Your Majesty, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I could not be more grateful to you all for making the time to come to St. James’s Palace this afternoon. The Palace has been the setting for many important gatherings during its nearly 500 year history, but it may be the case that never before have so many heads of state and government, and secretaries of state and ministers, been kind enough to come here for a business meeting and, perhaps, never before has there been such an important and pressing matter for consideration: the future and survival of mankind in the face of potentially catastrophic climate change.
I know, and understand entirely, that during your unbelievably frantic schedules while you are here in London the global financial crisis has to be, and rightly so, the main focus for your time and energies.
However, as important and concerning as the global financial crisis is, its challenges and consequences will pale into insignificance when compared with the scale and extent of human misery and suffering - social and economic - if our actions to tackle climate change are too little or too late, or both. Listening to the advice of scientists and other experts I, like many of us round this table, have come to the conclusion that the first and essential step in the battle against climate change is to help Rainforest Nations curb tropical rainforest destruction. Stopping deforestation is the most readily achievable and cost effective action we can take in the short term. It is the low hanging fruit which we must grasp as soon as possible if we are to forestall tipping points in our planet’s natural systems which may affect irretrievably its habitability for mankind. Fortuitously, curbing tropical rainforest destruction also has other important advantages such as protecting the world’s water and therefore food supplies, alleviating poverty, conserving vital biodiversity, meeting many Millennium goals and providing a financial stimulus to Rainforest Nations’ and therefore the world’s economy.
The destruction of the rainforests is emitting massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere and is also reducing the capacity of the earth to absorb CO2. I have been told that cutting down the trees is around 20 per cent of the problem but that stopping it could, for the reasons I have mentioned, be around 40 per cent of the solution.
Marvellous work in this respect is already in hand in Brazil, from which we have much to learn, and in a number of other countries, including Indonesia. However an effective solution to this global problem demands action from the international community in just the way you have been demonstrating, so remarkably, as you address the financial crisis. I hate to say it, but an effective solution really does require us to take steps now if we are to have any hope of making the difference that is necessary, quite literally, to save mankind. Experts say that we have less than 100 months before we reach the tipping point.
I have spent the last 18 months (with enormous thanks to The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, without whose support simply nothing could have happened), working with experts, the private sector, NGOs, and with many of you in this room to see if it is possible to find a solution. I don’t want to over claim for our work, but I do believe that we may have found a way forward. It demands a unique partnership between the public and private sector, which I think we have been able to initiate and it demands a new financial mechanism.
I am heartened that there appears to be an emerging consensus on the need to provide emergency interim financing for rainforest countries until the finance generated by the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) becomes sufficiently substantial to be effective.
My project team have come up with some ideas as to how this might be achieved, but others have as well and I think it is absolutely vital that these various solutions are discussed collectively and coherently.
That is why, very much in the spirit of nothing ventured nothing gained, I should be delighted if the outcome of this meeting were agreement to establish an international expert-level Working Group, that would examine my Project’s proposals, as well as those of the EU, Norway and when published, the UK and indeed others. Time is of the essence I’m afraid in the fight against climate change and it therefore seems critical that the Working Group should conclude its deliberations by the early Autumn – perhaps, dare I say it, in time for the World Bank’s Annual Meeting, with an interim report in the Summer.
I’m extremely pleased that there already appears to be a broad base of support for this idea which my staff have detected in their contacts with your Offices. In addition, African Rainforest Nations represented by the members of my Rainforest Project’s Advisory Board, have endorsed a statement that supports the idea of an interim financing mechanism and expressed the desire to participate in an international Working Group to understand how this might be created.