Your Excellency Commissioner Ning,
Your Excellency Governor Zheng,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very honoured to join you today in this inauguration ceremony of the Regional Hub for Big Data in China, in support of the United Nations Global Platform. The inauguration of this Regional Hub is most important, and timely.
The demand for data, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is greater than ever. Governments are in need of detailed data on the spread of the virus and its impacts on society. Under these challenging circumstances, statistical institutes have had to respond urgently to the demand for data, and to present innovative solutions. Consequently, in these times of need, the statistical community is now able to effectively use Big Data and advanced technologies.
For example, census data – together with detailed geospatial information – can help identify the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. And, real-time data on the position and movement of ships, for example, can estimate the volume of cargo being transported, and thus help produce estimates on the state of the economy. These real-time shipping data are available as a global data set on the United Nations Global Platform, and can be accessed by the whole statistical community.
Besides the current global health crisis, there are other critical issues that deserve our attention, including:
• climate action,
• the state of our oceans,
• sustainable transport,
• food security, and
• reducing inequalities within and across societies.
The United Nations Secretary-General called for a Decade of Action so that we can still achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Indeed, the strength of the United Nations is to bring countries together to find solutions for common problems. Under the umbrella of the United Nations Statistical Commission, statistical institutes come together to exchange experiences and agree on common standards. In 2014, the Commission initiated work on the use of Big Data for official statistics, and for indicators on the Sustainable Development Goals. Over the last six years, many new methods and training materials were developed and shared.
For hands-on collaboration on Big Data projects, the United Nations Global Platform was developed over the last two years. This platform now hosts collaborative projects that include, for example:
• the use of satellite data for mapping of crops, and
• the use of shipping data to monitor port activity and estimate maritime CO2 emissions.
Currently, about 25 countries are connected to activities on the UN Global Platform. However, all statistical institutes should be able to benefit from these capabilities. This means getting access to the platform in both a technical way, and as a means to develop the human resources capacity to use the global platform.
This need for building capacity is the main reason why the United Nations Statistical Commission fully supported the creation of Regional Hubs, in Brazil, China, Rwanda and the United Arab Emirates. Their main objectives are to:
• facilitate projects in the use of Big Data for official statistics and SDG indicators;
• share knowledge on newly developed methods, algorithms and applications; and
• provide training in this domain for the community of official statisticians at the regional level.
Going forward, Big Data and advanced technologies will have to complement the more traditional data collection and processing at national statistical systems. This should produce timelier, more frequent, and more detailed statistics and indicators.
The Regional Hub for Big Data in China, therefore, has a very important role to play in developing capacity for the statistical institutes in the Asia-Pacific region. This Regional Hub will provide capacity-building and training to statisticians and data scientists, and conduct workshops on data science and modernization of official statistics.
In closing, I wish to express my sincere congratulations to Commissioner Ning and Governor Zheng with the establishment of the Regional Hub in Hangzhou. This is an important achievement on our journey to modernize the production of official statistics.
My Department, UN DESA, through its Statistics Division, stands ready to support the hub in rolling out collaborative projects and training opportunities for the statistical community.
Relevant, frequent and granular data are needed more than ever to overcome the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
I am confident that the Regional Hub for Big Data in China is going to play a vital role in delivering better data for policies that aim to improve people’s lives.