Marking international year, UN chief celebrates role of light in boosting sustainable growth

An X-ray laser pulse at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source probes a supercooled water droplet (center, left). The speed and brightness of the X-ray pulses allowed researchers to study water molecules in the instant before freezing. Photo: SLAC/Greg Stewart

19 January 2015 – The role light-based technologies play in spurring sustainable development can help the international community tackle the challenges of the 21st century, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared today as he unveiled the International Year of Light – the United Nations effort showcasing light’s vital contribution to issues related to energy, education, agriculture and health.

In a message delivered to the Year’s opening ceremony held at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris, the Secretary-General explained that light science has already revolutionized medicine, agriculture and energy while today’s optical technologies has become the lynchpin to the basic infrastructure of modern communications.

Moreover, he added, by technologically harnessing the power of light, the international community has become better armed in its battle against the most pressing existential threats facing humanity.

“As we strive to end poverty and promote shared prosperity, light technologies can offer practical solutions to global challenges,” said Mr. Ban.

“They will be particularly important in advancing progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, achieving the future sustainable development goals and addressing climate change.”

Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly’s in 2013 following the body’s adoption of a resolution on the UNESCO-led initiative, the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies was mandated to boost public awareness on the influence of photonics – or, the science and technology of generating, controlling, and detecting photons, or light particles – on everyday life.

In fact, according to UNESCO, photonic technologies, which already make vital contributions towards energy generation and energy efficiency, have a “major impact” on the world economy with a current global market of almost $350 billion and a projected market value of over $700 billion in 2020.

In addition to the economic benefits, however, advancements in research now mean photonic technologies can significantly contribute to global efforts towards developing an energy efficient future which would both mitigate the effects of climate change and increase development.

To that point, Mr. Ban cited his Sustainable Energy for All initiative which, he said, aimed to dramatically increase energy access, energy efficiency and the use of renewables by the year 2030 – a move that would bring more light to homes, hospitals and enterprises and translate into “a safer, healthier and more productive future.”

“The International Year of Light can be used to expand scientific cooperation, especially in developing countries, advance education in the basic sciences, and engage talented young minds in our efforts to build lives of dignity for all,” the Secretary-General concluded, in his message.

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