Ladies and Gentlemen, I would just like to begin by thanking you very much indeed for joining us on this occasion. With the headlines dominated, once again, by stories of economic fear and financial instability it is heartening that so many senior business people and political leaders are happy to come together to discuss these crucial issues; a clear indication of the continued importance of the climate change agenda.
Sadly though, it would seem there are still too many people who refuse to face up to the threat, in spite of overwhelming evidence. It has been profoundly depressing to witness the way the so-called Climate Sceptics are, apparently, able to intimidate all sorts of people from adopting the precautionary measures necessary to avert environmental collapse. That’s why I am particularly delighted to welcome Connie Hedegaard here today. As the EU commissioner for Climate Action she has bravely committed to continue to show leadership on climate change despite immense pressures in the wake of the financial crisis, so it is very good of you to join us this afternoon. It is also wonderful to have Lord Stern here too, who has done so much over the years to raise awareness of the economic arguments for action. Without his incisive analysis and his unique ability to explain that tackling climate change is actually in our economic interests, then the world would be under even greater threat than it already is.
Now Ladies and Gentlemen I notice that the title of this conference is a reference to the TV quiz programme “Deal or No Deal” – a show which, I hasten to add, I am told, gives contestants the choice of accepting the certainty of a cash prize from the presenter or gambling on an unknown prize locked in a black box. Now the box might contain hundreds of thousands of pounds. It might contain nothing. It is, I feel, a rather good title as this is exactly the dilemma we face today. Do we accept what the scientific community tells us now and decide to take the necessary steps to secure our economy and our society, or do we gamble on an unknown future? There is a chance, I suppose, that the massed arrays of climate scientists are wrong and that humanity can carry on blithely destroying the planet which supports us. But is that chance worth taking? Or shouldn’t we play it safe? I am sure you all agree that it is simply unacceptable to play some sort of Russian roulette with our children’s futures; but we must ask ourselves why, given the overwhelming scientific evidence, so many people are determined to gamble on the unknown? I believe the answer is simple: we have failed to understand the problem we are trying to solve and we have failed to explain the benefits of the necessary solutions. We have also been led to believe that the whole problem revolves around CO2 when in fact it is infinitely more complex than that. The truth is that we, as humans, are putting an unbearable strain on Nature’s capacity to cope with what we are throwing at Her.
Now in 2009 I was fortunate enough to visit the Amazon Rainforest to support the work of my Rainforests Project. During a television interview, going up or down the Amazon, I was asked why preserving the Rainforests mattered so much and I replied by saying that we were destroying Nature’s Capital and that it was actually impossible to have Capitalism without Capital. So what exactly is Nature’s Capital? Well, in the jargon, Nature’s Capital is the ecosystem services which provide the public goods on which we all depend at the end of the day. To the layman, it is the forests which provide the rainfall to water the crops that feed our families; the marine eco-systems in the oceans, the river systems and so on, or the insects that keep Nature’s complicated systems in balance.
You only have to take the case of the humble honeybee: a perfect example of an ecosystem in crisis. 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 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 agri-industrial practices are contributing to this decline, and whether pesticides might well be causing the collapse.
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 many ways it is man’s arrogant attempts to replace Nature with endless techno-fixes that have led us to this crisis. In recent years, we have been carrying on as if the natural world wasn’t any part of us and didn’t matter when, in truth, so many of the problems we face are the result of behaviour which has taken Nature for granted and which has for so long denigrated approaches that work in harmony with natural systems. For too long we have treated the planet 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. If we lose the honeybee, then Nature will suffer. We won’t be able to grow food so easily, and it will be near-on impossible to provide environments that are resilient to whatever temperature increases we are already committed to.
For me, solving the climate-change challenge is not as simple as “cutting CO2”. It is global, it is multi-faceted and it is inter-related with unresolved challenges spanning right across the international discourse – from trade and poverty reduction, to food security and environmental degradation – and this, Ladies and Gentlemen, goes some way to explaining why a global deal is so difficult to achieve. Climate change cannot be readily addressed via the top-down style of process that helped bring solutions to issues such as ozone depletion, or the protection of various endangered species. Instead we must learn that, though a deal is a necessary goal, the solution will likely not come from a singular breakthrough, but from incremental progress in forums and on issues where progress is more possible in the short term.
Crucial to this is the necessity of understanding the potential for genuinely sustainable practices both to provide resilience to our changing climate as well as delivering true economic development. This is where, I believe, there is an essential role for the private sector.
In the absence of a global political consensus people will increasingly look to the private sector and it is no coincidence that the Copenhagen Accord recognized that. Several of the outcomes of that summit provided an opportunity for the private sector to demonstrate leadership and to provide foundations upon which we can build in the years ahead. For example, before Cancun The High-Level Advisory Group on Finance will submit recommendations for potential sources of revenue to help fulfil the commitments made to assist developing nations to adapt to climate change and mitigate their emissions. Public money will provide the cutting edge here, but it will be the private sector which must ultimately provide much of this investment. Taking forward the broad commitments on climate finance is a complicated task, but one to which surely we must rise. I can only wish Lord Stern and others on the Advisory Group every conceivable success in reaching a conclusion, and I hope that there will be opportunities for high-level interaction with global business leaders including, perhaps, members of the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change. I am delighted to say that there is already a strong link between this group and the P80 group of leading pension funds which I helped establish some years ago, also in partnership with C.P.S.L.
Support for reductions in deforestation is, of course, a part of this financing challenge and I have been greatly encouraged to see progress on this agenda. The Prime Minister of Norway invited me to attend a meeting in Oslo during May where governments agreed a voluntary partnership dramatically to scale up and better coordinate immediate support for action on this agenda as an integral part of the developing nations’ low carbon development strategies. This is an opportunity not only to see how public sector money can effect change, but how it can also encourage private sector investment for more sustainable economic development – including in the agricultural sector, where I am encouraged by the opportunity to meet food security goals at the same time as stabilizing deforestation, and reducing emissions.
Whilst we must not let up on the climate change agenda, I do believe that real progress will only be achieved when the cogs and gears of the various international discourses on sustainable development become properly aligned and meshed together. It is, for example, critically important that the issues of food security, water scarcity, poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental degradation are treated as a joined up challenge alongside climate-change, rather than as choices that we must pick and choose between and prioritize one above the other. This was the vision of sustainable development as it was articulated at the Rio Summit back in 1992 and this must again be a rallying cry as we look forward to the Summit’s 20th anniversary in 2012.
Now, for many of you here today, you will be asking yourselves what you can do to influence all of this. I can very well imagine that you are struggling, every day, with very real pressures to ensure your business stays competitive in a time of great uncertainty. The challenges of the international policy arena probably seem far removed from your shops, factories, offices and board rooms. If I may, I would like to finish by saying why I believe your collective voices are so important. I have already alluded to the problem of climate scepticism. It appears to be on the rise again with more and more people prepared to listen to those siren voices that say that everything is ok, there is no need to worry and that we can all carry on as before as all this fuss about climate change and environmental collapse is merely part of a sinister attempt to undermine the entire foundations of the market based capitalist system. Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe the urgency of the situation is too great simply to sit back and do nothing. Whilst the politicians and policy makers continue their work securing a global deal, there is a more robust fight underway for public opinion. People have heard the climate sceptics and attempted to listen to the kind of pseudo science they are peddling. I have alluded to the over reliance on trying to address CO2 reductions but make no mistake the sceptics have no wider love of Nature and her crucial role in sustaining us.
So the challenge that I would like to lay before every single member of the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change is simple. Will you stand up and be counted? At every opportunity will you confront the sceptics and tell them they are wrong? Will you challenge your in house economists with the urgent need to define a new paradigm -in other words a macro economics for sustainability? Will you use the power of your brands and the power of your communications and, most of all, your marketing teams to support what the science tells us and if necessary be prepared to take risks with your reputation to ensure you are on the right side of the debate?
If you don’t pick up this challenge and inspire many others, particularly those in your supply chains, then I fear the battle will be lost.