First Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m so glad to be able to welcome you all to these ancestral halls. You can spot the family likeness if you really want to. I also wanted to thank the First Minister for his gesture in producing a bottle of remarkable 2020 whisky as only he could from underneath this extraordinary lectern! I was rather expecting it to be at least 80 per cent proof but maybe we’ll get to that next year!
Can I just start by congratulating every one of this afternoon’s winners. You have all shown a tremendous degree of leadership in your respective sectors and have proved, if proof were needed, that business continues to be a force for good as we confront the complex challenges in our society, our economy and, of course, our environment.
Now, I know many of you have been here all day taking part in the Sustainable Scotland Summit and I don’t want to keep you from escaping, but I did just want to say a few words about the scale of the challenge we face if we are to secure our futures.
Scotland has some of the most ambitious targets for the reduction of greenhouse gasses of any country in the world, and the formation of the 2020 Delivery Group is of the utmost importance as you face up to the very considerable challenge of meeting the targets set out in last year’s vitally important Climate Change Bill. You have recognized that it is relatively easy to set targets, but inevitably a great deal harder to achieve change. This is not to say that targets are unimportant. The ambition set out in the Climate Change Delivery Plan accurately reflects the scale of the challenge in front of us, but if this is to be met then I believe something more fundamental needs to alter. In short, everyone in Scotland (and, indeed, across the developed world) will need to decide that they want to make a change. However, it seems to me at least, that so far the case for change has not yet been made with sufficient clarity.
I am not going to rehearse all the evidence, you’ll be glad to hear, for the mounting crisis we face, only to say that at a similar kind of gathering in Rio de Janeiro last year, I warned that we had fewer than 100 months left in which to see global CO2 emissions peak and thus to avoid catastrophic consequences. Well, I am afraid that, since that speech, around another thirteen million hectares of Rainforest have been lost. Today is 2nd June 2010 and we now have fewer than 85 months to see global emissions peak if we are to avoid tipping into unstoppable, terrifying environmental collapse.
Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence, the world still seems unwilling to face up to the challenges ahead; people seem to prefer to listen to the seductive, siren voices of the sceptics. At the end of last year, I was invited to give a speech at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit. Heads of State and Environment Ministers had gathered from all corners of the Earth to try to hammer out a deal that would help us avoid catastrophic Climate Change. Despite what you might think from having read and heard the reports of the Conference, some progress was actually made, not least concerning funding to help stop the destruction of the world’s Rainforests. Incidentally I was in Oslo last week, invited by the Norwegian Prime Minister to attend a conference there, which was the follow-up from Copenhagen on this whole issue of finding interim finance for forestry. Norway announced at that meeting an extra $1billion for Indonesia. The Indonesian President was there at that meeting. All I can Ladies and Gentlemen is if it wasn’t for Norway and its remarkable Sovereign Wealth fund you would not have much of this generosity, which they are now displaying in order to push forward much of the work being done to save rainforests and to help countries achieve a lower carbon economy such as for instance Guyana in South America. So we owe a huge debt, and will do increasingly, to Norway.
But even with all these countries coming together, it is clear that we are still a long way from agreeing on the changes necessary to secure a sustainable future – or even agreeing on the urgency with which these changes must be implemented.
Now It strikes me that if we are ever likely to avert catastrophe, then we need to think differently, and urgently, about the importance of the natural systems which support life on the planet. This was made very clear to me recently when I met a remarkable man called Pavan Sukhdev, a senior economist with Deutsche Bank, who has been working since 2008 on a project called The Economics of Ecosystem Biodiversity study – T.E.E.B. for short. It painted a salutary picture of what we lose in financial terms by our destruction of natural systems and their services to the world. The T.E.E.B. study calculated that we destroy around 50 billion dollars worth of services each year. But by also calculating the output from those services that are consequently no longer available and mapping out that loss over a forty year period, their estimate is that, in financial terms, the global economy incurs a loss of between 2 and 4.5 trillion dollars every year – that’s every single year.
A good example of this is the case of the humble honeybee. This small insect is responsible for pollinating vast swathes of our global agricultural systems. Without it, these systems would be devastated. Some estimates put the honeybee’s net contribution to the global economy at some forty billion dollars a year. Yet honeybee colony populations are collapsing around the world at an alarming rate. Increasingly, scientists in the United States of America are beginning to ask whether unsustainable, intensive agricultural practices are contributing to this decline, and whether pesticides might well be causing the collapse.
So ladies and gentlemen the story of the honeybee is symptomatic of our approach to Nature. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of species on this planet – including our own – are utterly dependent on the complicated systems that Nature has provided, and we ignore this reality at our absolute peril. In recent years, we have, unfortunately, been carrying on as if the natural world didn’t matter when, in truth, so many of the problems we face are the result of behaviour which has taken Nature for granted. For too long we have treated Nature like a perpetual cash machine which doles out money without there ever being any need to check the bank-balance. But now, finally, the money is running out. It transpires we have been living off capital – Nature’s capital – and not the interest She generates. In short, we are heading rapidly towards environmental bankruptcy.
Of course, the blunt economic truth of the value of Nature is irrelevant unless we choose to do something about it; unless we decide that protecting Nature is, indeed, a priority. We waste things all the time, and wasting money, by destroying Nature’s capital, is only one example.
The real challenge, of course, is in persuading people that they need to change. Warning of rising tides and collapsing fish stocks, or growing deserts and melting ice caps, does nothing to influence ordinary, hard pressed people. They are concerned – quite understandably – with other things, such as the economy, their health, or the education of their children. They have scant time to think about the future, especially when the consequences of doing nothing seem a long way away. After all, the worst effects won’t be felt for years, and those who will be hardest hit live far from here. Why should we do anything about it? Ladies and Gentlemen, unless we can answer that question then there really is very little hope for any of us. So how do we get across to the consumer that saving the planet need not involve nothing but hardship? How can we communicate this potential across the country and, indeed, across the world? Just how much are we persuading people that a “Sustainability Revolution” can be a good thing?
For a number of years, the issues of climate change and the impact of the developed world on the planet have been publicised and debated and, as a result, some of the public have started to act to avert potential crisis.
However, those who are already taking action are mainly those who are motivated by a sense of responsibility for the planet, for Nature and for those members of the human race who are most likely to be impacted first, even if they live continents away. They are driven to do the right thing, even though the issues are almost abstract as they rarely touch day to day life in this country directly.
Because it is these people who are interested enough to act, they are also usually the ones who take the jobs that try to improve things, making the very communications which reinforce the way that these issues are seen. The problem is, this way of talking about the problem only preaches to the converted, and leaves the majority of society untouched.
For the majority, the problem as they have seen it so far is much more likely to create a reaction of denial or avoidance. What we are shown, at it's worst, is a terrifying vision of the end of the world, with the only option to prevent it seeming to be the loss of many of the things which make Western lifestyles so enjoyable. Faced with Armageddon or deprivation, most people choose denial as a preferable route, and therefore do nothing about it. But the real opportunity here is to take to heart what all good marketing folk know, and have been practising for decades - if you want someone to do something, it needs to be desirable. And many parts of a more sustainable lifestyle are desirable.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, in an effort to try and tackle this issue head-on, I have recently launched a new initiative. Called simply “Start”, it will show people the technologies, techniques and principles that exist now, and which will not only improve our lives, but will also help the planet sustain us – all by operating more in harmony with Nature’s processes and cycles than against them. It will neither lecture nor hector but, instead, will demonstrate and explain in ways that everyone can understand, using everyday language. We have partnered with some of the country’s most well-known household names (including Asda, B&Q and B.T.) as well as N.G.O.s, charities – and even advertizing agencies! – to create a campaign which will, I hope, finally explain to people that a green future can be a positive future.
Framed in the positive, asked to start doing fun and interesting, and fulfilling things, with the added warm feeling of making a difference, a broader group of the public are much, much more likely to act. So the language of Start is hugely more powerful than the language of 'stop'; the language of enjoyment so much more inviting than the language of deprivation, and the language of involvement so much more welcoming than the language of admonishment. By telling a real truth about what living more sustainably can be about, and doing it in a way that draws on the skills of behavioural change, Start can mark a genuine step change in the level of public engagement in a more balanced way of living.
Under the heading “Let’s start something good” the campaign will see individual companies showing their customers simple steps that everyone can take to improve our lives and make better use of natural resources. I plan to visit a number of locations around the United Kingdom – including Edinburgh – to see some of the best examples of how we can improve our environment and the quality of our lives. Meanwhile, in London in the gardens of Clarence House, and those of my neighbours at Lancaster House and Marlborough House, we will be hosting “A Garden Party To Make A Difference” over twelve days in September. This festival aims to give people of all ages an enjoyable day out while at the same time, via the exhibits, demonstrating the small steps that can, and are, being taken by all those of us interested in building a more sustainable future. We have a fantastic team of talented curators from the worlds of music, comedy, debate and the environment who are helping us create an event which will, I hope, be both entertaining, enjoyable and informative. This festival is just one way in which Start can help to demonstrate how we can all make a difference, however big or small the steps we take.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no doubt that time is running out – fast. For those of us who have been attempting to draw attention to these awkward issues for many years, it is tempting to give up and ask oneself, “What is the point?” I suppose it is your misfortune that I haven’t quite got to that point yet! We must all strive, harder than ever before, to convince people that by living sustainably we will improve our quality of life and our health; that by living in harmony with Nature we will protect the systems which sustain us; and by valuing Nature’s resources properly we will secure all our futures.