Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot begin to say what a pleasure it is to see you all here today. I know that many of you have come from a great distance, and the fact that you have made the effort is testimony to the determination that we all share to tackle climate change.
There is, of course, a strong bond that exists between you all. Each of you has shown that you are prepared to stand up and be counted in the fight against climate change, either because your companies were among the 170 which signed the Bali Communiqué last year, or because you are involved in my P8 Pensions Initiative. And I can only salute you.
If I may, I also want to take this opportunity to thank Lord Stern for being with us today. There are few people who have done so much to raise awareness of climate change right across the globe and to inject a much-needed sense of urgency into the whole process. He is owed the greatest possible debt for all that he has done and continues to do.
Ladies and gentlemen, for twenty years I have been making speeches warning about climate change and I remain in no doubt that it is the greatest threat facing Mankind. While I am enormously encouraged that it is has now become a subject which occupies the minds of most Governments, international organizations, companies and individuals, I, for one, don’t think we are doing enough or that we are doing it sufficiently quickly, that is the real problem. Indeed, only the other week Lord Stern himself said that the cost of tackling climate change has doubled in the two years since his first calculation in 2006 because it is happening so quickly.
Unfortunately, there seem to be extraordinary numbers of people who still remain entirely sceptical, if not dismissive, about the realities of climate change and the emergency we face – I meet them all the time. I now tell them to go and visit the British Antarctic Survey, when they’ve finished telling me there’s no man-made problem, and ask to be shown their ice-core samples from three kilometres in depth which provide atmospheric readings of carbon dioxide for very nearly the past one million years. The graph oscillates in a regular and steady pattern between glacial and interglacial periods until it reaches the mid-18th Century, precisely when the Industrial Revolution began, and then begins to accelerate in terms of CO2 parts per million until our own time when the steepness of the graph indicates the gravity of the situation.
This is why I often use the analogy of war because we are engaged in a battle for survival. We must mobilize ourselves – indeed, the whole world – with that real sense of wartime urgency and resolve to act. Climate change is happening now and is having devastating consequences.
Since 1990, weather-related insurance claims have cost an average of £825million per year in the United Kingdom, and have exceeded £1billion in four out of the last fifteen years. Estimates suggest that this disruption cost the British economy alone £3.9million for each day above 32 °C and £8.7million for each day above 37 °C.
This pattern is being repeated in many of the developed economies around the world. But it is the poorest countries that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. That is why many development experts see climate change as one of the most significant threats to the Millennium Development Goals and therefore to any hope of achieving sustainable development.
Carbon dioxide levels now stand above their highest levels for the last 650,000 years. In early 2008 we learnt that the North Polar ice cap is melting so fast that some scientists are predicting that in seven years it will completely disappear in Summer.
How many more warning signs do we need before we stir ourselves, belatedly, into action? The whole world is in this together and together we must act. There cannot be a partial solution for the benefit of a few.
That is why I am so pleased to be able to welcome you all to St. James’s Palace today to an event that is all about bringing people, companies and – hopefully – countries together. Uniquely in history, climate change presents such a threat that it will surely require the effort of every nation and every person to find and implement a solution before it is too late? It is a task that calls for the biggest public, private and civil society partnership ever seen.
Many of the essential choices will be hard and require great political will. But it would all be so much easier, and we could make a difference much more quickly, if such a genuine tripartite alliance could be created. And I would dare to suggest that there is, in fact, no other way - 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 …
The purpose of today’s gathering is to start the process of regaining control over our destiny.
Last year, 170 of you were courageous and far sighted enough to sign the Bali Communique. You called for an international, legally binding framework to tackle climate change in which the emission reduction targets would be guided primarily by science, not other concerns about politics or competitiveness. You recognized that this implies an average global reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 50 per cent – that meant 80 per cent in the developed world – by 2050. What you were advocating went far beyond anything that was agreed at Bali.
You were ahead – in some cases way ahead - of many political leaders in this debate. Perhaps this is because you understand that the real competition is not the race against other businesses in China, India, the United States or Europe to maximize economic return – rather, the race now is to restore harmony to the forces of Nature unleashed by climate change and so ensure our very ability to survive.
But the Bali Communiqué was not enough. The battle continues and it is my fervent hope that all of you, the leaders and representatives from a wide range of leading international companies and investment institutions, will come together in even greater numbers to agree on what Lord Stern calls the key elements of a global deal on climate change and about which he will tell us much more in a moment.
Right now, across the world, this is what Governments are trying to work out. The next occasion when they will all come together is as you know in Poznan in December, with the crucial meeting in Copenhagen at the end of 2009. There has to be a deal and it has to result in tough and urgent action. What better way to achieve that than by creating an unprecedented global corporate alliance of agreement on what that global deal should be?
Lord Stern has recently – and with his usual brilliant clarity - set down the criteria for a successful deal: it must be effective, it must be efficient and it must be equitable.
To me, there are two very obvious levers we can pull if these criteria are to be met. First, we must take measures to tackle energy efficiency. The waste of energy, particularly in developed countries, is all but criminal. Reducing this must be the quickest and cheapest way to make a difference.
The other lever we can pull, if we have the will to do it, is to halt tropical deforestation.
I am sure you all know as well as I that the burning of forests is responsible for significant global greenhouse gas emissions - greater than those of the global transport sector? And yet we are destroying them at the rate of 50 million acres a year. I’ve got a website now which has lots of information about the project. When you access it figures on the site show how many acres of rainforest are disappearing as you are reading. It’s quite scary! The rainforests function as giant global utilities, providing essential public services to humanity on a vast scale. And they sustain the lives of some of the poorest people on this Earth. They also help to store the largest body of flowing freshwater on the planet. This is so important because, as we are just starting to understand, our ability to adapt to climate change will be utterly dependent on our access to water. Even now, for many people, this is all but impossible.
This dire situation will only worsen as we further reduce the world’s rainforests and while, incidentally, also destroying our planet's air-conditioning system.
So why is this happening?
The simple fact is that we are not paying for the services the forests provide. At the moment, these forests are worth more dead than alive – for soya, for beef, for palm oil and for logging. In fact, for the commodities which we all increasingly consume. So, this is not someone else’s problem that will have to be addressed in the future. It is ours and it must be addressed now. After all, everyone accepts the necessity of paying for water, gas or electricity. We have reached the stage where there is no alternative but to find an equitable means of paying for the planetary life support system on which we depend – and fast! In other words, we have to make the forests worth more alive than dead.
As many of you here will have heard by now, I have decided I must try and do what I can and so have established my Rainforests Project to try and come up with some innovative answers. It is hugely gratifying that we are being assisted in our work by the World Bank and the European Union, together with the Coalition for Rainforest Nations and, indeed, by Lord Stern who sits on my Steering Committee. I am delighted to report that my Project is having very constructive discussions with a number of Governments, including the United States, France, Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and now, by virtue of the Project’s African Task Force, with many African countries too.
Perhaps one of the most optimistic developments has been the project’s discussion with President Jagdeo of Guyana. We are helping the President’s team, with the aid of the Clinton Foundation and McKinsey’s, to work up a truly innovative roadmap of national development, which will be based on an integrated and sustainable use of natural resources that will also incorporate robust funding for the conservation of Guyana’s extraordinary rainforests, some 18million hectares. At least, we hope this may be the case!
I do believe it is of vital importance for the international community to engage with those farsighted statesmen who have the courage to recognize the crisis and to offer all the assistance we can. We need to start now with these countries, not only to work through some of the technical difficulties but, as importantly, to show the rainforest nations that we mean business and demonstrate to the rest of the world that a solution is possible, within reach and can be attained. People need to be given a sense of hope or they risk feeling that it’s all too late.
The Project’s purpose is to find ways of mobilizing adequate sums quickly enough to the rainforests until market mechanisms can be developed. This is the critical funding gap we face. Indeed, according to Lord Stern, we are somewhere in the region of $30billion a year short! Some gap you might think! And yet – and this is where the whole thing is brought into its proper perspective – it represents just under one per cent of the approximately $3,500billion the world spends on insurance premiums every year – insurance that often ends up paying for the damage caused by climate change.
Sums of this size will only be generated and deployed through a public and private sector partnership. And key, if not of paramount importance, amongst the private sector are the pension funds. As it so happens, and by some miraculous coincidence, with us today, thanks to the Nand and Jeet Khemka Foundation, to whom I am hugely and profoundly grateful, we have ten of the world’s largest funds which collectively steward almost $3trillion US dollars! Pension funds have a unique role to play because of their ability to place vast sums of money into projects that have longer investment periods than that which most of the private sector is prepared to tolerate. That is why it is so heartening to hear that my P8 Group, which would now more truthfully be described as P10, and which met only for the first time last November, is working with such determination to put substantial money into investments that address climate change.
Last week a major piece of the financial architecture was put into place by the announcement at the G8 Meeting in Japan that agreement had been reached on the financing of the International Financial Institutions’ Climate Investment Fund. This is an enormously important step in the coordination of international efforts to tackle climate change. At last there is a chance that the level of risk that has so slowed private sector investment into those areas critical to address climate change, such as sustainable forestry, energy efficiency and low carbon technologies, may now be reduced. This could be one of the single most important breakthroughs that we have seen and it is why I am so delighted that such crucial institutions as the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation were represented at the P8 Summit held yesterday.
If my P8 Group, with that $3trillion dollars, could work closely with the International Financial Institutions then surely it is possible that this could be the major catalyst to accelerate investment into the low carbon economy, as well as rainforest preservation. It is a very great prize.
I would like to end by reminding everyone here that the scientists tell us there is just the smallest window left for us to be able to make the transformational change in the way we live to stop catastrophic climate chaos. The worry, of course, is that this window exists at exactly the same time as the global economy is under stress. But this is no time to abandon the drive towards making your businesses more sustainable and instead return to “business as usual”. What more can I do but urge you, the business leaders of the world, to take the essential action now to transform your businesses and to join my Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change as it works towards the Poznan Communiqué?
I am afraid we do not have the luxury of time. We have to act now because, as Lord Stern has told us, any difficulties which we face today will be as nothing compared to the full effects which global warming will have on the world-wide economy and on the well-being of every man, woman and child on our planet.
Ladies and gentlemen, being with you today gives me some cause for hope and optimism. You not only have the power to make a difference, but you understand the responsibility that rests upon you to do so. The time has come for real far-sighted leadership – of the kind that sets you apart from your peers, but which can inspire others. There are so many millions of people who are increasingly aware of the situation we face, but who feel a mounting sense of despair at their powerlessness to do anything constructive about it. We need, dare I say it, to change the geography of our imagination, to believe that we can win this battle and not to give up and somehow imagine we can just “adapt” to climate change. My Rainforests Project aims to provide that vital sense of hope – but only with your support – by helping to deliver concerted action on the ground, rather than arguing about it interminably. To delay any longer will be fatal. How on earth will my grandchildren, let alone yours, ever forgive us for failing to act decisively and urgently when we knew what we did and knew what needed to be done? Thank you for joining me in this great undertaking – I fear I am relying on you!