Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

   Global ICT Summit

 Broadband for Sustainable Development 

 Keynote Speech    

12 June 2012, Tokyo, Japan

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a tremendous pleasure and a great honour to be here with you this afternoon at the Global ICT Summit.

Indeed, it is always a special pleasure for me to visit this fine and honourable country, with its long traditions of culture, history and technological advancement.

Japan has been a highly-valued member of ITU since 1879, and remains one of our most dedicated and important Member States. We appreciate the continuing contributions from Japan to the Union, across all Sectors of our work.

This afternoon, as leader of the ITU, I would like to share with you my passion to ‘Connect the World’ – and in particular to ensure that the digital divide is not allowed to become a broadband divide.

In particular I would like to discuss ‘Broadband for Sustainable Development’, and to say a few brief words about the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The past twenty years has been an extraordinary time for the development of ICTs – and with the ‘mobile miracle’ we have brought their benefits within reach of virtually all the world’s people.

Today there are well over six billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide, and here in Japan, mobile cellular penetration is now over 100%.

The next crucial step must be to replicate the mobile miracle for broadband.

Because while 80% of the Japanese population now uses the Internet – almost exclusively over broadband connections – two thirds of the world’s people still have no access to the Internet at all, let alone a broadband connection.

Let us make no mistake: broadband is not just about high-speed Internet connectivity and accessing more data, faster.

Broadband is a set of transformative technologies, which are fundamentally changing the way we live – and which can help ensure sustainable social and economic growth not just in the rich world, but in every country, rich and poor, developed and developing.

Broadband will change the world in a million ways.

Some of these we can predict, but most of the changes will come as a complete surprise to us – in just the same way that the harnessing of electrical power led to the unexpected building of skyscrapers, made possible with electrically-powered elevators.

So broadband, too, will deliver unexpected benefits.

Here are some of the benefits we can already be sure about:

In a more populous, ageing world, broadband will help to deliver essential services such as health, education and good government.

It will help us address the biggest issues of our time – such as climate change and environmental sustainability – and it will revolutionize the way goods and services are created, delivered and used in the digital economy.

Indeed, broadband will help every country on earth compete in the new online world of e-commerce, Internet transactions and virtual goods.

Already, broadband is bringing mobile banking to those without bank accounts – in their millions across the developing world.

Mobile phones also play a key role in healthcare programmes in a growing number of countries around the world, and the proliferation of smartphones, connected to broadband infrastructure, will see progress in this area accelerate rapidly in the coming years.

Concerning education, ICTs themselves are already acting as one of the main platforms for disseminating knowledge. This marks perhaps the biggest shift in education since the founding of the first great ancient higher-learning institutions, which essentially depended on the model of ‘lecturer’ and ‘lectured-to’.

Over the coming years, we will see an explosion of excellence in home-grown educational establishments right across the developing world. These will cater person-to-person for those who live close to schools and universities, and online for those who do not.

Some of the biggest universities in the world today specialize in distance learning, and many of them are in developing countries.

This could never have happened without ICTs and broadband, which have brought two crucial new forces to play: the death of distance, and the democratization of information and knowledge.

Broadband is also helping us accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals – for example through applications to help improve people’s lives and livelihoods, especially in rural and agricultural areas.

The innovative use of ICTs will also play a crucial role in ensuring the world’s seven billion people have affordable and equitable access to adequate food supplies, at every step of the process: from delivering the right information to farmers; to helping them improve yields and prices; to improving supply chain efficiencies; to ensuring that consumers understand nutritional needs, both for themselves and for their children.

Distinguished colleagues,

We live on a fragile planet and for better or for worse humanity has not in the past been a very gentle species.

It is therefore time to ‘get smart’ and to use the power of technology to help put things right – and to keep them that way.

Sustainability is absolutely key, and ICTs will help us achieve sustainability in the 21st century.

As you know, next week sees the staging of the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil.

Rio+20 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape a sustainable future – and in particular to start defining the post-2015 agenda.

It is very important that the Rio+20 outcome document, ‘The Future We Want’, recognizes ICTs and ICT networks as essential catalysts for the achievement of all three pillars of sustainable development: social, economic and environmental.

In the hyperconnected world of the 21st century, ‘The Future We Want’, will lack credibility if it does not reflect the fact that ICTs are all around us, and will continue to shape the sustainable future. Indeed, a more sustainable future is already being created through the proliferation of ICTs.

Good examples include smart grids, environmental sensors, intelligent transport systems, dematerialization and the digitalization of goods and services, and new ways of improving energy efficiency, which all help to drive the transition to a low carbon economy, while better adapting to the effects of climate change.

Similar principles apply to smart water management and distribution, and here too, ICTs will play a vital role in the 21st century, as water resources become more scarce, and much more valuable.

ICTs as a sustainable development imperative have always been supported by the Group of 77, and I was pleased to see that last year’s Istanbul Plan of Action for the UN-designated Least Developed Countries, LDCs, identified ICT networks as critical infrastructure on a par with water, energy and transportation.

This message absolutely needs to be carried through into ‘The Future We Want’. ICT networks are basic and essential infrastructure in the 21st century.

The LDC IV Conference in Istanbul last year already called for 100% access to the Internet by 2020. This is an achievable goal, and one which should be enshrined in all the important texts coming out of the United Nations from now onwards.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is why ITU created the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, in conjunction with UNESCO, two years ago. The Commission advocates for the global rollout of broadband infrastructure and for the provision of equitable and affordable access to broadband for all the world’s people.

The Broadband Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim, President of the Carlos Slim Foundation, and Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, and myself serve as co-Vice-Chairs.

We now have almost 60 Broadband Commissioners – all leaders in their field – representing governments, industry, academia and international agencies, and they are doing great work in advocating the importance of policy leadership.

Together, we are working hard to combine our advocacy work with research and analysis, providing concrete evidence of the tangible benefits of broadband – and I am pleased to announce in this regard that ITU and the Broadband Commission have recently launched a new series of case studies, which are available via the Commission’s website.

It is surprising to me, in the second decade of the  21st century, that there are still people who argue that we do not need high-end technology at all to solve the world’s most pressing issues. These people argue that issues such as hunger and poverty can be addressed by having enough people willing to help, and through the use of simple technology, such as 2G mobile phones.

But without the broadband infrastructure humming away in the background, and without the power of large servers and big data storage capabilities, we cannot achieve very much at all.

SMS messages to remote and rural patients only work if there is a proper broadband network – and powerful computers – running in the background, and the same is true for enabling applications such as mobile banking.

Distinguished colleagues,

We are at the beginning of a journey towards an extraordinary new and sustainable world – a broadband world.

A broadband world – where individuals rich and poor are connected to the global knowledge society.

A broadband world – where what matters is human ingenuity, not simply where you were born, or how wealthy your parents were.

A broadband world – offering sustainable social and economic development for all.

Thank you.