Ministers, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so delighted to be at the Forest Research Institute today, and am especially pleased and greatly honoured to have received an Honorary Degree (indeed, a Diploma of Science!) from such a prestigious institution. It is wonderful to be in India, in Dehradun, and to have the opportunity to spend a little bit of time at such a beautiful campus as this.
Some of you may possibly know - but I wouldn't be at all surprised if you didn't - that I have been deeply concerned about the fate of the world's forests for many years (in fact, Justin Mundy, the Director of my I.S.U., may have told you before I arrived about our efforts to act as an honest broker in bringing people together to try and create effective, global partnerships between the private, public and N.G.O. sectors in order to find integrated solutions to the alarming problem of tropical forest destruction...), and so it is a source of great happiness and indeed an opportunity for reflection to be here today. Mahatma Gandhi, whose wisdom and vision continue to have such a bearing on all our lives, and who has had a great influence on my own thinking, once said: ' What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.' How right he was.
It seems to me that there could hardly be a more important endeavour than the task of conserving the world’s remaining forests, and it is my fervent, but often frustrated hope that leaders and communities around the world will recognize the urgency of ensuring their protection over the years and decades ahead. As the late lamented and greatly missed Wangari Maathai said: 'we have a responsibility to protect the rights of generations, of all species, that cannot speak for themselves today. The global challenge of climate change requires that we ask no less of our leaders, or ourselves’.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, I certainly don’t need to remind you all, in one of the world's most distinguished forest research institutes, of why it is so essential that we make rapid progress in this direction, as you all know far better than me that the forests play an absolutely critical role in ensuring the stability of the global climate; that they are vital in providing global food, water and energy security; that they play an essential part in ensuring that our increasingly stressed ecosystems are sufficiently resilient to have adaptive capacity to cope with our seemingly ever-increasing demands upon them; and that reducing deforestation is also very likely the single most effective way of avoiding the mass extinction of animals and plants. To do this effectively requires us to put a realistic value on Nature herself and to see Nature's ecosystem services as, essentially, public utilities - such as water, gas or electricity - that have to be conserved, enhanced and paid for as vital commodities. This way the poorest people on Earth would ultimately benefit.
Forests are also fundamental in ensuring that we are able to protect and support the incredible diversity of human cultures, let alone the poorest people on Earth, that are so dependent upon them - an insight which is particularly acutely shared in the Indian sub-continent, where your country's experience with social and community forestry has been so particularly significant.
Over and above all of these considerations, however, I share the profound conviction - echoed in all the great religious traditions - that the forests are of vital importance due to their intrinsic value, and that we have a deep responsibility of custodianship to the natural environment upon which we so wholly and utterly depend. How heartening, then, to learn of India's multiple efforts to protect forests; to manage them more sustainably; to work in partnership with local communities, including the adivasi and indigenous peoples of this country; and to re-afforest wherever possible.
I know that the Forest Research Institute has played an absolutely vital role in this process and that its reputation as a centre of great excellence is known around the world. Given the challenges that we all face, your expertise is greatly needed both at home and abroad and I can only wish and pray for your continued success in your critically important endeavours.