Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

Meeting with EU Ambassadors

4 November 2010, Geneva, Switzerland

Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Participants,
Cloud of words: ITU, plenipotentiary, EU, conference, telecommunication, internet...Ladies & Gentlemen.


I am very pleased by this opportunity to share with you in person some of my thoughts about the common interests and common challenges facing our respective institutions, the European Union and ITU. These are both exciting and challenging times for the EU as it adapts and restructures to suit its changing context  – and changing relevance – in the modern world.  Indeed, ITU shares much of the same excitement – and many of the same challenges – as it seeks to adapt and respond to the different needs of its Member States.

As some of you may be aware, I am fresh back from ITU’s major decision-making conference, the 2010 Plenipotentiary Conference held in Guadalajara, Mexico, where I was reelected Secretary-General.  Let me say on a personal basis how I am deeply touched, indeed honoured, by this vote of confidence expressed in me by your Governments - I see it as a strong endorsement from your States of my leadership of this institution. 

I look forward to continuing to reform and modernize ITU over the next four years, with your support and goodwill.  Historically, Europe has played a significant role in shaping the ITU and I look forward to strengthening our relationship still further. In this regard, I must say I was particularly delighted by the election of Mr. François Rancy as Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau, someone whom I know personally as a good colleague. I am very pleased that my newly-elected management team includes François Rancy and Malcolm Johnson, both pillars of strength and integrity who bring considerable drive and motivation to ITU. I look forward to working with them closely as we seek to modernize and adapt ITU to change with the times. 

Before describing the outcomes of the Plenipotentiary Conference in more detail, let me say a few words about the main accomplishments of ITU over the last four years. Each of the Sectors has held its major conference or assembly, starting with the hugely productive and successful World Radiocommunication Conference held in Geneva at the end of 2007. WRC-07 agreed a sound and stable framework for spectrum management for the next five years, an issue of vital importance at a time when wireless data traffic is growing exponentially thanks to the introduction of smartphones.

The Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) hosted the very successful World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly in South Africa at the end of 2008, which saw greater attendance and more issues dealt with than ever before. Our standardization work was strengthened and reinforced at the WTSA, which saw the introduction of a number of new work programmes and initiatives on climate change, accessibility, conformance and interoperability. Indeed, I would argue that there is real added value in ITU’s work here in raising awareness and promoting areas that might otherwise risk being perceived by the industry as “niche areas” not necessarily commercially profitable for mass market exploitation.

Where ITU has been able to agree standards and norms early on in the development of certain technologies, it has helped mainstream and boost recognition and adoption some of those technologies, helping grow the market for them.  In the same way, I hope fervently that agreeing methodologies for evaluating carbon emissions and standards for energy-efficiency can help grow the market for green or ‘smart’ technologies in the all-important fight to combat climate change. Such standards and measurement methodology will be vital for helping reduce carbon emissions throughout any economy in today’s digital societies.

The Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) hosted the World Telecommunication Development Conference in India earlier this year in May, which set out an ambitious work programme for the Development Sector for the next four years. With the outcomes of the WTDC, ITU’s development work now more clearly encompasses developing countries. The success in the first decade of the 21st century in terms of growth in the ICT sector could not have been achieved without ITU-D.

The World Telecommunication Policy Forum held in Portugal in March 2009 addressed a range of high-level issues right across the ICT sector, including ICTs and climate change, and ICTs and the global financial crisis. We all know that this sector – our sector – has been the most resilient of all sectors during the economic crisis, and I think it is safe to say that ICTs came to the rescue of the world during this crisis. The WTPF also addressed the implications of convergence and the emergence of new technologies; the transition to next-generation networks; Internet-related public policy matters; and the International Telecommunication Regulations.

Over the last four years, ITU has staged successful regional ITU Telecom events in Cairo, Egypt, and Bangkok, Thailand, in 2008; and held the ITU Telecom World event in Geneva in October 2009. Over the same period we also successfully transformed the annual WSIS Forum into a more useful, meaningful and well-attended event.

In 2007, we launched the ITU Connect series of events, starting with the hugely successful Connect Africa event in Kigali, Rwanda, which brought in an unprecedented USD 55 billion in ICT development pledges for Africa over a seven year period. A second successful ITU Connect event – Connect CIS – was held in Belarus in 2009.

ITU also launched the Global Cybersecurity Agenda which in 2007, which is now in its operational phase, with a physical home in Malaysia at the headquarters of IMPACT – the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber-Threats. As part of the GCA, we also launched the Child Online Protection initiative, which was endorsed by Council in 2008 and which was the focus of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day in 2009.

I should now like to outline some of the landmark decisions and milestones achieved at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, even if they are relatively recent, and we are still working through their implications. Despite a record number of contributions, 91% of which were received late, I am pleased to confirm that we were able to publish, track and process all contributions in all six languages according to our official procedures in time.

I am convinced that the outcomes of the Plenipotentiary Conference leave ITU in good shape to face the future.  In Guadalajara, ITU Member States brokered a compromise on a number of key Resolutions on Internet issues, which strengthen and underline our commitment to work with the Internet community. ITU carries out vital work enabling the interconnection of public telecommunication networks over which Internet services are provided. Obviously, our expertise in PSTN architecture and numbering has considerable relevance to Internet public policy issues. 

In Guadalajara, I myself made a personal appeal to delegates to call for greater collaboration and coordination between ITU and relevant organizations, including ICANN, regional Internet registries, the IETF, ISOC and W3C. As we move from words into action, I count on your support to help ensure this collaboration between ITU and the Internet community concrete, real and meaningful. It can only be of benefit to the online information society if the telecom and Internet communities work together more closely.

At the Plenipotentiary Conference, delegates also expressed themselves positively as broadly in favour with the work and aims of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development launched by ITU and UNESCO earlier this year. This Commission unites leading CEOs from major operators and companies with top-level representatives from the UN sister agencies, and the public sector to distil cutting-edge thinking about the role of ICTs and broadband in achieving development goals. The EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Ms. Neelie Kroes, is a member of the Commission, which aims to emphasize that ICTs generally, and broadband more specifically, can drive economic recovery.

Future service delivery in health, education, business, trade and government will all rely on broadband-enabled platforms, so countries must plan for a future built on broadband. The EU’s Digital Agenda has proved to be an excellent initiative in this respect. It has held two meetings so far, and published a report containing recommendations to the United Nations Secretary-General with regards to boosting progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, as well as developing a wealth of online resources and best practices promoting the roll-out and take-up of broadband. The work of the Commission has been well-received by the UN and ITU Member States.

I also wish to emphasize our programme of internal reforms underway at ITU, as I am sure this is a subject close to your hearts in these times of budgetary constraint. I am pleased to say that the Conference agreed a sound financial plan for ITU, which provides a stable basis for us to make further gains in efficiency and introduce results-based budgeting to ensure we remain accountable to you, our Member States. In the interest of making our operations even more transparent and accountable, we look forward to working with the Independent Management Advisory Committee established by the Plenipotentiary Conference.

In these economically challenging times, ITU is fully aware of the need and committed to doing more with less. I am determined to continue to oversee my programme of reforms designed to make the ITU more efficient and more responsive to the needs of its Members. The 2010 Plenipotentiary Conference established a Council Working Group to steer us towards a stable Constitution and basic texts of the Union. This year, for the first time, our budget was produced in accordance with IPSAS or International Public Sector Accounting Standards. Other key decisions taken in Guadalajara included improved remote participation and electronic meetings, as well as fresh impetus and direction for the ITU TELECOM event, which will now take place annually, on the basis of a competitive bidding process. I see these reforms as necessary and desirable, in keeping with my ongoing drive to modernize ITU and its working methods.

Your Excellencies,
Ladies & Gentlemen,

It has often been said that Europe has played a significant, often critical, role in ITU’s past and helped shape the ITU.  I would like to believe that Europe will play a vital role and participate actively in shaping ITU’s future.  Many of ITU’s core values, norms and procedures are directly inherited from European concepts of promoting public interest and forging consensus, including -- dare I mention it -- decision-making by committee!

Just like Europe, ITU faces similar challenges of crafting consensus from diversity, and standards from plurality, while recognizing the richness and strength to be found in different cultures and different perspectives.  There are more similarities, and more common heritage, between our institutions than you might think. 

And this is also one reason why ITU is reluctant to see the representation of those Member States who are also Members of the European Union reduced to the participation of a single delegate representing the EU. As our recent Plenipotentiary Conference proved, we have effective mechanisms for regional, as well as national, representation and we are keen to see the diversity and richness of European representation maintained here at ITU.

And to those who think that second terms are a good opportunity to rest and relax on the laurels gained in your first term – rest assured, I have plenty of enthusiasm and drive and ideas about future directions I feel ITU should pursue!  And I welcome any comments, insights or questions you may have.

Thank you.