High Level Ministerial Roundtable
REMARKS BY MR. SHA ZUKANG, UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE 2012 UN CONFERENCE ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
4 February 2012, Palo Alto, US
Assistant Secretary Jones,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour to be here today.
I want, first of all, to thank the United States government for sponsoring this event.
This event aims to explore the transformative nature of existing and emerging connection technologies, and how they may be utilized to address critical sustainable development challenges.
The event bridges a gap in the preparatory process for Rio+20.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When the UN convened the first Earth Summit in 1992 – which President Bush attended – connection technologies, as we know them today, were not yet on the horizon.
When historians look back over these two past decades, they may well describe this period as a golden era for information and communication technologies.
Indeed, Stanford and the surrounding region – known to the world as Silicon Valley – have for years been a vibrant centre of scientific and technological innovation, unmatched elsewhere.
Stanford and Silicon Valley scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs have given the world the laser, the microprocessor, the personal computer, the integrated circuit, office automation, high-energy physics, and recombinant-DNA, to name but a few.
Silicon Valley occupies a unique role in the history of science and technology. Not just in the United States, but across the world. It has inspired many other Silicon Valleys in both developed and developing countries.
Silicon Valley is synonymous with the can-do spirit of this nation.
Today, in discussing connection technologies and sustainable development, we also pay tribute to the people of this nation.
It is thanks to their can-do spirit, their drive for innovation, and their entrepreneurship, that the world now benefits from the wonders of these technologies.
Anchored on the internet, social media and their mobile applications, connection technologies have revolutionalized the way we grow our economies, how we advance social wellbeing, and how we protect our natural heritages.
There are now 6 billion mobile devices worldwide, and 1.2 billion mobile Web users.
In 2011, seven trillion mobile phone texts were sent around the globe. By the year 2015, 183 billion applications will be downloaded.
These benefits have been vast and profound.
For individuals, connection technologies have enhanced productivity by putting information at our fingertips.
They help overcome disadvantages, contributing to social equity. Thanks to these tools, many more groups now enjoy access to essential information, knowledge and services.
Take education, for example.
Connection technologies help complement and enhance traditional education. They can be remarkable teaching aids. Where there is good broadband infrastructure, connection technologies make it possible to access free textbooks, digital and e-publications.
For governments, connection technologies have helped improve governance, fight corruption and foster public participation in decision-making.
The information flows have also helped keep governments accountable for the promises they make.
As an empowering tool, connection technologies have contributed to economic development.
Recent experience points to a significant correlation between the penetration of connection technologies and economic growth, as seen in emerging economies.
With the service sector accounting for nearly two thirds of the world’s economy, connection technologies are driving an efficiency revolution. Ultimately, even traditional industrial sectors, including manufacturing, will witness a productivity revolution, thanks to improved service, made possible by connection technologies.
In addition, connection technologies have given birth to new industries, with millions of IT jobs created.
As Deng Xiaoping once observed, the history of civilization is, in many ways, a history of scientific and technological revolutions, which are the most effective engines driving social and economic development.
Today, as we seek to tackle challenges in hunger and poverty, climate change, disaster relief, food security, health, energy, water, oceans, urbanization, and more, science and technology are critical in empowering nations to find solutions.
Estimates by my department – the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs – suggest that over 100 national governments have published on-line national environmental management strategies.
Clearly, connection technologies are playing a vital role in environmental protection. This includes in data collection, assessment, monitoring, early response, and in the dissemination of knowledge and best practices.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In their preparations for Rio+20, member States and major groups have submitted 677 inputs to the outcome document. The role of connection technologies was mentioned 1,973 times.
As the Conference Secretary-General of Rio+20, I consider this a clarion call to realize the full potential of connection technologies in support of sustainable development.
Indeed, in the zero draft of the outcome document, paragraph 18 calls for universal access to information and communications technologies. We hope this goal will be endorsed at Rio in June.
Last week, member States met in New York for a first round of discussions on the outcome of the Conference. Despite differences of views, they share a commitment to strong action. And there seemed to be convergence of views on the critical role of connection technologies.
We are expecting unprecedented participation and engagement at Rio. Our website, our twitter account and our presence on Facebook are all part of the strategy to spread the message of Rio+20.
We’re reaching the general public in a manner that was unimaginable 20 years ago.
From my personal perspective, I hope member States will address three fundamental challenges in the lead-up to Rio.
First, as was called for in the World Summit on the Information Society, we need to address the digital divide.
Our analysis suggests that for many developing countries, especially the Least Developed Countries, the first priority is to invest in connection technologies infrastructure. Without this, the gains of connection technologies will remain out of reach.
Our experience on the ground strongly suggests that there is a tremendous yearning among the poor – not only for ICT per se – but also for what ICT can make possible.
We must give ICTs the status of basic infrastructure, similar to energy or water. The donor community should review their development policies in the same vein.
Access for everyone to connection technologies is a must if we are to achieve the future we want.
Second, we need to build partnerships, including public and private partnerships.
Like any infrastructure investment, governments alone cannot do the job.
We need business – to invest, to manage and to disseminate knowledge and information.
Third, we need to promote transfer of technology, on mutually agreed terms, while respecting intellectual property rights.
Thorny as it is, IP protection can be an enabler of technology transfer, rather than a barrier.
The keyword is affordability. What we need, is innovative solutions that address both the needs of protection, and the ability to pay.
Ladies and gentlemen
Rio+20 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. If governments and stakeholders agree on an outcome that is strong on commitments, and strong in action, I think we have a chance to set the world on a sustainability track.
My department has projected the world population to reach 9 billion by 2050. The resources of our planet will not increase during this span.
If we want a future where there is economic growth, equity, social inclusiveness, and environmental sustainability…connection technologies will be critical.
We owe our young people, and our children, a hopeful future, a future we all want.
Let’s advance the sustainable development agenda, through a big push in information and connection technologies.
I urge participants at this event to develop, and bring, new voluntary initiatives to Rio+20.
And I look forward to continued global leadership by the United States in advancing sustainable development.
Together we can leverage the transformational power of connection technologies to build a fairer, more sustainable and prosperous world for all.