now turn to a subject that has unfortunately been very much in the headlines recently: dealing with emergencies and disasters.

We cannot stop disasters and emergencies from happening, but with the power of ICTs, we can get much better at predicting them and warning people in advance.

And when disasters do occur, we can quickly help to restore vital communications – via the use of satellite phones and mobile base stations, for example.

ICTs are critical in every phase of disaster management, and ITU works across its three sectors to help in every way it can.

Aspects of radiocommunication services associated with disasters include disaster prediction, detection, alerting and relief. And in some cases, when fixed line infrastructure is significantly or completely destroyed by a disaster, only radiocommunication services can be employed for disaster relief operations.

Through our standardization work, we develop technical standards that facilitate the use of public telecommunication services and systems for communications during emergency, disaster relief and mitigation operations. In such circumstances, technical features need to be in place to ensure that users who must communicate at a time of disaster have the communication channels they need, with appropriate security and with the best possible quality of service.

And we help, through our Development Sector, on the ground, when disasters occur. We sent around 100 satellite terminals to Haiti to re-establish basic communications after the terrible earthquake there, for example, and set up a Qualcomm Deployable Base Station. We also sent experts to Haiti to set up equipment and assess how networks can be rehabilitated, and made US$ 1 million available from our ICT development fund and emergency communication fund.

ITU also deployed satellite communications equipment in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Chile in February, and the mud slide in Uganda in March. We were also active in Myanmar and China last year in the wake of disasters there.

Earthquakes have a huge impact, but around 90% of disasters are weather-related and driven by climate change. They are therefore on the increase both in terms of frequency and magnitude. Unfortunately, the worst-affected are often the most vulnerable, as the countries hardest hit by disasters are very often UN-designated LDCs [Lao PDR is both an LDC and an LLDC (Landlocked LDC)].

ITU is therefore very active in helping countries – and especially LDCs – to deploy and use ICTs for disaster mitigation, including risk assessments, preparedness, alerts, responses, recovery, and post-disaster activities for reconstruction.

Member States can also do a great deal to help by creating the right legal and regulatory environment – for example by ratifying and implementing the Tampere Convention, and incorporating disaster management measures in their national ICT plans.

Connecting the World

As I mentioned at the beginning, ITU is ‘Committed to Connecting the World’.

Enormous progress has been made in recent decades – and today there are nearly five billion mobile phone subscriptions; close to five billion people have access to television; almost two billion people use the internet; and hundreds of millions of people around the world use satellite services – whether that’s getting directions from a GPS system or checking out the next day’s weather. Millions more use video compression every day in mobile phones and on their iPods.

Through its Connect programme of events ITU also brings industry and government together to promote further investment and rollout of ICT infrastructure.

The first Connect event was ITU Connect Africa which was held in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2007. This was a huge success, resulting in US$ 55 billion in ICT development pledges over a seven year period.

In the first two years since then [2008 and 2009], an impressive US$ 21 billion was spent on ICT infrastructure investment in Africa, and we confidently expect the final total to exceed US$ 70 billion – demonstrating the true power of partnership and business-friendly initiatives which serve real people in developing countries.

We held a second Connect event, ITU Connect CIS, at the end of 2009 in Minsk, Belarus, and this event was also a great success.

The Broadband Commission for Digital Development

You may have heard that ITU and UNESCO launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development just 10 days ago in Geneva.

The joint initiative is chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helú, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso, and Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, and myself are vice-chairs. We have the full support of Ban Ki-moon, and the Commission will report to the 2010 MDG Summit in New York September.

We have created this Commission to help encourage nations around the world to adopt clear broadband development strategies, and I am pleased to report that we have acceptances from around 20 very highly-placed individuals from government and industry to act as Commissioners.

The Commission came about because we feel it is very important to highlight the fact that broadband networks can quickly pay for themselves in terms of the savings realized in the more efficient provision of essential services. Services such as healthcare, education, power, water, transportation and e-government.

Recent research suggests that savings of under 2% in each of these sectors over a ten-year period – or just 3 to 4% in healthcare alone – could cover the entire cost of rolling out advanced broadband networks to every home in developed countries.

And we are doing research now which I am confident will show that in developing countries too, broadband networks are one of the most cost-effective ways of promoting economic growth and well-being. They are truly a ‘platform for progress’.

The Broadband Commission complements ITU’s own ‘Build on Broadband’ campaign, which is designed to increase awareness on the vital role broadband will play in the 21st century in every country in the world.

I have tremendous faith that the public and private sectors will work together – as they did in the creation of mobile cellular networks – to roll-out the necessary infrastructure and create the necessary services to bring broadband to all the world’s people.

Personally, I cannot over-stress the importance of broadband in the modern world. Not only does broadband deliver benefits across every sector of society, but it also helps promote social and economic development, and will be key in helping us get the MDGs back on track.

This is an important step in getting ICTs back into the mainstream of the mandate of the UN and its specialized agencies, and given its rightful role on the UN Development Agenda.


Of course, as more people get fast, always-on connections, we find ourselves confronted with a real and growing problem – that of cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity is an issue that none of us can afford to ignore. Cybercrime is constantly on the rise, and places a huge and growing burden on governments and industry alike.

As I have said before, there is every likelihood that the next world war could start on the internet. Cyberthreats can reach parts of nations which physical threats cannot, and attacks on critical infrastructure can stall a country’s progress and quickly cause civil strife.

Happily we have not yet seen a real cyberwar, but we have certainly seen attempts to attack sovereign and commercial assets, and you can be sure that as more people have access to the internet, we will see more cyberattacks and cyberthreats.

One of the main outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society, WSIS in 2005, was that world leaders asked ITU to act as the Facilitator for WSIS Action Line C5, Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs.

As a result, ITU has taken concrete steps towards curbing the threats and insecurities related to the information society. In 2007, we launched the ITU Global Cybersecurity Agenda, the GCA, to provide a framework within which the international response to the growing challenges to cybersecurity can be coordinated and addressed.

Since the launch of the GCA, ITU has partnered with the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber-Threats, IMPACT, to provide ITU membership with the expertise, facilities and resources to effectively address the world’s most serious cyberthreats.

The partnership provides: real-time analysis, aggregation and dissemination of global cyberthreat information; an early warning system and emergency response to global cyberthreats; and training and skills development on the technical, legal and policy aspects of cybersecurity. Today, close to 60 countries are already participating in this partnership with IMPACT.

We have also launched, within the framework of the GCA, the Child Online Protection (COP) initiative, which has been established by ITU and other stakeholders as an international collaborative network for action to promote the online protection of children worldwide.

In collaboration with UN agencies and other organizations, we published four sets of guidelines last October, for parents, guardians and educators; policy makers; industry; and children themselves. These guidelines are available in the six UN languages and I encourage you to take advantage of the hard work which has gone into producing them.

Cybersecurity is a global issue, which can only be solved with global solutions. So one of the most important actions we must take to enhance security in cyberspace is to increase cooperation and coordination at the global level.

ITU therefore offers to host international discussion – identifying aspects we can agree on (there are many); recognizing that there are many different viewpoints; and working with all stakeholders, from government, industry and civil society.

Closing remarks

In closing, let me thank you once again for coming here today, and let me reiterate our commitment not just to the UN and our fellow agencies, but to the essential causes which bring us all here together: the pursuit of a better world for all.

And let me remind you about two very important events which ITU is holding this year.

The first on the agenda is the World Telecommunication Development Conference, which starts next Monday and runs for two weeks in Hyderabad, India. The WTDC this year is an event of exceptional importance, as it will review the numerous programmes and initiatives of the Development Sector and set ITU’s development agenda for the four years ahead.

And the second event is the ITU’s 18th Plenipotentiary Conference, which will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico, from 4 to 22 October. The Plenipotentiary Conference sets ITU’s general policies, adopts four-year strategic and financial plans, and elects our senior management team. It is the key event at which ITU Member States decide on the future role of our organization – and thereby determine our ability to influence and affect the development of ICTs worldwide.

The Plenipotentiary Conference promises to be a landmark – because what we achieve at PP-10 will not just affect the future of ITU and ITU’s work: it will affect the lives of everybody on the planet, in one way or another.

Thank you.