The session, focusing on how blockchain can be used in smart cities, was moderated by Ms Cristina Bueti (Counsellor, International Telecommunications Union [ITU]).
In his opening remarks, Mr Malcolm Johnson (Deputy Secretary General, ITU) mentioned that blockchain technology had attracted a lot of attention mainly because of interest in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and it raises challenges and opportunities. He emphasised the need to ensure interoperability between blockchain and other information technology (IT) systems. He informed participants that the ITU was involved in blockchain technology discussions to develop standards that can be adopted by countries. He added that the ITU’s role is to ensure that energy consumption is reduced, that using the service is secure, and the regulatory aspects of blockchain are covered. He shared about an ITU study group working on smart cities, the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain, and how these can be used to achieve the goal of smart cities and communities. He recommended ensuring that technologies are also available in rural areas which can benefit from technology in healthcare, education, agriculture, business, and other areas.
Mr Graham Alabaster (Chief of Sanitation and Waste Management, United Nations Habitat) mentioned that UN Habitat was the custodian of sustainable development goal (SDG) 11, which aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. He added that land and waste management are an aspect of smart cities. He mentioned the need to look at cities as a unit and understand water, energy, air pollution, and other environmental issues that arise as cities develop. He predicted that in the near future, people will live outside major cities so there is a need to find ways to make operations effective, and to involve civil society and communities to work with local governments and contribute to local policies. Alabaster talked about the SDGs and their monitoring, which worries governments as they are trying to find existing databases to monitor. He added the SDGs are about leaving no one behind but this can only be achieved if data and information are dis-aggregated.
Ms Soumaya Ben Dhaou (Research Coordinator, United Nations University [UNU]) shared UNU’s work focusing on policy-oriented research, electronic governance, capacity building, and bridging the gap between research and public policy. In terms of blockchain technology for cities, she talked about the need to understand benefits, risks, and alternative technologies which would have to be unique for each city. Their work is focusing on developing a policy framework with the purpose of supporting decision-making by providing guidelines. Decision-makers and city managers had been interviewed regarding their expectations of the framework. When building technologies, Ben Dhaou talked about the need to integrate ethics, observe if they are sustainable, and consider other environmental issues and implications.
When asked about security of blockchain systems and policies/regulations required in using blockchain in cities, Ben Dhaou responded that after the financial technology sector, governments were second in showing interest in blockchain. She shared that 80% of blockchain initiatives are planned or have been started but there is little information on blockchain and public administration. She added that blockchain has been presented theoretically as a secure system, and some experts have said that there is no proof if security is good or bad.
Dr Bilel Jamoussi (Chief of the Study Groups Department, Standardisation Bureau, ITU) mentioned the need to demystify blockchain, giving an example of purchasing land which is currently on paper and in electronic form in some cases but could move to distributed ledgers on blockchain, which can be encrypted and sent across networks. To the question about quantum computing, he responded that it is not widely deployed currently but ITU study group 17 on security is working on building blocks to make quantum computing safe.
Bueti predicted that very soon there will be discussions about quantum Internet and quantum computing. She invited participants to join the United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) working group.
By Sarah Kiden
- UNU-EGOV / ITU