By Kirstie Wielandt
UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres wasted no time in getting to the point in his keynote speech at the opening of this year’s Web Summit gathering in Lisbon.
Guterres, a qualified engineer himself, was swift to take the opportunity to appeal to the fifteen thousand strong audience, packed with technologists, entrepreneurs, innovators, investors and media, to ensure they were working, in his words, “for the benefit of us all.“
He moved on to underline what he considers to be the most pressing and defining threat of our time, climate change and appealed to the audience step up to the challenge of combatting it.
“In the last few decades, we have witnessed an enormous impact on the world from science, innovation, technology, all combined with globalization, which overall has been positive but has also had collateral damage. Climate change is the defining threat of our time… Combined with megatrends like population growth, chaotic urbanisation, food insecurity, water scarcity, and (climate change) is the (biggest) threat to our planet today.“
No stranger to multilateral negotiations in the corridors of power, Guterres acknowledged that last year’s Paris Agreement on climate change, was a huge achievement and the first step, however, he says that, as with all multilateral agreements, the challenge is one of implementation.
“The Paris Agreement is good, but not enough, not all countries are abiding by it, and, even if they were, we’d still all be on track to a three degree temperature rise by the end of the century which is why it is absolutely essential that we see an enhanced ambition in relation to climate change for life on our planet to be sustainable and inclusive.“
He is, however, an optimist and is strongly encouraged by advances in clean tech, green technology and other innovations helping us to tackle the climate crisis, many of which were on show at the Lisbon Web Summit itself. In his words, “the good news is that science is on our side… today it’s clear that thanks to new green technologies, the green economy has become the economy of the future…and enabling people to both make money and do good’ – a comment which received rapturous applause from the audience in the hall.
He underlined the importance of the tech revolution, stating “tech will help us to tame the climate through this fourth industrial revolution* which includes biotech, nanotech, cleantech and other technologies which will benefit everybody, and …I believe this revolution can answer our key questions around climate change and the degradation of the environment.“
He concluded his speech with a second rally call to the audience and guests of the summit to take full advantage of the opportunity to come together during the event to debate and set parameters for the evolution of the industry.
“We must be strategic and combine the actions of govt, business, researchers, academics, and civil society to make sure this *fourth industrial revolution is indeed a force for good by setting collective norms and …regulatory frameworks that are agile and flexible enough for the 21st century. This summit is a great opportunity to come together to discuss these challenges and opportunities..and make sure this industry is working for the benefit of us all.“
Antonio Guterres, a highly respected diplomat and humanitarian, took on the role of UN General Secretary on the 1st January 2017 when the previous Secretary, Ban ki-Moon, stepped down. Guterres is no stranger to prestigious roles, having been Prime Minister of Portugal for seven years between 1965 – 2002 and UN High Commissioner for Refugees for ten years between 2005 and 2015.
The Web Summit conference ran from 7th – 10th of November and included other high profile speakers such as Al Gore, Stephen Hawking and Wyclef Jean. This year’s summit saw a huge increase in tech startups connected to the climate, energy and sustainability, and a full day designated to the discussion of sustainability on it’s new ‘Planet:tech’ stage.
*The fourth industrial revolution is described by the World Economic Forum as ‘the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.’