We would be doing future generations the greatest disservice not to respond to the global challenges this war has highlighted. This means investing – now – in systems that enable sustainable food and energy and which protect our natural capital.

Excelența Voastră, Doamnelor și Domnilor,

Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Este o mare bucurie să mă aflu din nou în România, după trei ani de absență. Gândurile mele au fost cu voi în această perioadă dificilă.

It is a great joy to be back in Romania after three years absence. My thoughts have been with you during this difficult period.

If I may, I would particularly like to thank the European Forest Institute, and Marc Palahi, who gave very undeserved remarks, for organising this event on Forest Biodiversity, which also launches the superb project – the largest transnational forest restoration project in Europe. 

This occasion today is of crucial importance because forests are literally the backbone of Life and Nature on our planet. When forests first emerged about 380 million years ago the world was 10oC hotter and CO2 concentrations were ten times what they are today. Forests made our planet more habitable, and their destruction will make it distinctly uninhabitable for humans and much other terrestrial life. This is because forests are our largest terrestrial carbon sink, our main terrestrial source of water and the main host for biodiversity. If managed sustainably and holistically, forests are also a key renewable resource necessary to transition towards a circular bioeconomy. Such a transition is, I must say, urgently needed, because after relying for more than 100 years on a linear and fossil-based economy we have arrived at a tipping point. The world, in many respects, has become too big for our planet.

So, for the health, security and livelihoods of our and future generations, we need to protect, invest and work in symbiosis with Nature. Our economy ultimately depends on us doing so. Nature is estimated to contribute $125 trillion to the global economy annually, although I expect it’s much, much more than that. Everything we use, produce and purchase ultimately has been created from Nature’s inputs. The problem is that our current economic model, does not provide the right signals and incentives to the “markets” to work “for” and with Nature.
Ladies and gentlemen, having arrived at such a tipping point, we need to rethink our economy if we want to rewrite our future. This is why with Marc Palahi (I can’t thank enough for help in this regard) I helped to establish the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance, coordinated by the E.F.I., which works with partners around the world to invest in life and Nature rather than simply linear consumption. 

A circular bioeconomy is about investing in three mutually reinforcing engines: biodiversity, innovation and local and indigenous communities often forgotten about in the process. The three are indispensable to restore natural capital and manage sustainably our biological systems to produce food, energy, ecosystem services and bio-based solutions to decarbonize our economy, while generating new jobs and prosperity.

There are now signs that there is, at last, growing interest in investing in these solutions across both public and private sectors. However, if we want to see tangible and rapid results on the ground, then we need to articulate and demonstrate the immediate and long-term value of these investments. The Circular Bioeconomy Alliance aims to connect the dots between investors and local communities in order to create regenerative and inclusive landscapes and sustainable value chains that work for Nature and for people. Frankly, I don’t know about you, but we have all had enough talking, so we need to put our words and commitments into practice. And this is why, as I speak, the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance is working with local communities in more than fifteen countries so far across four continents to restore thousands of hectares of land. 

Such work includes Romania too, because the intrinsic connection between our human life and natural capital is something that Romanian people have understood only too well for centuries. In no other place in Europe have I found such well-preserved and such productive landscapes, which can function at so large a scale. This, in my view can be explained by the natural richness of Romania, where some of the largest remnants of old-growth forests on the continent can be found and where, for instance, 200 species of butterflies exist, compared to only forty in my country, the United Kingdom.
All who travel here have something to learn from the way Romania has been able to rely on regenerative approaches to create species-rich systems and socio-ecologically rich landscapes in areas such as Transylvania, where people still live in harmony with Nature. This is not “old-fashioned, out of date and inefficient.” It is, in fact, the very essence of sustainability based on a profound understanding of Nature’s principles and limits. It is, above all, timeless wisdom in practice.

I hope some of you have a chance to see Romania´s rural landscapes during the following days. Such landscapes that I have personally enjoyed for years have an almost spiritual but also social, economical and ecological significance, which should inspire other countries in Europe to restore the balance between Nature and society. The biodiversity here, in Romania, remains for me unique in Europe – alongside the ancient mixed forest there is the size and quality of the major mammals such as bear, lynx and wolves; and incomparable upland and lowland ancient meadowland with commensurate wild flower riches. These ecosystems, this biodiversity, deserve our attention, for they are now at serious risk of destruction, I’m being serious, just at a point in time - this is the irony of all this - when they provide us with a critically important model for a circular, green economy that can, at last, attract investment in natural, social and cultural capital.

It is surely the shared duty of leaders, decision-makers and citizens to tackle the many threats to our natural environment from the consequences of climate change and biodiversity loss. In this regard, Romania has an unprecedented opportunity to act and capitalize on Recovery Plan funds to develop and implement innovative nature-based solutions. 

If I may say so, it is not lost on me that we are holding this conference while, across the border, Ukraine’s territory has been invaded. As I have seen with my own eyes, Romania’s response has been remarkable in both its humanity and its immense generosity. My thoughts and prayers are with all Ukrainians and I am proud that organizations I have been working with for years have done much to offer support. It is a tragedy of immense proportions to witness such death, destruction and misery when we should all be working together to tackle the greatest planetary emergency our world has ever faced…

We must also be aware that what we are witnessing relates to our discussion today. A recent U.N. report, for instance, has highlighted the growing economic impact of the crisis in Ukraine, which only exacerbates the climate and biodiversity emergency. We would be doing future generations the greatest disservice not to respond to the global challenges this war has highlighted. This means investing – now – in systems that enable sustainable food and energy and which protect our natural capital.

Ladies and Gentlemen, over the fifty years, I suppose, since I first tried to draw attention to the need to re-balance our relationship with Nature, I have seen an acceleration in biodiversity loss and climate change that frankly should shame us. In very recent years, however, I have seen a genuine commitment to progress and action. So I can only pray that this event, together with the energy and the projects you are launching today, will provide us with real momentum to make a genuine difference for our forests and for our future.  

Sunt foarte mândru că am putut contribui la lansarea acestui proiect important și vă doresc să aveți un schimb de opinii constructiv. 

I am very proud to have been able to help launch this important project and can only wish you well in your discussions.