Your Royal Highnesses, the Prime Minister, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I cannot tell you how delighted my wife and I are to have been invited to visit Malaysia to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of your independence and all the years of diplomatic ties between our countries that have followed. Both of us have long held a firm desire to visit your country, so this occasion is not only a very special moment for us personally, but is also aparticularly special opportunity to celebrate the enduring ties between our people. Those ties, of course, go back a very long way and the friendship between us is so deeply rooted in our shared history.
Our visit ends on Wednesday in Penang, which is, of course, where, two hundred and thirty one years ago, the long-standing history between our nations began. I gather that Penang was known for many years as Prince of Wales Island and the fact that it isn’t the case any longer, I promise I will not take personally - although my grandson,George, may possibly be cheered in due course by the name of its capital! Rather more poetically, though, I believe Penang was known as ‘the pearl of the Orient,’ so my wife and I are very much looking forward to discovering its charms for ourselves.
Sixty years on from independence it is clear that very strong foundations of mutual respect and understanding were laid down when Malaysia became part of the Commonwealth, with its shared principles, strong values and vision of a common future. Sixty years on, it is also clear that Malaysia now offers a powerful model to others in the region not only because of your particular strengths in business, education, science, security and defence, but also because of the way you operate on the world stage.
Today our partnership is vibrant and dynamic and, if I may say so, it is vitally important for the prosperity and security of both our countries. The trade and investment that flows between us, in both directions, creates skilled, well-paid employment in the United Kingdom just as it does in Malaysia. The defence and security cooperation that we enjoy makes a crucial difference to keeping all our people safe - whether through the Five Powers Defence Arrangements that I am greatly looking forward to learning more about when I visit the Royal Malaysian Air Force station at Butterworth next week, or through our shared determination to tackle the evil of terrorism that threatens us all.
Likewise, your country’s long-standing global reputation for understanding across the borders of faith and community is a precious asset in a world threatened by a lack of this most essentialcommodity. The pillars of such a reputation, founded, as they must be, on mutual respect and the willingness not merely to tolerate, but to celebrate differences and diversity in all their forms, could not be more relevant or, indeed, needed in today’s fractious times.
These attributes are well embedded in the ethos of the Commonwealth as demonstrated by its members' convening of people to discuss problems and share ideas as we look to finding ways to address the challenges of our future. So I was delighted to join the first Commonwealth Youth Summit earlier today. It aims, helpfully, to be ‘An Intergenerational-Convergence’ - so even someone of my advancing age can be included…!
I have every hope that the Youth Summit will offer us some valuable insights and compelling solutions to the challenges we all face such as the accelerating threat multiplier of catastrophic climate change or, as I heard from the young people this afternoon, the empowerment of women and tackling cyber-bullying. What gives me that hope is what I have seen happen when you put faith in young people. To take just one small example, over the last forty-one years my Prince’s Trust has helped more than 870,000 young people in the U.K. and now increasingly overseas, my Prince’s Trust International, to overcome seemingly impossible problems to turn their lives around; by, for instance, setting up their own enterprises – of which there are now nearly 90,000 one of which I am proud to say is Jimmy Choo. What young people need, I have learned, is encouragement and enough support, advice and skills-training to get started. Once started, the results can often be spectacular and profoundly heartening…
So my hope this week for the Commonwealth Youth Forum is that its discussions will epitomise all that is good about the Commonwealth – and indeed about Malaysia - with an open sharing of ideas, knowledge and expertise and a commitment from these young people to show leadership. In return, I know the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London next April will make it a priority to hear from them.
In addition to these issues, I was pleased to see that developing policies on climate change and finance are at the top of the agenda for C.H.O.G.M.. As I have been trying to point out for many years, there is no greater challenge to the young people of the Commonwealth and the world at large than climate change. How to limit its causes and adapt to the changes already bearing down on us will be one of the defining issues of their lives, as it is alreadyproving to be one of ours. Climate change presentsan existential crisis; the recent devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean or here in Malaysia with the catastrophic flooding in Kelantan in 2014, bear stark testimony to the issues with which we are increasingly going to have to contend. Indeed, we may have underestimated the severity of the problem. In the past week alone we have seen three very disturbing reports. One from the World Meteorological Organisation stating that in 2016 a combination of human activity and the El Niño effect increased CO2 in the atmosphere to a record level, fifty per cent higher than the average of the past ten years. This casts deep uncertainty about the attainability of the C02 targets agreed under the Paris Agreement. Meanwhile the United Nations has just reported that rising temperatures and the loss of nutrition caused by failing crops due to climate change are likely to have the largest impact on human health this century.
I regret to say this follows yet another report published last week by German scientists after an eight year study into the health of our oceans, which concludes that marine life around the world faces a deadly threat from increasingly acidic water. Such is the pace of this acidity, many small organisms will not be able to adapt quickly enough, and that will have a devastating impact on fish stocks – the source of protein for millions of people. And this is before mentioning the appallingly high levels plastic that we have put into the Ocean. As I recently said at the Our Ocean conference in Malta a few weeks ago, plastic is now on the menu! Also, of course, in this part of the world, you are all only too aware of the pressures that agriculture and the commodity sector put upon rainforests and their precious biodiversity and the causal relationship between their survival and that of our own.
At the same time, the world is also seeing an unprecedented shift from rural to urban dwelling which is creating many acute pressures: traffic congestion, dangerous levels of air pollution, the spread of unplanned settlements along highways and the destruction or disruption of vital eco-systems and the services that Nature struggles to provide us.
How, then, should we respond, Ladies and Gentlemen, to this perfect storm of human-created problems that we simply can no longer afford to ignore? Well, here is the good news. If we show determination, we are fully able to harness our intelligence and our compassion to build societies that are restorative and regenerative. We certainly have the money, we increasingly have the technology and we now have the Sustainability Goals as a commonly agreed framework of joint action which,if implemented would generate $12 trillion dollars and 600 million additional jobs.
Transformative change is possible. To attain it, I cannot help but think that we need to embrace the concept of a circular economy that builds partnerships and develops an economic model that is regenerative and that creates, uses, recovers, recycles and restores. Evidently our investments must now all deliver long-term social and environmental values and it is vital that we decouple GDP growth from resource use as, quite simply, the Earth’s ecosystemscannot take the pressure.
This is certainly not business as usual, but it is a path, it seems to me, which offers resilient growthand the hope of healing to societies, economies and environments. And, indeed, the way that we need to go forward is reminiscent of the characteristics of innovation and determination that have powered Malaysia’s economic growth. There is so much opportunity to be grasped as we catalyse the large investments needed into renewable energy, restorative agriculture and forestry, public transport and zero-carbon buildings.
The fact that you will be hosting the World Urban Forum early next year provides an opportunity to discuss more imaginative approaches that are based, for example, on the enduring relevance to humanity of timeless principles of urban planning that put the pedestrian at the heart of the design process, and not the car.
For the resolution of all these issues, the Commonwealth should, and does, have a pivotal role to play. Representing a third of the world’s population and a fifth of its land-mass, it can draw on a uniquely wide range of national contexts, experiences, traditions and, above all, professional associations – something, of course, which makes the Commonwealth unlike anything else in the world – for the solutions that we all so desperately need now.
For I do not feel that it is realistic or fair for us simply just to pass our problems to the next generation in the hope that they will resolve them; we are beholden at the very least to ensure that their inheritance sustains rather than constrains them.
Ladies and gentlemen, your sixtieth anniversary of independence is a worthy moment to reflect on the fact that we have much to learn and everything to gain by building on the legacy of trust and the strong bonds that exist between our nations, and which are augmented by our membership of the very special Commonwealth Family of nations… And so, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen, as we come together this evening to celebrate how far we have travelled in these past sixty years, and just how much we do together on so many fronts today, I pray we may also resolve to keep strengthening the enduring friendship between us so that it thrives and prospers for many years to come.