Mia moglie ed io non troviamo parole adeguate per esprimere il nostro immenso piacere nel tornare in Italia e la mia emozione quando mi è stato chiesto di rivolgermi ad un pubblico tanto illustre.
(Mr President, On behalf of my wife and myself, I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to have returned to Italy and how touched I am to have been asked to address such a distinguished audience.)
I need hardly say that Italy and her people, her culture and traditions occupy a particularly special place in the affections of the British – an affection that my wife and I share whole-heartedly. About five million of us visit Italy every year and 100,000 Britons make their home here. Our histories have been intertwined for over 2000 years, since Julius Caesar landed on the south coast of England in 55BC and encountered a little local opposition! Some of our finest cities, including York, Edinburgh and Bath, owe much to Roman design. In the arts we have long drawn inspiration from Italian sources – including the many plays by Shakespeare which have an Italian theme or setting. The enormous influence of Italian artists and composers is hard to quantify. A more recent example of the British drawing on Italian inspiration is on the football pitch, where the record of England under Fabio Capello suggests it just might be one of the most successful collaborations yet. And again to prove trade is a two-way relationship I understand that one of our own footballers has been making quite a good impression in Milan this year....!
Ladies and Gentlemen, being bound by such historical and contemporary ties, it is no surprise that British news headlines were dominated by the terrible earthquake in the Abruzzo region earlier this month. As I said in the message I sent immediately to Prime Minister Berlusconi, our hearts went out to you as you began to come to terms with the sheer extent of human suffering and destruction. The people of L’Aquila and the surrounding villages continue to be remembered in our thoughts and prayers…
I cannot help but think that this ancient city is a particularly good place to piece together fragments of the past and to learn from them in charting a sure and stable course for the future. The message I want to convey to you today is about the greatest threat facing our world - climate change. Yes, it exists – I wish it didn’t, but it does - and it is happening far faster than the scientists predicted. The evidence is there – particularly in the Arctic and Antarctic – but there are many who should know better who still deny the validity of that scientific evidence. I believe that the response we make now to the challenge before us will be the single most critical element in defining our era – and it will be the one by which our generation will be judged, if we care about such things.
As the world struggles with the consequences of the economic crisis in which we find ourselves, you might think this an odd analysis. But, Ladies and Gentlemen, I fear that any of the difficulties we face today will be as nothing when the full horror of global warming unfolds.
This might sound like hyperbole, but if you take a minute to look at the science of climate change, and to understand what will happen if we fail to do anything about it, then you will discover there are not enough words to express the emergency of the situation.
The basics of climate change are well known. Fossil fuels, which have captured and stored carbon dioxide for millions of years, are being burnt at an unprecedented rate. We are getting through Nature’s supplies so quickly that most economists accept that the era of cheap oil, coal and gas is over. Billions of barrels of oil have been burnt in a few decades, oil which, of course, can never be replaced.
As we have burnt this oil, we have released huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the air causing the planet to warm. CO2 is, of course, a greenhouse gas that traps the sun’s energy in our atmosphere and causes temperatures to rise. There is no doubt that man’s activities are responsible. For instance, you only have to look at the British Antarctic Survey’s ice core samples from three kilometres in depth which provide atmospheric readings of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for very nearly the past one million years. Not only, ladies and gentlemen, do they show that levels of carbon dioxide began to rise dramatically at precisely the point the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-eighteenth century, but that today carbon dioxide levels are at their highest for 800,000 years . There is no dispute about this. There is a consensus amongst scientists and, I must say, the world’s business leaders also.
Now, some sixteen years ago I established, with the University of Cambridge, a Business and Environment Programme in order to try and raise the level of awareness of environmental issues amongst the Business sector. Out of this emerged the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change. This group, which consists of some of the top global companies, is calling for CO2 cuts that are guided by science. They have already offered their support for an eighty-five per cent cut in global emissions by 2050, if that is what is needed. Members include firms like Philips, Unilever and Sun Microsystems. The Group’s international activities have drawn the support of 150 companies of similar size, including Adidas, Barclays, Cathay Pacific, Cisco, eBay, Gap, Sony Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson and Johnson, Kodak, News Corporation, Nokia, Nike, Virgin and Yahoo. Quite a useful list.
I am pleased to say that leading Italian business leaders also recognize the need for urgent change. Only a few weeks ago, I hosted a lunch at my house in London for some of your country’s most distinguished business leaders – organized by Enel who are members of my European Union Corporate Leaders Group. They all recognized the urgent need to take the necessary steps to mitigate the worst effects of global warming.
These companies have not just “gone soft” on the science of climate change, but are motivated by hard-headed commercial realities, as well as a moral duty to do what is right. They have looked at the evidence and concluded that something urgent must be done to stop the otherwise terrible effects of global warming; and, believe you me, they are terrifying.
We have all heard that one of the consequences of climate change will be increases in sea level. Only last month, acknowledged scientific experts in the field warned that sea level rises could be much greater than they themselves had predicted only two years ago. They now estimate that sea levels could rise by over a metre this century, affecting 600million people and engulfing vast swathes of land. Bangladesh, Egypt, India, and China would be severely affected. The Maldives and other small islands would disappear altogether. The number of people at risk from flooding each year is predicted to rise from around five million at the moment to something in the region of 370 million people by the end of this century.
Now you don’t need me to tell you that Italy has a coastline of some 7,600 km. Like parts of my own country, Italy will not escape the effects. I know that Venice recently experienced its worst flooding for twenty-two years and incidents of flooding are increasing. It is interesting, perhaps alarming, to note in the first decade of the last century St. Mark’s square flooded fewer than ten times a year. Now it floods over sixty times a year, more than once a week.
It is not only a surfeit of water that is expected to be problematic – in many places it will also be shortages that cause major problems, with parts of southern Europe by the end of this century beginning to resemble the Sahara Desert, as North African conditions become more characteristic through increased temperatures and reduced rainfall.
On top of sea level rise and freshwater stress will be the effect of extreme climatic events, causing damage to property and affecting farming. Ask yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, what effect that will have on population movement – especially considering the rate at which the total human population is still expanding. It is estimated that there could be literally hundreds of millions of environmental refugees trying to escape these new, frightening conditions. And where will they go?
That is why it is no exaggeration to say that we stand at a significant moment in history. By the end of this year the world's family of nations must agree a way to halt and, indeed, reverse the growth of CO2 emissions. If I may say so, Italy has a vital role to play. As President of the G8 group you are well-placed to show global leadership and to help lay the foundations for an historic deal at the crucial climate change talks that will take place in Copenhagen this December.
Not only is Italy a leader in the wider international sense, your country has also long been at the centre of the European Union. Indeed, it was the Treaty of Rome, signed a short distance from here, which began a new way of conducting international relations and launched a European initiative which has provided peace and security for over half a century. Now, as then, the world looks to Europe for leadership.
We need an agreement on climate change which is truly global, which is based on trust and is equitable and for that we need leadership and vision. Europe has recently been at the forefront in leading the debate and let us hope that the gap between rhetoric and action continues to lessen as demonstrated in Brussels last December with the adoption of the European Climate and Energy Package.
It is my sincere hope that European countries will not only remain united in supporting this package, but will go further in taking initiatives that will increase the prospects for success. For while there is ever more science telling us of the need for action, what is really needed is inspiring leadership demonstrating how it is possible to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, and to do it in a way that creates jobs, enhances competitiveness and improves energy security.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a great prize to be won here and you could easily argue that at a time of such extreme economic uncertainty, when countries are struggling to find new directions for their economies, building a genuinely low carbon society is a more certain route to recovery. Of course, there will be difficult choices to make and I recognize that there will be particular challenges for energy-intensive industries, but if we are to bequeath to our children a world that is fit to inhabit, then I fear we must act now. What on earth is the point of procrastinating and arguing for ever about the science of climate change while we sail on in the Titanic to hit a rapidly melting iceberg?
Perhaps the biggest opportunity is in the form of more efficient energy use. Italy is already an energy-efficient country having, for example, made enormous savings through action on “white goods”, especially fridges, with schemes to persuade consumers to replace old models with more energy-efficient versions.
The logic of energy efficiency is unavoidable. If we use less energy, we pay less money and we produce less pollution and CO2. So why is it so hard to promote it?
Briefly, last year, when oil prices touched $150 a barrel, energy efficiency seemed like an attractive proposition. Prices today are now at about a third of that peak, but most sensible economists believe most strongly that the era of cheap energy is over. So now, surely, is the time we need to be looking at energy efficiency harder than ever, in order that our recovery, when it comes, is low carbon and sustainable, and – in a world facing ever-increasing energy stress – is competitive too.
I know that for Governments, for business and for individuals taking the necessary action can be tough and that is why it is vital we remember what very high stakes are in play.
There is, however, still time to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, but not much. That is why the United Nations meeting on climate change at Copenhagen in December is so critical. The world will be looking for Governments to reach agreement and to take action before it is too late. I can only pray they succeed, not least in tackling the vital question of deforestation.
Why? Because about a fifth of carbon dioxide pollution comes from deforestation, especially the clearance of the tropical rainforests. And not only do the rainforests store carbon in their trees and soils, they also absorb about fifteen per cent of the emissions coming from fossil fuels. So while they form around twenty per cent of the problem, they are actually some thirty-five for forty per cent of the solution. The question today, therefore, is not one of if we should stop deforestation, it is much more a matter of how. Because halting deforestation would provide the quickest, easiest and cheapest way at the end of the day of tackling climate change. It is the low lying fruit, if you like, in the battle to avoid catastrophe.
Most of the rainforests are, of course, located in poorer countries, where the trees and animals, and the land beneath them, have historically been a source of economic development. This is why the clearance of these unique ecosystems, with their associated biodiversity that is so essential – and this is the point - to human survival on this planet (the only one we have) strikes me as axiomatic of the wider struggle we face in achieving a more sustainable view of progress, whereby improving the wellbeing of people and ending poverty need not entail the large-scale degradation of ecosystems upon which we all so fundamentally rely. This is why about eighteen months ago I set up my Rainforests Project in response to the deep concern of various experts who came to me in despair at the situation. The aim has been to consult as widely as possible and to seek out solutions to this apparently intractable problem.
Happily, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are making progress, not least through helping to build a new international consensus on how countries can work together in meeting this shared global challenge. Proposals are beginning to emerge as to how the 10-15 billion dollars per year needed to make a significant impact might be mobilized. Far from being a charitable hand-out, I see the transfer of money to save the rainforests as equivalent to paying a utility bill for gas, water or electricity, only that, in this case it is for the climatic and other services that are so essential to the whole world. It is important to remember that.
Securing the finances needed to combat the forces of deforestation will require innovative new partnerships and funding mechanisms. Several proposals have been put forward. One that emerged from my Rainforests Project involves the issuance of new government-backed rainforest bonds. These would be offered to the investment community and could provide companies in, for example, the pensions and insurance sectors which are looking for long term investments, with guaranteed returns while, at the same time, making available some of the significant resources needed to help slow down deforestation.
It is, if I may say so, a matter of enormous encouragement that the Government of Italy has demonstrated an exemplary willingness to show leadership in this complex debate. Indeed, I was delighted a few weeks ago at the time of the G20 gathering in London to arrange a meeting with Prime Minister Berlusconi, other national leaders and the heads of international organizations to discuss how it might be possible to find ways to mobilize the resources needed to help the rainforest countries protect and sustain these critical ecosystems. I was immensely heartened by Prime Minister Berlusconi’s offer to make a full consideration of the options to halt deforestation during this year’s G8 process and I much look forward to hearing about progress with those conversations in due course…
So it seems, at last, that the world is beginning to wake up to the critical ecological challenges that it faces, and this is to be warmly welcomed. As we take on board the implications of low carbon and more resource-efficient development, then we will certainly need to adapt our economies accordingly, including in the period of recovery that will hopefully begin soon. Indeed, history shows us that those who emerge from recessions with the healthiest economies are those who point their economies towards the future, not the past. And the future will, inevitably, be low-carbon, resource-efficient, energy-efficient, and much more in harmony with natural systems so we work with Nature and not against Her, as has been the case so disastrously up to now, and, therefore, more sustainable.
This should not present any problems for Italy because your ability for innovation is world famous. Italy is one of the countries that really can lead in the market for new ideas. During the Renaissance you were at the centre of a new way of thinking, in bringing a new scientific understanding to the mainstream. We now need an Environmental Renaissance, taking scientific knowledge, innovation and imagination – and a changed perception of Man’s relationship with Nature that once again allows us to participate with Her in harmony rather than in “arrogant enmity” – thereby putting a new way of thinking at the centre of our philosophy. Einstein famously said “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” That is our challenge, ladies and gentlemen – to break the conventional mould and to set out a new vision, a new set of values and a new partnership to solve the problem of climate change.
A phrase associated with that great Roman, Julius Caesar, is of course "crossing the Rubicon". Last month, in Brazil, I warned that the scientific evidence showed we had less than one hundred months before we were at our own Rubicon and there was no going back. We now only have ninety-nine months – actually very nearly ninety-eight, before we reach the point of no return, with decisions that will lock us in to our future course. The clock is ticking away inexorably; 99 months will pass in a flash, believe you me. Does the world really have to run into the proverbial brick wall to discover that all the warnings were in fact true? It will be too late by then to rectify the situation – only Nature will be able to heal the terrible damage we do to Her, and that may take thousands of years without man’s interference. So will those decisions lead to a sustainable, low-carbon future, or a path littered with the catastrophic effects scientists - and economists - are warning us of?
In closing, perhaps I could emphasize what seems to be the one central point. History, Ladies and Gentlemen, will judge us by how we respond to this challenge of climate change. Therefore, do we want our children and grandchildren to look back and see this as the moment when we embraced the opportunities, learnt from past mistakes and set off toward a new and enlightened age; a Renaissance that led the world toward a genuinely sustainable existence that depended on living off income rather than Nature’s precious capital? Or will they see this as the time when we allowed a new Dark Age to sprawl across our future, plunging us on a course towards catastrophe?
I hope and pray with all my heart that it will be the former, for all the information we need by way of warning has been assembled. As we embark on a new course, it is my sincere hope that the UK and Italy will once again find our histories inter-twined, this time with a common purpose to lead the world away from disaster and towards a fair, safe and sustainable future. In a number of areas the solutions by way of technology are already invented, but we urgently need to alter our entire world view, which has helped us to reach the climate and ecosystem crunch, by learning once again how to work in harmony with Nature’s genius and how to adopt our human technological genius accordingly.
Se non lo faremo, allora un’autentica sostenibilità non sarà che una vuota e futile chimera, ed i nostri nipoti non potranno mai e poi mai perdonarci.
(If we don’t then genuine sustainability will be an empty, futile chimera and our grandchildren will never, ever forgive us.)