The United Nations has a vital role to play in helping Member States, particularly those in the developing world, to harness new technologies to mitigate natural disasters, climate change, food shortages and a host of other challenges, according to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“The UN is the lead global institution dealing with many of these challenges,” he told the Global Colloquium of University Presidents on New Technologies for Meeting Global Challenges at Yale University in the United States yesterday, citing this week’s devastating earthquake in Haiti as a prime example of the need to close the technology gap between developing and developed countries.
“We have technologies to build sturdier buildings and to build infrastructures that take into account possible fault lines. We know a great deal about how to work with the natural landscape to ensure that urban settlements are more secure. The problem is that so many parts of the world are not benefiting from this knowledge and these technologies. Disaster risk reduction measures must not be a luxury that only some States can afford.”
But the gap between the haves and the have-nots is not the only challenge in harnessing technology to drive development. No technology is risk-free and its responsible use is therefore crucial, Mr. Ban stressed.
“Technological development has opened the door to a host of new global threats. Some of these are quite horrifying. A dangerous virus could escape the confines of a high-security lab; or terrorists could steal nuclear materials from medical or energy facilities and turn them into weapons. A synthetically produced organism could have an adverse impact on the environment or on health,” he said.
“It is clear that we must create an environment in which science and technological innovation can flourish, but with robust safeguards and oversight mechanisms, which protect both people and the environment from unacceptable risks,” he added.
He highlighted wide-ranging UN experience on the issue, citing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) helps monitor, but warned that biotechnology and cyberspace are two areas of research where efforts to control the risks nationally and internationally are not keeping pace with innovation.