Ministers, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen: I am most grateful to you for sparing your very precious time to be here for this meeting today on Forests and Climate Change, exactly a month before C.O.P.21 begins in Paris.
In addition to complimenting Minister Ségolène Royal for her and her Government's absolutely herculean efforts in preparing for a successful C.O.P., may I also take this opportunity to congratulate the Ministers from Latin America present for their recent 'Protected Areas and Climate Change Declaration', endorsed by seventeen Latin American countries, which calls for the recognition of protected areas, working hand in hand with indigenous peoples, as natural solutions to climate change.
Ladies and Gentlemen, amid such esteemed Ministerial company – not to mention that of leaders from the private sector and civil society, such as Paul Polman from Unilever, Marc Bolland from Marks and Spencer and John Sauven from Greenpeace – I can only hope that the stage is set today for a very positive, action-oriented and productive day’s work…
Before we begin, though, and if you will allow me, I would just like to make three brief observations – the first on C.O.P.21 and its significance; the second on the importance of forests and land use in the context of C.O.P.21 and climate change; and the third on the need for new and ambitious partnerships for action to tackle deforestation, involving forest nations, donors, civil society and the private sector.
Regarding C.O.P.21, I have been immensely touched by President Hollande's invitation to attend and speak at the opening of the Conference. Paris will be an absolutely crucial milestone in the long overdue international effort to keep to a 2 degree world, although I think that everyone realizes that this C.O.P. will be the beginning of a new phase in the process, not the end in itself. It must, however, send an unequivocal, long-term signal to the international community, and to global markets, that the transition to a low carbon, sustainable, climate-compatible economy is firmly and irreversibly underway – and that a 2 degree world is therefore still, just, if we stretch every sinew – by setting a proper price for carbon – within reach…
Central to addressing climate change, and to many national plans submitted by countries to the U.N., is of course the issue of forests and sustainable land use. It will not surprise you that I remain as convinced as ever that if we can truly protect our forests, manage our soils and our landscapes in a far more ecological and integrated way and at the same time undertake the large-scale restoration of degraded forests and lands, then we will enormously increase our chances of attaining a 2 degree world. Between 24 and 33 per cent of the total potential to mitigate global greenhouse gas emissions is to be found in these actions. But they are not desirable on climate mitigation grounds alone; they will also safeguard the cultures and wellbeing of indigenous and forest peoples, protect the world's remaining biodiversity on which our future depends and render more resilient the water cycle and food production that is so fundamental to human existence.
That is why forests, R.E.D.D.+ and land use continue to form such a vital part of the international effort to address climate change. For while we have made heartening progress in recent years, as illustrated by the strong commitments to zero deforestation made by so many countries and companies and captured in the recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals, the hard and profoundly depressing fact, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that rates of deforestation and degradation continue to increase.
All of which brings me to my third and final point and, in a sense too, to the original spirit of my Rainforests Project at its inception in 2007. It seems to me that we must build on all that has been achieved to date by establishing a whole new set of strong partnerships for action between forest countries and regions, donor governments, civil society and the private sector.
The policy and governance drive to reduce deforestation can come only from forest countries, with the benefits being of almost incalculable value, both locally and globally. As forest nations increasingly show the way through ambitious commitments, these must be mirrored by greater long term support from donor countries and agencies. Companies really will need to accelerate their admirable efforts to re-engineer supply chains in support of smallholders, to adopt sustainable agricultural practices and, of course, to meet their zero deforestation pledges if we are to have any conceivable chance of keeping to a 2 degree world. We can’t possibly allow it to become 4 degrees as climate scientists have warned, that’s 7 degrees Fahrenheit, a big increase which will be impossible, I think, to adapt to. And all of this will have to be complemented by those organizations working with local communities. Everything needs to be brought together into one coherent narrative, a comprehensive programme that includes governments, the private sector and civil society. My only hope is that today's meeting is a contribution to this essential process.
I can only conclude, Ladies and Gentlemen, by praying that you will have a fruitful and stimulating meeting – billions of people and, indeed, what is left of the rest of a rapidly diminishing creation, depends upon whether this time, real, concerted action – and not just words, can be taken. I wish you an excellent day and the most constructive prelude imaginable to the best possible outcome on forests and climate in Paris in a month’s time.