Vice Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen, now I'm only too conscious, having stood that side of the room looking at the clock, and not only that, but I'm also very conscious that all sorts of people I've met today have said they've had to reschedule all sorts of receptions, or staff parties earlier, in order to let them all get off to watch the football, so I just really want to say, as quickly as possible, how delighted I am that so many of you have been able to join us this afternoon, after what has been a very busy day of C.I.S.L. events here in London, in all sorts of different venues.
As always, I am enormously grateful to Polly and her remarkable team for bringing us all together, and I could not be more pleased that the Vice-Chancellor has been able to join us and to provide such a strong endorsement of the Institute’s work – together with such welcome words of wisdom and encouragement.
Now we are, of course, all here because we see the need for change. We know we cannot go on as we are and we want to do something about it – at least I hope so, or otherwise I don't know why you all turn out! And as I said when C.I.S.L. launched its ‘Rewiring the Economy’ plan three years ago: “if we are to achieve different outcomes to the ones toward which we are presently headed, then we will absolutely need a different kind of economy to get there”. Indeed, why should any one of us accept that economic growth should cost us the Earth, literally, or leave whole tracts of society behind? On the contrary, we can and must harness the economy to restore and protect communities and the environment upon which we all so crucially depend. But it seems to be taking a long time to persuade people that we do depend so heavily on the environment, and on Nature functioning in a way that actually benefits us, so we have to restore the equilibrium. In this regard, I would suggest that – useful as they are in certain circumstances - we need to keep a very careful eye on just how far robotics and artificial intelligence go before they impact on our essential humanity and the basis of meaningful work – let alone our crucial relationship with Nature. History, when you think about it, is littered with the all-pervasive law of unintended consequences, as we are seeing in some aspects of the internet and social media.
There does now appear to be some greater recognition of the challenges that the present economic system creates, and evidence of greater determination to do something about it. This is as true of governments working together to address Climate Change as it is for citizens demanding an end, for instance, to the plastics polluting our oceans.
I would like to think that those are not just isolated examples, yet it is clear to me that we need to work even harder to build consensus on how to protect the things that really matter to us all. And that is why the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are so crucial. They set a genuinely global vision for the most fundamental challenges for humanity – from eradicating hunger and poverty, to the restoration of the natural environment. Yet our routes to achieving these incredibly challenging goals are inevitably less clear – let alone even more challenging as we sit here - over the last few weeks, certainly - sweltering in a terrifying heatwave while, all the around the world, extreme weather events causing widespread damage and destruction are breaking new records every year. Extreme events need extreme and urgent restorative action – otherwise, how on Earth can we go on talking glibly of achieving prosperity and security? This is where C.I.S.L.’s ‘Rewiring the Economy’ framework, with its clear tasks for business, for governments and for financial institutions comes in.
All of those in leadership positions have a responsibility to build the societies we want to live in, while maintaining the ability of the Earth to sustain our ways of life. And organizations like C.I.S.L. play a crucial role in bringing leaders together to make progress on these most complex problems. So, ladies and gentlemen, it seems to me that this is, perhaps, an opportune moment to say that the wheels are turning a little faster, the diehard proponents of ‘business as usual’ are somewhat more muted and the urge to collaborate is stronger – all of which is encouraging. So let me just give you a couple of examples.
After literally years of trying to encourage the Nation’s water sector to embrace catchment management – in other words, linking the quality and quantity of water in rivers to the surrounding environment in a holistic manner – earlier this year I was able to bring all the key players together at a ‘Water Summit’, for which C.I.S.L. drafted a challenging declaration. Within days, we had over sixty organisations, including retailers, farming organizations, non-governmental organizations and water companies signed-up and committed to working together to address the increasing pressures on our rivers. And the list continues to grow.
Similarly, a group of bottled drinks companies is working with C.I.S.L. to set an ambitious roadmap to put the Circular Economy into practice and eliminate plastic waste from its sector. A few years ago the aim would have been to ‘reduce’, now it is to ‘eliminate’, and that is a significant change.
Of course, this sort of progress – of which we need a great deal more – ultimately relies on the vision and determination of individuals to lead and collaborate. So I was greatly encouraged to see that C.I.S.L.’s ‘Rewiring Leadership’ report, published earlier this year, laid out a new model to inspire leaders actively to shape the systems they operate within for a better future for everyone. And in shaping those systems, a key requirement is to have the best possible information, derived from the soundest of science and analysis. In a world full of uncertainty, we need, more than ever, the best and most objective research that our Universities can provide.
I am therefore enormously touched that it has been possible to establish The Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellowship Programme at the University of Cambridge. The idea of pooling the resources of leading academics and industry colleagues to research solutions to some of the most demanding global problems is long overdue, and I am hugely grateful to the ten founding organizations and individuals who have made this possible.
As for this being some sort of dedication to mark my 70th birthday – I, Ladies and Gentlemen, am lost for words, if not for my marbles! (Which University, did you say it was that I studied at? 50 years ago?!!) But I could not be more pleased and delighted to accept something which I am sure will be of lasting benefit, and not just to me.
Needless to say, I am particularly pleased that this Fellowship Programme will be located at the heart of C.I.S.L. – an organization with which I have been happily associated for the past twenty-five, if not twenty-six years – and I look forward to seeing it provide the vital evidence base for the urgent and crucial work in which all of you, and so many others, Ladies and Gentlemen, are engaged around the world. Thank you very much for all your help.