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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

ITU Council 2017

​​​​​​​​​Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao​

ITU Council 2017: State of the Union Address

15 May  2017, Geneva, Switzerland 

​Madam Chairman, ​
Excellencies, Ministers, Vice Ministers, Ambassadors,
Distinguished Councilors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Colleagues,​​​​​

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​​​ ​

​​On behalf of my Elected colleagues and the ITU staff, I welcome you to the 2017 Session of ITU Council.​ ​​ ​ ​

I want to present our special welcome to those of you who are attending the Council for the first time. And to the Ministers and Vice Ministers who made time in their busy schedule to be here with us today.

Your presence means a great deal to all of us. ​​

Dear colleagues,

We've seen tremendous progress in the area of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in recent years.

More people are connected. New technologies, such as broadband and 4G services, have been deployed. E-commerce, e-health, e-money, and many more electronic services have reached more and more people around the world.

I am pleased to see that the role of ICTs in helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is gaining wide recognition.

For example, ITU took part in the first-ever meeting of the Digital Ministers of G20 last month in Germany. We'll join similar meetings of the BRIC countries and the G7 later this year.

Information technology and the digital economy can transform the lives of billions of men, women, and children. The digital revolution can transform nations -- entire continents.

Look at what's happening in Africa.

The Transform Africa Summit that was held in Kigali just a few days ago is a great example of the transformation we're seeing on the continent. I was there to appreciate this initiative launched by Africans, and presented to the Conference that ITU stands ready to work with all of them to build a Smart Africa.

Africa is very dynamic, not only presenting a great opportunity for further developments but also showing leadership in some areas. 

North Corridor Members of East Africa and members of ECOWAS in the West have successfully eliminated roaming charges. It's an example for the rest of the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Together, we need to lead the development of new technologies. Our work on 5G, big data, cloud computing and the Internet of Things, for example, is absolutely essential. Those are already on the agenda.

But we need to catch up with the industry and address new frontier technologies like Artificial Intelligence.

I am very pleased to advise you that ITU will organize, together with XPRIZE, the "Artificial Intelligence for Good Summit" in Geneva from 7-9 June 2017. 17 UN Agencies jointly support it. 

This will be a great opportunity to consult with the industry and academia, and seek their opinion on how ITU and the UN can assist them, both with respect to innovation and development.

In this connection, I am very pleased to advise you that ITU has forged deep ties with UN Agencies since I last spoke here one year ago.

Today, ITU and WMO share some common services, such as Ethics service and social welfare service. We just signed a joint statement with UNIDO. And we will sign an agreement with FAO after Council 2017. We have also strengthened our cooperation with UN WOMEN and with WHO. And the long-standing cooperation between ITU and UNESCO, UNCTAD, and UPU is moving to a higher level. 

UNCTAD Secretary-General Kituyi was in Bangkok last November to attend ITU Telecom 2016. I was in Shanghai the same month for the World Health Conference organized by WHO, and in Istanbul a few weeks before for the UPU Conference. The Heads of UNESCO, UNDP, UN WOMEN, UPU, and UNIDO joined the Broadband Commission special session organized by ITU and WEF at Davos in January.

ITU has taken measures to increase our contacts with the Geneva-based Missions. ITU has provided technical briefings to the Geneva-based diplomatic community on issues like 5G and AI. It's very important for us to help this community get familiar with our work. We'll continue our efforts in this direction.

ITU also looks to strengthen partnerships and cooperation with the other stakeholders.

I am very pleased to advise you that ITU received the whole team of ICANN Board here at ITU Headquarters on 5 May. It was a very productive meeting.  The Chairman of the Board and the CEO of ICANN both highly appreciated it. 

Dear colleagues,

ITU management will continue this important conversation and renew its efforts to reach out to all partners.  We have worked hard to enhance the perception of ITU as a "technology agency" but also one with the responsibility and capabilities to be a good partner in development.

I have conveyed this message everywhere to encourage partnership for development.

This morning, I just returned from the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing, yesterday 15 May, where many Heads of UN Agencies were present.

There is another perception we need to address that the ICT industry -- in particular, the telecom business -- is self-sufficient; that there's no need to worry about investment.

But we have to be careful. More than half of the world's population is still offline. Those who are not yet connected often live in poor areas, or in areas that are difficult to reach. To connect them, we'll have to make more efforts.

Creating an attractive environment for investment in ICTs must be one of our top priorities.

Late last week, a massive cyberattack -- perhaps the biggest cyberattack in history -- caused major disruptions to companies and hospitals in nearly 100 countries, prompting a call for greater cooperation around the world. At ITU, in our role as the facilitator for Cybersecurity WSIS Action Line C5, we are committed to making the Internet more secure, safer and trustworthy, for the benefit of all. 

Excellencies, Distinguished Councillors,

ITU has worked hard over the last year to implement the tasks identified by PP-14, by Councils 2015 and 2016, and by the Members.

The Deputy Secretary-General will shortly present Document 35 which focuses on the progress made towards the goals and objectives of the Union and the activities undertaken since the 2016 session of Council.  I and my colleagues will be pleased to provide you clarifications you may need.

A lot of important events took place over the year since our last meeting.  Let me mention WTSA 2016, which happens every four years. Thank you to all the participants, who have further strengthened ITU's position in the world ICT standardization field. I will work with TSB to implement the Resolutions and Decisions adopted by WTSA 2016 and we will also pay attention to address the issues raised during the Assembly.  Our goal is to continue to improve the ITU-T environment to attract industry members and others to carry out the tasks with which you entrusted us.

Furthermore, last year, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of ITU-T/CCITT, and the 110th anniversary of the Radio Regulations. This year, we will celebrate the 90th anniversary of ITU-R/CCIR, and the 25th anniversary of ITU-D. We are very proud of our rich history and look to the future with confidence.

Later this year, we will hold the World Telecommunication Development Conference WTDC-17 from 9 to 20 October in Buenos Aires, Argentina under the theme ICTs for SDGs. My special thanks to Argentina for the generous offer to host this very important conference.

As Secretary-General, ensuring the most effective use of ITU's limited resources -- including human and financial resources -- is high on my list of my priorities.

Thanks to my Elected colleagues, we worked diligently to present a balanced draft budget for 2016-2017. In addition, we have taken efficiency measures during the budget implementation, which made further savings of CHF 5.2 million in 2016.

This year, once again, we have managed to present to you a  balanced draft biennial budget for 2018-2019.  I appreciate the excellent spirit of teamwork demonstrated by my Elected colleagues during the process of preparation.  We sincerely hope you will endorse it after your review. 

But as we face an ever-increasing workload, I invite Members to consider more financial support to ITU. I have discussed this issue with our Members whenever I had the chance. And the response has been positive, even though many of you are facing financial difficulties at home.

I want to thank you for your understanding and your support. Thank you to those of you who have decided to increase your contributory unit to ITU by 2018.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to thank our staff for their  support and dedication. ITU Staff is one of our most valuable resources. The success of the Union cannot be achieved without ITU staff. 

I am calling on you, dear Councillors, to help us with those staff-related issues to be reviewed by Council 2017. We highly value your support.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The UN SDGs present a world in which there is no poverty, zero hunger where people live healthy lives. A world where everyone has access to quality education, to water and sanitation, and to affordable and clean energy. A world where women, youth and SMEs are empowered by ICTs to tap into socio-development opportunities. 

In this world, everybody has their opportunities. No one is left behind. 

We all wish to make that world a reality by 2030.  The Sustainable Development Goals are an incredible opportunity for all of us. And information and communication technologies will be essential.

The world needs the SDGs; the SDGs need ICTs.

As the UN specialized agency for ICTs, ITU must fulfill its mandate and responsibilities.

I am confident you will do your best to strengthen ITU; ITU will not disappoint you.

I count on you.

I wish you a successful and enjoyable Council 2017!

Thank you.​​