Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

Ambassador's Information Meeting

15 March 2010, New York, USA



Note: Published version of speech (extended text) - Please also refer to the presentation which accompanied this speech [PowerPoint format - 5.62 MB]


Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you here in New York this afternoon, and I would like to thank you for coming.

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the ITU and its work, and to talk you through how this fits in with the work of the UN system, particularly concerning ICTs for Development; the MDGs; and the World Summit on the Information Society.

We will also be looking at two other areas which are both particularly topical at the moment and also relevant to the UN and its work – Emergency Telecommunications and Disaster Relief, and Cybersecurity.

I will close with a look at ITU’s major events – and will aim to leave plenty of time for any questions you may have.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to ITU.

Cloud of Words: ITU, UN, agencies, global, networks, ICTs, countries, development, ....

Introduction to ITU

ITU is easily the oldest of the United Nations organizations. Founded in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, ITU took its present name — the International Telecommunication Union — in 1934.

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.

Because of ITU, 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. 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.

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.

I believe this is the great strength of ITU. For almost a century and a half we have worked alongside the ICT industry, building global consensus, reconciling competing interests, and forging the new technical standards that have served as the platform for the development of what is now the world’s most dynamic business sector.

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 of the CEB and to have observer status in ECOSOC and UNGA.

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

This office aims to strengthen the ties between ITU and the United Nations, helping to promote ITU’s work within the UN common system while at the same time ensuring ITU’s work helps further UN goals.

At ITU Telecom World 2009, held last October in Geneva, Ban Ki-Moon said “I invite all UN agencies, world leaders, national and local governments, the private sector and NGOs to do their part to foster economic and social development through the use of ICTs.”

And we, for our part, will do everything we can to support the work and goals of the other UN agencies.

As I have said many times, united, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. But divided, there is little we can do.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me now move on to ICTs for Development and the MDG Review.

ICTs for Development & MDG Review

In the year 2000, all 192 UN member states and at least 23 international Organizations set out eight goals and eighteen supporting targets and committed to achieve them by 2015.

The goals and targets expressed priorities in eradicating hunger and poverty; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and creating a global partnership for development.

The potential of ICTs is explicitly recognized in Target 18 under Goal 8, which calls for the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications, to be made available in cooperation with the private sector.

ITU has been officially tasked with monitoring and tracking Target 18 through the following indicators: fixed telephone teledensity; mobile cellular teledensity; and internet penetration. And our STAT department regularly liaises with the UN Statistical Commission and officially reports on progress in tracking this target.

While progress towards achieving almost all of the MDGs has proved very uneven, the only target where we have already far over-achieved, globally, is target 18.

Indeed, it is increasingly clear that the success of the other MDGs may well hinge on this target: think of e-health, e-education, e-governance, or e-energy, for example.

There is a clear link between GDP growth and progress towards the MDGs, so it is interesting to note that research consistently shows that investment in any sort of ICTs has a direct positive effect on GDP. Higher-end technologies – such as broadband networks – have been shown to deliver the greatest benefits.

A 10% increase in fixed line teledensity seems to increase GDP by around 0.5%. The same increase in mobile teledensity increases GDP by some 0.7 percentage points. And a 10% increase in broadband penetration can boost GDP by an average of 1.3%.

It has also been shown that a 10% higher broadband penetration in any given year is correlated with a 1.5% increase in labour productivity over the following five years – helping to drive GDP growth over a sustained period.

In terms of the MDGs, the impact of ICTs on individual empowerment is enormous. As Queen Rania of Jordan observed at the Mobile World Congress last month in Barcelona, mobile phones “have the power to give children a teacher in their pocket, a classroom in their hand and the future at their fingertips”.

Education in basic hygiene and preventative measures – especially as universal primary education is itself a goal – could make a vital contribution to improving maternal and infant health and preventing communicable diseases.

I should stress here the power and importance of broadband networks.

Broadband is a transformational technology that will reshape the way essential services are delivered in the 21st century, and they will have as much impact in our times as the advent of water, power or transport networks did in earlier centuries.

Because of the benefits they can deliver across society as a whole, broadband networks can very quickly pay for themselves, through innovation and cost-savings in sectors such as health, education, energy and transport.

Recent estimates show that in some countries, cost savings of just 0.5% to 1.5% over ten years, in these four key sectors alone, could justify the cost of building national point-to-point, fibre optic networks. And the financing of mobile broadband networks is of course even easier, with a typical return on investment in mobile networks of just 18 months.

This is why ITU has launched its ‘Build on Broadband’ campaign this year, and why we are in the process of establishing a Commission for Broadband Development, which will be co-chaired by the ITU Secretary-General and the Director of UNESCO.

The commission has the support of the UN Secretary-General, and will report to the 2010 MDG Summit in September.

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.

Besides this, ICTs for development is discussed in relation to the implementation and follow up of the World Summit on the second committee of the UN General Assembly and in ECOSOC, and I invite missions to consult ITU before negotiations – we are more than ready to provide brieifings in advance.

I would also make a strong case for ICTs to be addressed in forthcoming UN meetings, including the ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review on gender and women empowerment; the 2010 MDG Summit; and the preparatory process for the fourth LDC conference.

ICTs can help achieve the objectives of the UN Secretary General in almost every area, from the MDGs to poverty reduction; from peace and security to combating the financial crisis; from food security to the empowerment of women.

Perhaps most importantly, for our future as a species, ICTs can help us address climate change. ICTs themselves contribute 2-3% of annual greenhouse gas emissions, but 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.

Distinguished guests,

I would now like to say a few words about the World Summit on the Information Society, and the follow-up on that event.

World Summit on the Information Society – Follow up.

ITU was the main organizer of the World Summit on the Information Society, which took part in two phases: in Geneva in 2003, and in Tunis in 2005.

In Geneva, world leaders developed a shared vision for an open, equitable and inclusive Information Society, organized around 11 Action Lines. The multi-stakeholder implementation of each of these action lines is facilitated by UN specialized agencies, which include the UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, the FAO, and of course ITU.

ITU is the leading Facilitator, along with UNESCO and UNDP, in coordinating the multi-stakeholder implementation of the Geneva Plan of Action.

It is also the Facilitator of Action Lines C2 (Information and communication infrastructure) and C5 (Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs).

At UNDP’s request, we have also agreed to be the Facilitator of Action Line C6 (Enabling Environment) on a temporary basis, and we are Co-facilitator of Action Lines C1, C3, C4, C7, and C11.

In Tunis, world leaders agreed on a blueprint for further actions to facilitate universal access to basic communication and information services. They established the Internet Governance Forum, the IGF, and outlined a complex implementation and follow-up mechanism involving many UN bodies.

These include the UN itself; the UN’s Specialized Agencies; the ECOSOC Functional Commission on Science and Technologies; ECOSOC; and the General Assembly.

The UN secretary General was also invited to establish a UN Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) within the CEB, consisting of relevant UN bodies and organizations, with the mandate to facilitate implementation of the outcomes of WSIS by the UN System.

In line with Resolution 57/270 B, the objective is to further promote system-wide interagency coordination and cooperation to implement agreements reached at UN conferences.

ITU is chairing the UNGIS group for this year, while UNCTAD, UNDP and UNESCO act as vice chairs.

This year, 2010, is absolutely key, as we are half way from WSIS to the MDGs. This gives us a unique opportunity for a mid-term review and we will be doing this at the ITU’s WSIS Forum from 10 to 14 May – and I invite you all to attend.

Almost 50 countries participated in the open consultation process for this event, and submitted more than 110 contributions.

The Forum itself will offer participants a series of diverse meetings, including high-level debates addressing critical issues to the WSIS implementation and follow-up in multi-stakeholder set-ups; WSIS action line facilitation meetings; thematic workshops; kick-off meetings for new initiatives and projects; and speed-exchanges facilitating networking among the participants; among others.

On the occasion of the WSIS Forum this year we will also be publishing the World Telecommunication Development Report, which will detail the latest figures and trends from around the world.

The Forum will provide an excellent opportunity for structured networking, learning and participation in multi-stakeholder discussions and consultations on the WSIS implementation.

This will help us prepare for the 2010 MDG Summit and the preparatory process of the fourth LDC conference, as well as the review of the Mauritius strategy + 5 for the Sustainable Development of Small Island States..

Ladies and gentlemen,

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

Emergency Telecommunications and Disaster Relief

We cannot stop disasters and emergencies from happening, but hopefully, 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.

We must address the reconstruction of Haiti’s communications networks during the forthcoming Haiti Donor’s Conference, and ITU is ready to provide help and expertise in any way it can.

ITU also deployed satellite communications equipment in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Chile in February, and the mud slide in Uganda at the beginning of this month.

I have spoken about earthquakes, 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.

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.

Distinguished colleagues,

I could speak a great deal more about emergency communications and disaster relief, and the work we do in these areas, but I must move on now to another very important issue which will increasingly affect us all: I refer to cybersecurity.


Make no mistake, 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. Recent estimates suggest that cybercrime is now worth over US$ 100 billion annually, which is more than the whole of the global illegal drug trade.

And 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 WSIS in 2005, as I mentioned earlier, 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.

Within this framework, and in order to assist Member States, ITU has developed a number the ITU Cybercrime Legislation Resources package, which now includes:

The ITU Toolkit for Cybercrime Legislation, which aims to provide countries with sample legislative language and reference material that can assist in the establishment of harmonized cybercrime laws and procedural rules.

Understanding Cybercrime: A Guide for Developing Countries, which is a resource to help developing countries better understand the national and international implications of growing cyber-threats, assess the requirements against the existing national regional and international legal instruments, and assist countries in establishing a sound legal foundation.

The ITU National Cybersecurity/CIIP Self-Assessment Tool, which is an initiative to assist ITU Member States who wish to elaborate on their national approach for cybersecurity and critical information infrastructure protection (CIIP).

The ITU Botnet Mitigation Toolkit, which is being developed to assist developing countries in particular to deal with the growing problem of botnets.

The ITU Study on the Financial Aspects of Network Security: Malware and Spam, which is a review of some of the current leading thinking and research on the economics of cybersecurity.

The ITU Toolkit for Promoting a Culture of Cybersecurity, which is designed to provide guidelines on how to raise awareness on cybersecurity issues for small and medium sized enterprises, consumers and end-users in developing countries.

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 50 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.

Existing frameworks, while good, are not in fact global. The best example is the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, which has been ratified by only 26 countries. The nature of the convention makes it hard for other countries to join.

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.

Next month, the Government of Brazil will host the Twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Salvador, and the theme this year is ‘Comprehensive strategies for global challenges: crime prevention and criminal justice systems and their development in a changing world’.

Issues that will be discussed include combating cybercrime, promoting cybersecurity, and protecting children online. I therefore invite you to underscore ITU’s role as WSIS Action Line C5 Facilitator at the Congress, and to reinforce the importance of cybersecurity within the UNGA’s first committee on Disarmament and International Security.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before taking your questions, I would like to move on briefly to the last item I wanted to discuss with you – which is ITU’s major events.

ITU major events

As I mentioned during my introduction, ITU is unique among UN-specialized agencies in having a mix of public and private sector members. As a result ITU hosts a number of events which are also unique among the UN organizations – notably in forging enduring partnerships between the public and private sectors.

A good example is our ITU Telecom event, which brings together key players from government and industry to network, showcase the latest technologies, and debate the present and future shape of global ICTs. We will be holding our 40th anniversary ITU Telecom event towards the end of next year, in Geneva, and I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Another example of the kind of events which we use to bring industry and government together are the ‘ITU Connect’ series of events which we initiated in 2007 with ITU Connect Africa. This event, held in Kigali, Rwanda, was a huge success, resulting in US$ 55 billion in ICT development pledges over a seven year period.

In the two years since then, an impressive US$ 21 billion has already been 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 also – like other UN agencies – hold what I can describe as ‘institutional events’, such as the annual Council meeting and the four-yearly Plenipotentiary Conference which are effectively our governing bodies.

This year is a plenipotentiary year, and we are looking forward to charting out our path for the next four years in Mexico in October.

Our three sectors also have their own major events every four years or so – with the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly happening most recently in South Africa in 2008; the World Telecommunication Development Conference taking place in May this year in India; and the World Radiocommunication Conference taking place in Geneva in early 2012.

Distinguidshed guests,

I have reached the end of our agenda, and I hope that you now have a better idea about who we are and what we do.

I would therefore now welcome any questions you may have, and will do my best to answer them now – or to ensure that we get answers to you very soon if I don’t have the answer to hand.

Closing remarks

In closing, let me just 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.

In our case, that means doing everything we can to connect the world, and to allow people to communicate in an effective, safe, affordable, and equitable manner.
Thank you.