Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest updates about Their Royal Highnesses including news, events and photos straight to your inbox

The Prince of Wales and The Duchess
of Cornwall

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Prince Harry

Open

Speeches

A speech by HRH The Prince of Wales titled "Less Than 100 Months to Act", Itamaraty Palace, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Published on 12th March 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, I just wanted to begin by saying, if I may, how grateful my wife and I are to the Brazilian Government for so kindly hosting us on a visit to at least a part of your vast, diverse and fascinating country. Although this is my wife’s first experience of Brazil, to which she has been eagerly looking forward, I have been lucky enough to visit Brazil on three previous occasions and, while I cannot claim any great expertize, I can say with some pride that my personal connections with your country stretch back over more than thirty years. On that first visit I can remember dancing a somewhat rudimentary version of the Samba with a rather dramatically semi-naked lady in Rio. Thirty years later, and prior to this visit, the lady concerned has been in touch to suggest a slightly more staid re-run of the Samba! Do I accept the challenge?!

Some forty years ago I can recall my parents’ State Visit here in 1968 and being astounded then, aged barely twenty, by learning that Brazil ranked first in the world for the number of species of mammals, freshwater fish and plants, and being deeply impressed by these endemic riches. On my first visit here, back in 1978, I was able to see something of this extraordinary diversity for myself when I visited the Amazon region and so I could not be more pleased to be returning there on this occasion and being able to bring my wife.

It is hardly surprising that Brazil holds such fascination. As the World’s fifth most populous country and its fourth largest democracy, it is, by any standard, a country which matters a great deal to the international community and one whose voice is clearly heard. Nowhere is this growing importance recognized more readily than in the U.K., not least because of the burgeoning trading relationship between our two countries – and trade is one of the surest foundations on which to build friendship between peoples. Albeit from a low base, British exports to Brazil increased by a remarkable forty-five per cent in 2008 and they are now growing faster than our exports to India or to China. It is, I am pleased to say, a “two-way street” and Brazilian exports to the U.K. increased by thirty-five per cent, faster than from any of the other “BRIC” countries. There is, of course, nothing new in Britain and Brazil working together and learning from each other. Indeed, Don Joao’s decision back in 1808 to open the Ports of Brazil to all friendly nations was informed by the advocacy of free trade by the Scottish political economist, Adam Smith.

Some three years ago we were delighted to be able to join in welcoming President Lula on his State Visit to the U.K. Since then there has been a step change in co-operation on key areas such as science, and I am pleased to see the enthusiasm of the UK Research Councils in working with Brazil and to learn that the number of Brazilians now coming to the U.K. to develop their skills has increased by some sixty per cent. I know that the President attaches particular importance to harnessing the potential of young people and helping them into work. Here, too, there could not be a closer meeting of minds. Through my Prince's Trust in the U.K. and my Prince’s Youth Business International overseas, I have been working in this area for some thirty-three years and I am proud to say that we have helped to launch 100,000 fledgling businesses in more than forty countries. I cannot help thinking that what many of our young people need is a hand up, and not necessarily a hand out, and therefore I am delighted that later today I will be attending an event to celebrate a new partnership between my Prince’s Youth Business International and Conexao, a social joint venture that combines citizenship and volunteering with social mobility opportunities for the young. In the next five years this partnership will support hundreds of young Brazilian entrepreneurs from low income communities, thereby creating thousands of jobs in twenty states across the country. Conexao will do this by using the same proven methodology as The Prince’s Trust - simply by providing loans of seed capital and, crucially, access to an experienced business mentor who can offer sound advice and spot problems before they move from the theoretical to the actual!

You hardly need me to remind you that our countries are also united by sport and, in particular, a great passion for football. Please forgive me if I do not linger too long over the respective performances of our national football teams…! Football is, of course, a global sport and it is perhaps important to remember we share a global home, the Earth, which, whatever those who still so vociferously deny the science of climate change may say, is under rapidly increasing, catastrophic threat.

When I visited Sao Paolo back in 1991, I said in a speech to business leaders that:

“Environmental awareness seems to be a plant which flourishes at times of economic well-being. As soon as recession appears, or other dramas capture the public attention, caring for the long-term viability of the world around us becomes a luxury to which we no longer give a high priority.”

That was a year before one of the most important international meetings ever - the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit - the meeting that agreed the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biodiversity. But while these treaties have been hugely important, it is unfortunately the case that we are still very far away from meeting their respective central aims of avoiding dangerous global warming and conserving the variety of life on Earth. As the world’s economy heads further into recession, it would be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture; to commit the sin, as we say in English and if you will pardon the terrible pun, of “not seeing the wood for the trees”.

For we are, I fear, at a defining moment in the world’s history. We are facing a series of challenges so immense that we can – perhaps – be forgiven for feeling they are all too forbidding to confront. The global recession is far worse than any seen for generations; the world’s demand for energy, which – we are told – will soon see prices for oil rocket again, creates political uncertainty in every continent; the demand for land to grow food intensifies at the same time as the world’s population rises – perhaps increasingly unsustainably - while the threat of catastrophic climate change calls into question humanity’s continued survival on the planet. To some, these problems appear to demand contradictory policy solutions.

I would suggest, however, that this is not the case. Doesn’t the global crisis in which we find ourselves tell us that sustainable development will be, indeed can only be, the primary driver of economic and industrial development in the future? There are many people suffering desperate hardship at the moment – across the globe – and that is why we must not repeat the mistakes of the past, but instead find a new way to develop our economies. And surely at the heart of such a fresh approach must be the creation of low carbon economies…

Seemingly, the easiest way to solve the economic crunch would be to exploit more of the world’s dwindling resources, including fossil fuel reserves, and thus to continue with patterns of industrial development that have underpinned economic growth for more than two centuries. It is, of course, important that developing countries should continue their development, bringing people out of poverty, as Brazil has been doing successfully in recent years. However, the old model of industrial development is clearly failing to deliver the benefits for which many had hoped… It is perhaps worth recalling what the economist Herman Daly wrote about the natural world: “it is the envelope that contains, sustains and provisions the economy” – not the other way around. Thankfully, we now understand the importance of our natural world and the huge benefits we get from the myriad of species all around us. The planet’s natural biodiversity helps us fight disease, provides the rights foods for our populations, can help deliver clean water and – of course – regulates the climate. That is why the old approach just cannot be an option any more. It is yesterday’s solution for yesterday’s problem.

My wife and I will shortly be visiting the Galapagos Islands, perhaps the very epitome of a unique natural ecosystem under threat; a microcosm of the kind of challenges we face – in this case between garnering the economic benefits of tourism, while at the same time protecting and nurturing the very reason tourists wish to visit – namely to experience the incredible wildlife there that depends absolutely on the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

That place, in particular, reminds us of the urgent need to find ways simultaneously to pursue economic benefits while at the same time protecting the balance of Nature that in the end is the security for all economic activity. This is, I believe, the central challenge of the 21st Century, and one that your great country is showing such commendable leadership in meeting.

Brazil has given the world some of its most inspirational ecological leaders, many of whom understood this basic truth. One was Chico Mendes who said: “At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.” Many voices have in recent years joined his to raise our collective consciousness of the need to act and, of course, every day the ever more alarming scientific evidence attests to the fact that we have very little time left if we want to sustain life on earth as we know it. As I know you well understand, the race in which we are all engaged now is to restore harmony to the forces of Nature unleashed by climate change and so ensure our very ability to survive because, ladies and gentlemen, any difficulties which the world faces today will be as nothing compared to the full effects which global warming will have on the world-wide economy. It will result in vast movements of people escaping either flooding or droughts; in uncertain production of food and lack of water and, of course, increasing social instability and potential conflict. In other words, it will affect the well-being of every man, woman and child on our planet.

And yet, despite all that we know – in other words, that our glaciers are disappearing, that the ice-caps are melting, that our weather is becoming more extreme – global greenhouse gas emissions are still rising inexorably, not falling.

The best projections tell us that we have less than one hundred months to alter our behaviour before we risk catastrophic climate change, and the unimaginable horrors that this would bring. Is this a risk really worth taking? What is the point of gambling away our future? Why can’t we take the wisest course and adopt the precautionary approach? So, on top of the resource demands we are making on the world, we also have to reduce our global CO2 emissions.

Brazil is, of course, in the forefront of the work to protect the global environment and to mitigate the potentially disastrous effects of climate change. Your sovereign territory, with your neighbours, includes the mighty Amazon rainforest and you have, if I may say so, been introducing some highly innovative, creative and successful measures to stop deforestation. I know both our countries share a desire to halt deforestation as fast as possible, while at the same time sustaining dynamic development.

This would not only help to conserve the most incredible array of fauna and flora (many of which are still unknown to science and which may have properties that are vital to our survival), but it would also buy a little more time for alternative sources of energy production to be developed - for that, after all, is the main problem, as you are only too aware. But in losing the rainforests, we simultaneously emit vast amounts of carbon as well as reducing the earth’s capacity to absorb it, so substantially accelerating our careering path towards two degrees (and therefore, in all likelihood, three degrees) of warming. And if we reached such terrifying average temperature increase, some climate models suggest that the very rainforests themselves could be at risk from climate change, drying out from prolonged drought and thus potentially adding billions of tonnes more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as dense forests give way to savannas and grasslands.

Therefore, if I may say so, I could not be more pleased that the international community is working with Brazil so vigorously in trying to find ways to ensure the forests are worth more alive than dead. I know that 25 million people live in the Brazilian Amazon region. The issue, therefore, is one of economics. Your Amazon Fund is an extremely constructive contribution to the world’s attempts to halt deforestation. It is innovative, forward-looking and a powerful national vehicle for positive action against deforestation which I hope will also provide the world with an effective mechanism to collaborate with Brazil in meeting shared goals. In my own small way, I have been trying to assist these and other efforts. After twenty-four years of my working closely with the private sector on issues of corporate responsibility, I set up my Rainforests Project with the help of some of the best brains in the business world. Following exhaustive consultation with the private, public and N.G.O. sectors over the past fourteen months, and working with experts in the various relevant fields, my Rainforests Project has been attempting to develop a solution that might, I hope, be able to assist your own ambitious plans.

In essence, we are proposing a way to leverage private capital into Rainforest Nations. The idea is simple. Investors (and perhaps most probably pension funds and insurance companies, with which I have been working for some time and which are looking for long-term investment opportunities) would buy a bond that is under-written by developed countries. The proceeds from the sale of the bond would be spent helping Rainforest Nations develop their economies without destroying their forests, mainly through new low carbon development strategies designed to end poverty while keeping the forests standing. The money would be given, rather than lent, and would in effect be a payment to Rainforest Nations for the ecosystem services that the rainforests provide. Like all proper business contracts, it would be paid on the basis of results. This is the crux of the matter. The more forest that is saved, the more countries would be paid. It would be an interim financing mechanism that would provide emergency funding until significant funds start flowing from what we all hope will be the successful climate change negotiations in Copenhagen this year. The developed countries backing the bonds could cover their liabilities for repayment in ten or fifteen years through, for example, the allocation of emissions trading auction receipts or through green investment strategies that simultaneously raise returns from, for example, renewable energy technologies.

These proposals seem to be receiving a warm reception from many quarters , including the World Bank, international N.G.O.’s and, I am delighted to say, a number of Governments – not least because this package would provide significant amounts of capital at really very little cost to taxpayers. It also means that the private sector can be brought to bear positively on a challenge of global proportions. One thing we have all learned, I think, is that any sustainable solution requires a combination of both the public and the private sectors, and to be applied simultaneously from the top down and bottom up. Slowing down deforestation is a complex and urgent challenge. It is most certainly not one that we can leave until later, or hope that it will go away on its own. Success will require cooperation and leadership and it is truly remarkable how Brazil has proved so willing in offering the international community both of these sometimes scarce commodities.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have always believed that we must look to business to shoulder its share of the burden and, as I said earlier, I have spent a considerable number of years working with companies across the world to promote socially responsible behaviour and – indeed – socially responsible investment at a time when such ideas were not exactly fashionable! I am convinced that there is no other way to achieve the scale of change we need unless business, Government and also N.G.O.s join together in a tripartite alliance.

Many of the essential choices we are going to have to make will be hard and require great commitment. But it would all be so much easier, and we could make a difference much more quickly, if such a genuine partnership could be created. We just don’t have the time to opt for half measures or for a less than truly integrated approach, hoping that something, some wonderful new technology, will eventually turn up. As never before we are the Masters of our fate and I am so looking forward to meeting representatives of your leading companies later today because they have a crucial role to play in spearheading the low carbon revolution.

It is why, in a small way, I have been championing responsible business and corporate social responsibility for nearly three decades. Under the auspices of Business in the Community, of which I have been President for twenty-four years, I started three years ago what we call a “May Day” network – based on the May Day emergency international distress call - which has become the country’s largest group of businesses and organizations committed to tackling climate change. By sharing best practice, these companies are committed to reducing their impact on the environment, and therefore helping the UK meet its ambitious CO2 reduction targets.. Indeed, I have long believed that business should play a key role in changing attitudes, working in partnership with policy-makers to develop the solutions we need. That is why, in 2004, I set up my Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change with twenty of the top British companies – and now we have another one operating within the European Union - which together promote the fact that the change to a low-carbon future presents business with an opportunity, not a threat. Which brings me back to where I started – it does seem to me that the international financial crisis serves only to reinforce the message that positive action to tackle climate change could in fact be a stimulant to economic activity driving new technology, creating new business opportunities and generating new employment.

I am greatly looking forward to discussing this and so many other subjects during my visit to Brazil which is affording me such special opportunities to listen to your experts and to learn from their experience. I say this because your expertize is of such importance and value to the whole world. For, in making progress here, you are providing immense and invaluable contributions to humanity as a whole. Therefore I can only pray with all my heart that the international collaborations you are engaged with in protecting your forests, and in promoting sustainable development, meet with unqualified success.

The journey towards this more integrated approach started here in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 at the historic Earth Summit. Although the momentum generated back then has taken us some distance down the road, we still have a long way to go. I can only say that I much look forward to continuing to collaborate with this great country and its -leaders – in Government, in business and in civil society.

If we can once more redouble our efforts to unite the world in meeting perhaps its greatest and most crucial challenge, then we may yet be able to prevail.