My Lord Mayor Locum Tenens, ladies and gentlemen, first of all I should like to thank the Lord Mayor for allowing my Rainforests Project to hold such a magnificent dinner here in the Mansion House this evening.
I can think of no better place to entertain so many eminent people from the City and I am enormously grateful to all of you for giving up your time to be here.
Above all, I want to thank Stanley Fink and the Man Group for making it possible. Stanley was probably the first business leader to whom I spoke about my determination to find ways to halt the deforestation of the world’s rainforests, after experts had come to me in mounting despair about the situation. He saw the point immediately and promised all the help he could give. He may have regretted such rashness since, but I can only say that he has been true to his word and I am profoundly grateful to him and to the Man Group.
I would suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that for too long the destruction of the rainforests has been seen as a slightly troubling event occurring in “far away countries about which we know little”, and something which only marginally affects us. The trouble is that nothing could be further from the truth and so this is why I particularly wanted to have this gathering this evening.
At the risk of repeating things you already know, if I may I should like to give you some arresting facts.
The first point to make is that climate change and the rainforests are umbilically connected.
I am sure that no-one here needs me to tell them about the seriousness of the threat from global warming. Carbon dioxide levels are at their highest for 650,000 years (and, incidentally, for those who still maintain climate change has nothing to do with man-made activities and is all to do with solar winds and sun-spots etc., which are some of the latest theories, we know that carbon dioxide levels are at their highest from ice-core samples taken from ever greater depths in Antarctica by the British Antarctic Survey).
And we now know that if they continue to grow at current rates, carbon dioxide levels, by the end of this century average temperatures will have risen by five degrees. This would be catastrophic and would, to a large extent, make the planet uninhabitable for humans, certainly at anything approaching present population levels. And the frightening fact is that initial signs of this process are already with us – for example, earlier this year we learnt that the North Polar ice cap is melting so fast that some scientists are predicting that in seven years it will disappear completely in the Summer. No doubt you heard recently of the nineteen square miles of ice sheet which broke off the North of Canada the other day – a worrying indication of what is happening.
The consequences of such dramatic change are huge, even in the medium term, with hundreds of millions of people displaced leading to security issues which will dwarf what we have witnessed in recent years and result in unprecedented geo-political and economic upheavals.
This is why I often use the analogy of war because, I fear, we are engaged in a battle for our very survival. We must mobilize ourselves – indeed, the whole world – with that real sense of wartime urgency and resolve to act together.
But we need to be realistic. There is very little we can do now to stop the ice from disappearing from the North Pole in the Summer. And we probably cannot prevent the melting of the permafrost and the resulting release of methane. And I fear that we may be too late to help the oceans maintain their ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
But there is something we can do – and it could make the whole difference and buy us time to develop the necessary low carbon economies. We can halt the destruction of the world’s rainforests.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is no exaggeration to say that they are the world’s lifebelt. They act as giant global utilities, providing essential public services to humanity on a vast scale. They are in effect the world’s air-conditioning system and also help to store the largest body of flowing freshwater on the planet – water which is essential to grow food for the world’s growing population. And surely, ladies and gentlemen, as the imperative of addressing climate change becomes ever more pressing we simply have to ask – “when will our world’s population stabilize, and at what level, and what are the consequences for our planet’s ability to sustain us?” This is something to reflect upon when one realizes that the rainforests alone provide the livelihoods of more than a billion of the poorest people on this Earth.
The trouble is that we are destroying these forests at the rate of around 30 million acres a year. This means that we lose an area the size of a football pitch every four seconds. Just think about that for a moment. Another one gone! It is a sobering thought – and it certainly should be a sobering thought. And to make matters worse, in addition to the other impacts, this destruction is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than those of the whole global transport sector.
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 a problem caused by someone else to be addressed by someone else at some stage in the future. It is our problem and must be addressed now. After all, everyone accepts the necessity of paying for water, gas and electricity. But we are not paying for the world’s greatest public utility of all – the one provided by the tropical rainforests – and, as a result, we are in imminent danger of losing it. In short, there is no alternative but to find an equitable means of paying for this planetary life support system on which we all depend – and fast! In other words, we have to make the forests worth more alive than dead and that is precisely why I started my Rainforests Project.
If I may explain, it has three main elements. Firstly, to determine how much funding the rainforest countries need to re-orientate their economies so that the trees are worth more alive than dead. Secondly, to show how this funding can be provided by the developed world and, thirdly, to help develop ways in which the funding would be used in a durable and equitable way by the rainforest nations. In so far as the funding is concerned, we are all hopeful that market mechanisms, such as carbon credits, will provide what is required in due course, when the successor to the Kyoto protocol is agreed and fully operational. But, ladies and gentlemen, that is up to ten years in the future, and the problem is that emergency funding is required now, before it is all too late, to out-compete the drivers of deforestation. After what has amounted to a great deal of research and consultation and co-operation with a very large number of companies, N.G.O.s, agencies and governments, my Rainforests Project will suggest ways in which this emergency funding can be provided from global public funds and, at the same time, to do what we can to facilitate and accelerate the development of market solutions.
According to Lord Stern, the immediate funding gap is somewhere in the region of $30 billion a year! 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 $3,500 billion the world spends on insurance premiums every year – insurance that often ends up paying for the damage caused by climate change.
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 also delighted to be able to say that this whole 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 is the leadership on this issue shown by President Jagdeo of Guyana. Faced with the mounting challenge of how best to develop his economy, he has offered to place the forests of Guyana under some sort of internationally verified supervision if the right economic incentives are provided. I am delighted that my Project helped the Clinton Global Initiative propose a study now being done for the President by McKinsey. Indeed, my Project Director was in Guyana for an update on progress last week. The study is well on its way to producing a truly innovative roadmap of national development that will clarify the funding required for the conservation of Guyana’s extraordinarily precious rainforests. There is no doubt that Guyana represents a unique opportunity to develop a model which could be rolled out across the rainforest nations. The offer is there. The challenge is how we, in the developed world, respond to it. Clearly, if we want to continue to benefit from the services provided by the rainforests we will have to start paying for them. But we cannot afford to lose this opportunity to demonstrate what can be done and to respond to the President’s remarkable offer.
Relying on Governments’ intervention alone, however, will not be enough. What will make the whole difference is the engagement of financial institutions such as those many of you represent. The City of London is famous throughout the world for its inventiveness and its ability to seize opportunities early – and it is these skills that we desperately need now.
Many here this evening have been instrumental in helping this square mile to become pre-eminent in the global carbon market and, as many of you will know better than me, there are moves afoot to develop markets that can help provide an incentive to reduce deforestation. My fear is that this may take too long. We do not have the luxury of time and we must find a way of anticipating those markets; of providing ways to mobilize the truly awesome power of the City’s capital to support the nascent public sector interventions which are crucial, but not in themselves sufficient.
I am already working with the pensions and the insurance sector – indeed, Peter Levene has been a hugely important part of this work – but it is essential we bring the banking sector to the table too. I am very much hoping that this evening will provide the catalyst for your involvement and that some of you will be prepared to join those who are already championing the cause of the rainforests and work with my Project in developing the solutions which we so urgently need. More than anything else we need some of the best brains to assist us in this challenging task. To be blunt, it would be marvellous if you could lend us one or two of your best people to help us find innovative approaches to a highly complex situation. You never know, it might even be a thoroughly worthwhile investment!
Ladies and gentlemen, I know that we are meeting at a time when short term economic problems have become acute. And you might think it extremely odd, let alone mildly eccentric, to be asking the private sector to focus on what may appear to be tomorrow’s problem. But cost-effectiveness is even more important during financial hard times and the whole point about halting deforestation is that, along with improved energy efficiency, it is the most cost-effective, and immediate, way to fight climate change. To put it another way, it is in fact the low-hanging fruit to stop catastrophic climate chaos – and we must seize it now. Adam and Eve did it and got themselves into terrible trouble, but if we do it now we may get ourselves out of even worse trouble!
I am only too well aware that I am putting onto your shoulders an enormous burden. But let me be clear. The financial institutions in the City of London have the power to make the whole difference in the battle against climate change. Now is the time for far-sighted leadership – of the kind that sets you apart from your peers and which can inspire others. There are so many millions of people who are increasingly aware of the situation we face, and we’ve found this through surveys we have done in the last few months, 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 - because, believe you me, that is merely a convenient pipe-dream pursued by those who take refuge in the “business as usual with little green knobs on” approach to the crisis we face. My Rainforests Project, therefore, aims to provide that vital sense of hope – but only with your help.
Now, if you didn’t believe all I just told you about the rainforests, then there could be no-one better than Sir David Attenborough, who was recently voted the most trusted figure in Britain, to persuade you. My Rainforests Project could not have a more important supporter and I am really delighted to introduce him this evening.