|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Innovators Like Estonia Key to Closing Technology Gap, Bridging Digital Divide,
Secretary-General Tells Students at Public Lecture
Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki‑moon’s public lecture, as prepared for delivery, at Tallinn University on 16 November:
Good morning. I am delighted to be here. What a wonderful group of young people. Thank you so much for coming here on a weekend.
I understand there are many members of the United Nations Association club. Thank you for your engagement as part of a rising generation of global citizens. I have only been here a short time but I am already inspired. Estonia is truly a valued United Nations partner.
In just over two decades, Estonia has made a successful transition to a vibrant, prosperous and democratic society. I congratulate you on Estonia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council this year. I count on Estonia to continue to promote respect for human rights worldwide. I also count on you to help advance the global sustainable development agenda. That will be the theme of my speech today.
I am excited about the future, and I want to share my excitement with all of you, especially the students here today. This morning I visited the Robotex technology exhibition. I saw how young people from around the world are being encouraged to take up science and engineering. I was reminded, yet again, that we live in a fast-moving, momentous era — a time of profound global transition — an age of promise and opportunity.
Estonians understand this. You regained your independence in 1991 after a peaceful singing revolution. You are emerging invigorated from the global economic downturn. You are a global leader in a new wave of technology that is changing the face of the world. Today I will discuss our changing world, the role of technology and why I am so excited about the future.
Let me start by telling you something about my past. I grew up poor in a country destroyed by war. When I was young, I studied by candlelight or kerosene lamp. We had no indoor plumbing. We did our farming by hand. But science helped to change that — science, education and hard work.
The Republic of Korea is now a donor country, a member of the G20. Some of our companies like Samsung, LG and Hyundai are household names, just like your Skype is known everywhere. Just like you, I am proud of my country. But I am not here to blow a trumpet or bang a drum.
I wanted to become Secretary-General to serve the world. I believe in humanity. When I go to developing countries, I don’t see poverty. I see potential. I don’t see despair. I see dedication. I see mothers working tirelessly to feed and educate their children. I see young women and men with a thirst for knowledge and success. And every day I wake excited knowing that their dreams can become reality, just as mine did.
Ours is the first generation with the knowledge and tools to eradicate extreme poverty in all its forms. This is not a pipe dream. It is a fact. It is also a responsibility. We have a historic opportunity to transform our societies — to promote economic dynamism, social progress and environmental sustainability. These are the three interdependent dimensions of sustainable development.
Sustainable development is the path to the future we want for all people everywhere. To get there we have to do three things: accelerate progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); establish a post-2015 development agenda; and finalize a new climate change agreement. The deadline for all these objectives is the end of 2015.
First, we must fulfil the MDG promise made by world leaders at the turn of the century. The MDGs have made a profound difference in reducing poverty, tackling disease, empowering women and putting young children in school. But progress has been uneven and insufficient within and among countries.
More than one billion people are still extremely poor. More than 840 million are hungry. Two and a half billion people lack adequate sanitation. Too many mothers and infants die needlessly for want of basic care. Unemployment and inequality remain high, especially for young people.
The environment is under threat. Greenhouse gas emissions are at a record high. Biodiversity is at a record low. The natural resources of our planet are being depleted at an alarming rate. We have just over two years to the MDG deadline. We must spare no effort to deliver on our commitments.
Second, we must build on the MDGs and expand our ambition. Progress must be inclusive. Eradicating poverty must be our priority, sustainable development our guide and principle. The only way to make poverty eradication irreversible is by putting the world on a sustainable development path.
The General Assembly is working on sustainable development goals and targets. Many leaders from politics, business and civil society have contributed ideas. The UN system has listened to people around the world. I have submitted a report called “A Life of Dignity for All” to reflect these perspectives. I am also establishing a Scientific Advisory Board administered by UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] to help strengthen the link between science and policy. We are planning to convene the first meeting early next year.
Our sustainable development goals must be informed by the best science. They must be bold in ambition yet simple in design. They must be universal yet responsive to the complexities and needs of individual countries. They must be rights-based, with special emphasis on women, young people and marginalized groups. And they must protect the planet’s resources and support action to tackle climate change.
This is my third point. Addressing the threat of climate change is essential to all our efforts. We need to finalize an ambitious, legal climate agreement in 2015. To add momentum to this process, I will convene a climate summit in September next year. I am inviting leaders from government, business, finance, civil society and the science and knowledge community. I am encouraged that yesterday President [Toomas Hendrik] Ilves quickly accepted my invitation to attend.
This will not be a negotiating summit — it will be an action summit. The goal is to generate actions and political commitment to keep global temperature rise below 2° Celsius from pre-industrial levels. Science tells us we are in a race against time, and time is winning.
To achieve the MDGs, advance the post-2015 development agenda and combat climate change, we need innovation. Wherever I look, I see how technology is transforming our world for the better. Here in Estonia, your Tiger Leap policy has brought computers into schools. Your broadband is among the fastest in the world. You have practised e-government for more than a decade. You vote and pay taxes online.
Advances such as these are spreading rapidly in all regions. Estonia is contributing to this progress by sharing its experience with countries in this region and beyond. Information and communication technologies are having a profound impact on the pace and scale of development.
Broadband means cities can create efficient smart grids for electricity, schools can enhance education for children and doctors can treat patients from hundreds of miles away. Young people, especially, are using the opportunities of broadband and mobile telephones. They are using these new technologies to support free and fair elections, send money to friends and relatives and generate new business opportunities.
Increased connectivity is creating a world of opportunity. There are now almost as many mobile phone subscriptions as there are people on the planet. Africa alone has over 650 million — more than in the United States. Mobile phone technology means pregnant women and front-line health workers can receive life-saving health information. Farmers can get real-time prices for their produce and vital information on when best to plant, irrigate and harvest.
And it means that disaster survivors can communicate with responders — and most importantly, their relatives and friends. That is why restoring communications must be a high priority in the aftermath of catastrophic events such as we have just seen in the Philippines.
The United Nations is working using ICT [information and communications technologies] in many countries in many ways. The Food and Agricultural Organization has created a GPS mobile phone application to inform farmers about animal vaccination and help disease outbreaks. Initiatives such as Global Pulse are helping to provide early warning of disease or food shortages, and target assistance during and after disasters.
In Niger, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has helped develop the country’s ICT Plan for MDG Acceleration. And in Madagascar, a programme called “the Wisdom of the Crowds” used the reach of mobile technologies to collect the views of young people, giving them a voice in policies and development strategies. UNDP also helped fund Estonia’s e-Governance Academy that is working around the globe to promote the advantages of ICT for governance and citizen engagement.
There are so many examples. But technology and innovation does not always mean hi-tech. Fuel-efficient cook-stoves can cut respiratory disease and save the environment. Solar-powered fans can dry fish, meat and fruit, extending their shelf-life and reducing waste dramatically. Water purification systems based on nanotechnology being tested in India could prevent countless deaths from diarrhoeal diseases for as little as $2.5 per family per year.
It is clear that science and technology are central to promoting progress — from climate change to public health; from food security to sanitation; from good governance to disaster preparedness. That is why Governments at last year’s Rio+20 sustainable development conference asked me to move forward on creating a technology facilitation mechanism. The goal is to promote clean and environmentally sound technologies.
Too often policymakers are not aware of the solutions that modern science and technology can bring to today’s challenges. And too much of the world remains cut off from scientific advances. Now is the time to harness the power of science for the greater good everywhere.
To do that, we have to close the technology gap. Countries like Estonia have an important role to play — as donors and innovators. We have to bridge the digital divide. We have to promote “pro-poor” research that addresses the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, such as small-scale farmers.
Other imperatives include closing the digital divide in access to information technology and expanding education. In particular, we have to close the gender gap in technology. Women in low- and middle-income countries are much less likely to own a cell phone than men. And we have to provide science education to all students, especially girls, so they can train for jobs in the fields of science, technology and engineering. That way we can raise a new generation of engineers, entrepreneurs and visionaries.
I would like to close with another story. This time it is not my own. It is about a man from Brazil called Alfredo Moser. He is an inventor — and an inspiration to all of us. A decade ago he devised a way to light his house during the day without using power or dirty fuel.
More than 1 billion people in the world lack access to electricity. That is why I have launched a Sustainable Energy for All initiative to provide universal access to modern energy, double energy efficiency and double the use of renewables. Many solutions will be hi-tech. But, as I said, innovation can come in many forms.
Alfredo Moser’s solution to lighting his house was simple. He filled plastic bottles with water and some bleach to stop algae from growing and fixed them in holes he had made in his thin iron roof. The sun streams in and each bottle creates the same light as a 40- or 60-watt bulb. Simple and brilliant.
In the Philippines, the lamps are now in 140,000 homes. You can find them in India and Bangladesh, Argentina, Fiji and [the United Republic of] Tanzania. Where electricity is expensive or unavailable, the lamps mean people can have indoor light in the daytime without the expense and health effects of kerosene. Some people use the lamps to grow food on small hydroponic farms.
Mr. Moser hasn’t grown rich from his invention. He has given it away. But he sounds like one of the richest men I know. He is rich in wisdom and compassion. He is a true global citizen.
As we look ahead to the future we want, let us all think how we can be global citizens. That might mean working on solutions for sustainable development. It might mean being a wise policymaker or diplomat. Perhaps it means joining the United Nations or a humanitarian organization. Or it might be as little as recycling your waste and switching off the lights when you leave the room.
We all have a role to play, and I count on everyone here to think how you can be a true global citizen.
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