Señora Presidenta, Señoras e Señores. Tanto mi esposa como yo le estamos enormemente agradecidos por habernos invitado a visitar Chile.
I have to admit that it has taken me 60 years finally to reach this remarkable country, about which I have heard so much – although it has not been for want of trying on my part! My wife, however, has had the great good sense to come here on a previous occasion… And so have most of my family – including my eldest son who now has happy memories of the more rugged, character-building aspects of Southern Chile!
Interestingly, one distant connection I have had with your country is that the ship in which I served in the Royal Navy back in the early 1970’s, H.M.S. Norfolk, was given a new lease of life when she was acquired by your own Navy in 1982. I wonder what has happened to her now…?!
Madame President, we in Britain have fond memories of your visit to Britain almost exactly a year ago. The relationship between our two countries stretches right back to 1810: a year which, one could argue, marked the beginning of the end for Napoleon - with whom we were having quite a bit of "local difficulty" at the time...! - and the beginning of the beginning for an independent Chile. Your founding father, Bernardo O’Higgins, had of course by then spent four years in London, at Richmond-on-Thames. He is rightly commemorated with a statue near Richmond bridge and - to this day - an annual Service of Remembrance is organized by our Chilean community. I have to say, Madame President, that I admire not only Mr O’ Higgins’ achievements in laying the foundations for your country, but also his exceptionally good taste in making his London home in a place called "Clarence House". You may not know, but my wife and I live in the other Clarence House in London!
Mr O' Higgins' time in his own Clarence House seems to have pleased him since historians tell us that he became a lifelong Anglophile and thus the very special ties between our two countries were born. Ladies and Gentlemen, if you will forgive me for saying so, this is a far cry from the elderly lady from Coquimbo whom Charles Darwin describes in the “Voyage of the Beagle”… It seems this lady remembered that in her childhood - and I quote - "Twice, at the mere cry of 'Los Ingleses,' every soul, carrying what valuables they could, had taken to the mountains." If I may say so, it is a great honour to find so many of you at the foot of the mountains this evening!
It is no surprise, then, that on these foundations of trust and friendship we have built a solid modern relationship which is of benefit to both our countries. Earlier today, I visited your Joint Centre for Peacekeeping, CECOPAC, and was fascinated to hear of the training and exchanges of people and ideas which characterize our defence co-operation. As the former Commanding Officer of a Royal Navy minesweeper serving in the Baltic during the Cold War, and having flown helicopters from a range of Naval vessels, I am particularly looking forward to visiting the “Almirante Condell” in Valaparaiso tomorrow and seeing how it has changed since its service in the Royal Navy as “H.M.S. Marlborough”. I am told that much will be reassuringly familiar – including the William Morris furniture coverings…!
Madame President, I hear you have shown a strong lead in promoting education and I can only applaud your decision to increase, almost exponentially, the number of overseas scholarships offered by your Government and to give your students access to the excellence of British teaching at such venerable seats of learning as Oxford, the London School of Economics and, I’m glad to say, and my old university, Cambridge, which this year is celebrating its 800th anniversary.
Can I also applaud, Madame President, the priority which you have given to addressing climate change? While Chile makes only a small contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, I know that you are already seeing the terrifying effects of global warming, including the shrinking of nearly 90 per cent of your glaciers.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in the light of such evidence, and so much more from across the globe, I find it incomprehensible that there are still those who doubt the science of climate change. But I am afraid they do exist and that is why I could not believe more strongly that if we are to stand any chance of bequeathing a habitable planet to our children and grandchildren, we must act together and we must act now.
I don’t know about you, Madam President, Ladies and Gentlemen, but I do not want to be confronted in due course by my grandchildren – or yours – bitterly resenting the fact that when we could have done something, we merely dithered and argued amongst ourselves. I was enormously encouraged by the Climate Change Action Plan which you unveiled at Poznan and which includes a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even though, as a low-emitting developing country, you are not obliged to do so under the Kyoto Protocol. This sends a powerful signal and one which I can only pray that others will follow. I say this because some 18 months ago a group of world-renowned experts came to see me in despair at the lack of real international progress in combatting climate change.
They explained in the clearest and most compelling terms that slowing down deforestation – indeed, halting it in its tracks - was perhaps the most urgent of all the challenges we face because of the huge amounts of greenhouse gases emitted from cutting down and burning forests – more than the entire transportation sector put together. They told me that if we can stop it, we will buy ourselves some much-needed time to build the low carbon economies for which we must all strive.
I am afraid that I am one of those people who prefers actions to words and that is why I immediately set about establishing my Prince’s Rainforests Project on the basis that if nothing is ventured nothing is gained. Having spent the last twenty-four years working with the private sector on corporate responsibility and on building partnerships, I asked a range of business leaders if they would lend me some of the best brains from the private sector in order to analyze the entire issue, consult as widely as possible and then, through the development of an effective partnership between the public, private and N.G.O. sectors, to try and suggest workable solutions to this immensely complex question.
And it is this, perhaps, unique partnership which I believe is so crucial. It is a measure of the global emergency we face that we must find new ways of operating and new models of development. We must think and act across boundaries of nation, sector, language and culture, and to do so now and with resolve.
I am delighted to say that my Rainforest Team has been making substantial progress in developing proposals and is now working with the World Bank and the pension and insurance sectors, two groups with whom I have been involved on climate change issues for more than two years, on a possible long-dated Bond which, we hope, would be supported by governments of developed countries. The proceeds from the Bond would be provided to Rainforest Nations to fund sustainable development plans.
You hardly need me to tell you that this would also be an important step towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals because, of course, how can we begin to address poverty if we haven’t first ensured that our planet is actually inhabitable? If we do nothing, the consequences for every person on this earth will be severe and unprecedented – with vast numbers of environmental refugees, social instability and decimated economies: far worse than anything which we are seeing today.
In pursuing this Project, however, I could not be more mindful of the seriousness of the global economic slow-down. However, what is so encouraging is that in discussion with interested parties it is emerging that our outline proposals could perhaps make a real contribution to stimulating the world economy. The support we have received to date from international organizations, N.G.O’s and Governments from the developed and developing world provide, I think, real cause for optimism that we may be able to prevail.
Madame President, you were, I believe, keen that I should say something at your dinner, but I do not want to put myself in the position of causing you to regret your enthusiasm because I went on for too long about this crucial subject! Nevertheless, I am delighted to have had this opportunity to say something about the challenges we face and the way in which, together, we are confronting them.
En realidad no podría sentirme más orgulloso y confiado de que el Reino Unido pueda contar con Chile entre los amigos y aliados que están a la altura de estos desafíos.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me the greatest possible pleasure to propose a toast to the President and people of the Republic of Chile.