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A speech by HRH The Prince of Wales at The Prince of Wales's International Sustainability Unit's meeting on Forests, Climate Change and Development

Published on 26th January 2015

Secretary of State, Ministers, Dr. Robinson, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for coming from far and wide and for sparing your valuable time for this meeting on forests, climate change and development at the outset of this vital year of 2015.

It is clear to me, as I hope it is to all of you, that this year provides an absolutely crucial opportunity - if not the last chance before we end up in an irreversible situation - for the international community to establish a new set of interlocking, coherent and ambitious frameworks governing human development, poverty, disaster risk reduction, the natural environment and climate change.  We could, and should, see an agenda set for the coming decades that is capable of transforming the prospects for humanity by improving and nurturing the state of the planet upon which we all depend.

We simply cannot let this opportunity go to waste.  There is just too much at stake - and has been for far too long.  So I can only welcome the efforts under way from Governments, businesses, faith groups and civil society to deliver a really strong set of outcomes, urged on by growing and inspiring public awareness campaigns - such as "Action 2015" - aimed at the hearts and minds of younger people.

In the 800th anniversary year of the Magna Carta, perhaps this year's agreement of the new Sustainable Development Goals and a new climate agreement in Paris should be seen as a new "Magna Carta for the Earth, and humanity's relationship with it".

It is worth remembering that two years after the agreement of the Magna Carta, in the year 1217, a Charter of the Forest was also signed, under King Henry III, setting out the rights, privileges and uses of forest land for the people of this country.  Some things really are timeless as, even after almost eight hundred years, the new agreements on climate change and sustainable development goals still need to have forests and sustainable land use at their heart.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as you know far better than me, forests continue to play an absolutely vital role in the lives of human communities and their well-being and livelihoods.  They are important for indigenous peoples; for biodiversity and ecological resilience; for water, agriculture and food security - as you heard from Professor Deborah Lawrence earlier today - and, last but by no means least, for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Indeed, as we exhaustively tried to emphasize through my Rainforests Project back in 2007, putting an end to deforestation, substantially reducing forest degradation and restoring the world's forests could deliver up to thirty per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions mitigation we need to make if we are to prevent the runaway climate change which would be so utterly detrimental to human development and biodiversity on the planet.

Ladies and Gentlemen, since forests are fundamental to our survival on this planet, it is important that we now know as much as possible about what needs to be done to protect and to nurture them.  My I.S.U.'s own report, published in draft form for consultation today, sets out the latest science on tropical forests, along with a number of the key policies and efforts needed, whether on commodity supply chains, land tenure and governance, or with respect to the need for large scale forest restoration.

On a good day I am heartened by the progress being made by so many of the Governments, companies and N.G.O.'s present in the room today.  However, I can only appeal to all of you to redouble your efforts and to draw in the others we need to win the cause - especially those companies and Governments not yet on board or who are lagging behind, but in particular, perhaps, the Finance Ministers who, as a rule, do not normally consider the vital importance of an integrated approach to forestry, agriculture, fisheries, water and energy. That's all left to people in another room somewhere usually.

To those who are not yet convinced of the need for action, or who are prone to suggest that the price may be too high, I would just point out two passages in the I.S.U’s draft report.  The first is a quote from the latest I.P.C.C. report which says that, left unchecked, global warming presents "severe, pervasive and irreversible consequences".  The second is that "most new twenty-first century deforestation losses are likely to be irreversible".  Can anyone with a shred of humanity or conscience, or even an awareness of the current drought , for instance, affecting Sao Paulo as a result of Amazonian deforestation, really be willing to close off options for future generations in this way?  If not, the time to act is now.  And as far as the price is concerned, it is perhaps worth remembering that, according to the recent New Climate Economy Report, the estimated global costs of efficient climate policy, such as a carbon tax, are usually rather limited, perhaps in the order of one to four per cent of global consumption in 2030, with an average value of 1.7 per cent according to the I.P.C.C.'s review of recent studies.  Surely it would be worth paying the premium on such an insurance policy?

So, above all, I pray this meeting will give rise to further ambitious international partnerships to implement good policies and incentives on sustainable land use and integrated, ecologically minded, truly resilient rural development in all countries of the world.  We need to see real commitment to putting rural communities and forest conservation first, because we have no more time to lose, and because I can't believe most of us would want to earn the condemnation of our grandchildren for our deliberate failure to safeguard their future.  With a new grandchild on its way into this increasingly uncertain world, I certainly do not...