Ensuring Positive Impacts of Connecting Sustainably

pp14-blog-zhao2Though there are only 3 billion people connected online, Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-enabled applications have seen unprecedented growth over the past two decades. The Connect 2020 framework aims to expand the number of users by a further 1.5 billion by the year 2020, which, though ensuring that more people and communities benefit from inclusion in the digital economy, provides a challenge for all of us to ensure this growth happens in a sustainable manner.

To promote the beneficial use of ICTs, we recognize at ITU the need to manage challenges that emerge from rapid growth; we focus on enhancing their sustainable and safe use, working closely with other organizations. We will work towards minimizing the potential negative impact of growth in ICTs. We must strengthen cybersecurity, preventing potential harm to the most vulnerable parts of society, in particular children, and mitigating the negative effects on the environment, including e-waste.

The third Connect 2020 goal ‘Sustainability – Manage challenges resulting from the telecommunication/ICT development’ recognizes the need for purposeful growth to ensure the continued and successful progress of the sector. I was joined at the third Connect 2020 round table of the 2014 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference by three experts – Aaron Boyd, Chief Strategy Officer, ABI Research; Loyd Fikiasi, Manager, Legal and Market Commission and Chief Legal Officer, Telecommunications and Radiocommunications Regulator, Vanuatu; and Leslie Martinkovics, Director of International Regulatory Affairs, Verizon – to discuss three areas of particular interest: cybersecurity readiness, e-waste and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

As we have already seen from previous Connect 2020 round tables, the successful completion of the framework’s ambitious targets require international cooperation. This is most certainly the case when dealing with issues of cybersecurity. The large proportion of growth within the 2020 timeframe will come from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Vanuatu who currently have 50% mobile and 12% Internet penetration, with Mr Fikiasi outlining plans to increase this to 90% Internet penetration by 2018. It is here, in these phases of growth, that issues of risk are best addressed, with nations sharing best practices.

But cyber risk must also be considered within the ever-expanding Internet of Things (IoT), with technology becoming increasingly linked to national infrastructure, ranging from national electric grids to chemical and water treatment. As Mr Boyd noted, a breach in any of these areas will have significant and potentially far-reaching consequences. The ITU Global Cybersecurity Agenda encourages Members to identify and close security gaps, both legal and technical, while developing capacity building and cooperation to ensure that the Internet remains a safe and secure environment in which to build an inclusive information society.

Connectivity also creates questions of environmental sustainability, where solutions are needed to reduce the carbon footprint of the ICT sector. Verizon has invested USD140m to increase the environmental sustainability of their six data centres based in the USA, with solutions including solar panels, recycled water, and new chiller units. ICTs also present a great opportunity to reduce global GHG in other industries by 16.5%. ITU has been active in this area, developing standards for smart grids and smart sustainable cities.

Another solution is the universal charger. This was developed in response to the growing build-up of e-waste – with 384,000,000 electronic items ending up in landfills every year in the US alone, posing a serious threat to the environment. Indeed, these issues needs greater global attention, with a lack of formal international policy creating health and pollution issues. Some solutions are being launched by the private sector: Verizon has launched the HopeLine Programme which provides discarded but operational mobile phones free to vulnerable victims of domestic abuse to help ensure their safety.

While e-waste is often thought of as a purely environmental risk, there is an associated risk often unconsidered by consumers: digital crime. Old devices such as laptops and mobile phones retain credit card data and web traffic information on their hard drives which can be extracted and used by data criminals. Education in the marketplace is necessary to ensure the secure disposal of these materials – both the data and the physical product itself.

Issues of e-waste, cybersecurity and GHG emissions can only be tackled through international cooperation; we cannot have just one voice calling for change. By setting global targets and inviting both Member States and industry to work together, the Connect 2020 framework ensures that limited global resources and energies are used to maximum effect to achieve these ambitious goals in the 2020 timeframe.

About Connect 2020

The Connect 2020 framework is currently under review at the PP-14 and represents an ambitious vision for the ICT sector, developed as part of the 2016-2019 ITU Strategic Plan, with goals and measurable targets representing the change that the Union wants to see achieved by 2020.

zhaoBy Houlin Zhao
Houlin Zhao was elected on 23 October 2014 as the next Secretary General of the ITU during the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 in Busan, Republic of Korea. He will take up his new position on 1 January 2015. Mr. Zhao was elected ITU Deputy Secretary-General at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya, Turkey, in November 2006 and re-elected for a second four-year term in Guadalajara, Mexico, in October 2010. From 1999 to 2006, he served as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) with his first election at PP-98 in Minneapolis, USA and again at PP-02 in Marrakesh, Morocco. From 1986-1998, he worked at ITU headquarters, as an Engineer/Councellor. Mr Zhao graduated from Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and holds an MSc in Telematics from the University of Essex in the UK.

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