The "Axis of History" is well known in Paris. It is the famous straight line that joins the historic monuments: the pyramid of the Louvre, the Place de la Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe and the Grande Arche.
The other day I went to the roof of the Grande Arche (at the height of 110 meters) to see the exhibition 'History of Information Technology'. It chronicled the events in the development of the computers and internet since 1958. It was the 50th Anniversary of the starting point of the digital revolution that swept over the whole planet and changed the way we live.
The information in the exhibition was startling. Anywhere between 60 - 100 billion emails are sent daily as per the latest estimates as of March 2008. And there are 1.3 billion people globally who surf the internet, the majority of the surfers being in Asia. "Networks" of computers is the founding principle of this revolution. Sharing files and "packet switching" are the key mechanisms for the speedy and effective communications.
Interestingly, the start of such communication was the result of intense competition and the race in space technology between the United States and Russia. In 1958, the United States received a major surprise when Russia launched Sputnik. ARPAnet (Advance Research Project Agreement Network) was initiated by USA in 1958, in order to network with institutes and universities to share and coordinate research results in the space technology and other military research.
ARPAnet contributed immensely in putting man on the Moon within ten years time. The cost of ARPAnet was just few millions of dollars and the Apollo mission to the moon costed some billions of dollars. That was the power and cost effectiveness of networks! Cost effectiveness and speed is the value proposition in networking.
When I joined UNEP in Paris as Coordinator of OzonAction, we decided to use this "value proposition of networks" to help eliminate the production and consumption of the Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS). Mrs. Ingrid Kokeritz, a renowned Swedish expert on the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, was very passionate about the mechanism of sharing of the experiences among the government officers in charge of the implementation of the Protocol. With Ingrid's vision and energy, UNEP OzonAction launched ODSONet (ODS Officers' Network) to connect 12 countries in South East Asia Pacific region. The concept was as simple as ARPAnet, but applied to the implementation of a multilateral environmental agreement: sharing experience and exchanging real life experiences to accelerate the implementation of the Montreal Protocol was the value proposition.
Within 8 years, the Multilateral Fund expanded these networks and now they connect 145 developing countries. UNEP OzonAction now operates 10 regional and sub-regional networks that have been recognised (though both formal evaluations and through testimonies of Network members) as having contributed immensely to the faster phase out of ozone depleting chemicals. Costing a few million dollars, just about 3 % of the total US $ 2.5 billion spent in implementing the Montreal Protocol in developing countries to date, these networks have become inseparable part of the Montreal Protocol. The ODSONets changed the way the Governments translate the Protocol into the action.
ARPAnet gave birth to a world-changing spin-off -- the Internet - the network of networks! Trade was banned on the Internet till 1992. But once it was liberalized, the Internet flourished. There are today about 165 million websites, half of which are related to business. I was amazed to read the information in the exhibition.
ODSOnet gave birth to the network of focal points in other Multilateral Environmental Agreements. Who knows? -- Perhaps there will be a network of networks for MEAs in the near future -it may revolutionalize the way we work towards the sustainable development!