Information technologies vital to tackling climate change – UN Secretary-General

5 October 2009
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks at the opening Ceremony of the ITU Telecom World 2009 Conference

Information and communication technologies are vital to tackling climate change, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a global forum that kicked off today in Geneva, urging participants to think of creative ways to use the latest technology to usher in a green economy.

Organized by the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) every few years, Telecom World is a unique event for the information and communication technology (ICT) community which brings together the top names from across the industry and around the world.

“We all know that ICTs have revolutionized our world,” Mr. Ban said as the week-long event got under way. “My main interest is how these technologies are creating new possibilities for the United Nations to achieve its goals of peace, human rights and development.

“ICTs are also very vital to confronting the problems we face as a planet: the threat of climate change,” he added. “Indeed, ICTs are part of the solution. Already, these technologies are being used to cut emissions and help countries adapt to the effects of climate change.”

Mr. Ban noted that earlier this year, the UN teamed up with mobile phone companies and other partners to install 5,000 new weather stations across Africa. The weather stations will monitor the impact of climate change, and when there is news, text messages will be sent immediately to farmers’ mobile phones.

In addition, information technologies are being used to raise awareness about climate change. The Secretary-General noted how the UN has mobilized young people to use Internet tools such as Facebook and Twitter in support of its campaign to seal a deal on climate change in December at the global conference in Copenhagen aimed at developing a new treaty to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

UNEP also created a ‘Twitter for Trees’ project, in which one tree was planted for each of the more than 10,000 people who signed up.

“I am sure you in this room can think of even more creative ways to use ICTs to usher in a new green economy,” said Mr. Ban. “Let us work together to find new ways to cut waste, reduce emissions, create jobs, protect against disasters and promote better standards of living.”

The Secretary-General also pointed to some progress, thanks in part to information technologies, in efforts to achieve the global anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while stressing that much more needs to be done to improve the lives of millions of people by the target date of 2015.

The ITU pointed out that while ICTs provide unprecedented opportunities to accelerate social and economic development, communities that currently lack access and know-how are being further marginalized. It is, therefore, encouraging its member States to adopt school-based community broadband plans to bring ICT access to disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

The agency’s Connect a School, Connect a Community initiative aims to facilitate public-private partnerships that will help countries establish school-based ICT centres.

ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré welcomed the initiative as an important milestone in improving broadband access globally.

“Designed not only for students but also for the communities in which they live, smart policies and innovative public-private partnerships promoting school-based community ICT centres represent an attractive, affordable and scalable step forward in addressing the digital divide.”

Mr. Ban also welcomed the initiative, noting that connected schools can become connected community ICT centres, which can provide a vital link to marginalized and vulnerable groups. “They can become an information lifeline for women, indigenous people, persons with disabilities and those living in rural, remote and underserved areas,” he stated.

He also stressed the need for teamwork in turning this goal into reality, and emphasized the importance of political will. “I urge world leaders to support this effort and take the needed steps to meet the agreed targets of connecting all schools by 2015.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said the explosion of mobile technology presents a great opportunity to scale up the AIDS response in poor countries.

“Harnessing technology in creative ways will help us reach people in need. I want universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services to be as ubiquitous as mobile phone coverage,” said Michel Sidibé.

According to UNAIDS, the millions of people in developing countries who had been left behind by the digital divide are now able to access health information and healthcare services at their fingertips through mobile technology. Mobile phones are being used as low-cost tools for HIV testing, data collection, epidemic tracking, and training of health workers, HIV prevention and treatment support.

While in Geneva, the Secretary-General also introduced former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the guest speaker at a lecture series focusing on “Resetting the Nuclear Disarmament Agenda.”

He noted that after many years of lying dormant, the goal of a world without nuclear weapons is “back where it belongs: at the top of the global agenda.”

Mr. Ban paid tribute to the leadership of Mr. Gorbachev, describing him as a “giant in the global effort to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world.

“He has made his mark through his pioneering efforts at the helm of his country… through his own nuclear disarmament proposals… through his tireless advocacy… and through the work of his foundation and with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world.

Mr. and Mrs. Ban are scheduled to return to New York on Tuesday, after wrapping up their three-nation tour which also took them to Sweden and Denmark.


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