Except that as I get older, I keep thinking I do far better as a video message than turning up in person. In fact, I keep hearing all the time my video messages go down far better than me. One of the reasons, I suspect, is that people are used to watching screens and it's much more fun watching people on a screen. And so I think that my future lies in, rather like the Wizard of Oz, behind a screen with a strong light and a mirror. And eventually I stagger out like a little figure who has been behind all these video messages!
Anyway Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be here on such an important evening and could not be more grateful to the Lord Mayor, who very sensibly isn't here to listen to my speech, for allowing us to use the Guildhall. Representing six hundred years of history and with memorials to Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill, this is an inspiring place for us all to talk about the long term future that we want to see and the leadership that we need to make it happen.
Now I hope Ladies and Gentlemen no one is in any doubt that this is going to be a very important year on the international stage. It is easy to make assertions about ‘fundamental decisions’ and ‘tipping points’, and so on and so forth so let me explain why I think 2015 is going to be so important. This year sees global deadlines for both a new international climate change deal and a new set of global development goals. That is a hugely important combination because in the past, whatever people may have thought and said, too many of the actions required to tackle urgent social and environmental issues have been undertaken in isolation from each other. I suspect the business leaders here tonight would immediately identify and label this as ‘silo mentality’. That is not to say that those actions were misguided or ineffective, but they were all too often simply not joined up. Even if they were not pulling in different directions they were simply inefficient.
Wherever we look in the world there are pressing examples of how social and environmental pressures interact. To give you just a few examples: deforestation in the Amazon is almost certainly the prime cause of a desperate drought in Sao Paolo; the survival of coastal communities in Africa and Asia is threatened by industrial-scale fishing; and rapid population growth in arid areas is outpacing their capacity to grow crops, driving unsustainable demands for water and energy for irrigation. But as we all know, there are many, many more examples of just how desperate these inextricably linked social and environmental problems have become. Even in a world full of daunting perils and crises, it is hard to imagine greater challenges for humanity.
I am not sure how many times I have said this and I am not the only one to do so but this is a battle about how we survive as a species on our one and only planet. It is therefore a battle we have to win. But it cannot be won by just some of us. It requires a united international effort.
So I do believe that we have to see 2015 as a year of opportunity, during which the international community can set a new direction and move ahead rapidly
As always, it will be for political leaders (and I do stress the word ‘leaders’) to decide on global actions, with the business and N.G.O. communities having a major new opportunity to influence their decisions. But before anyone sets out on this journey it might be worth just taking stock looking at what has been achieved in the past, what is at stake in the present and what we might achieve in the future.
Ten years ago we were approaching another ‘breakthrough’ moment of international diplomacy the G8 summit in Gleneagles. International talks on climate change were becalmed and further progress seemed unlikely to put it mildly. There was no unified policy framework to tackle climate change in this country, or anywhere else for that matter. And while forward-thinking businesses including many who are here tonight were certainly considering what they might do about this challenge, very few were contemplating the transformative changes required to achieve sustainability. At the same time, so-called mainstream business voices were actively delaying progress by equating environmental action with damage to their balance sheets.
I do hope that last remark raised an eyebrow or two! In the course of,I looked it up before I came here this evening, over a hundred meetings, seminars and dinners, I pity the people who came, but there we are, since the year 2000 with all sectors of the economy, both here and abroad, I have seen and experienced every sort of reaction to the suggestions from myself and many others that time is running out. The negative reactions have ranged from polite indifference to the pronouncement by an economist who else - that I was ‘the enemy of the enlightenment’. I will leave it to you to decide who is enlightened and who isn’t, because things are definitely improving! But I do think we all need to be concerned about the ceaseless efforts in some quarters to continue to argue that there really isn’t a problem, or not much of one, or if there is that the costs of addressing it are simply too high.
Looking just at the last ten years, the road from Gleneagles has been far from smooth. There have been steps forward and there have been steps back. Yet where we are now is a considerable improvement progress has been made and we appear to have real momentum to go further and faster.
At the global level, not only have the U.N. talks been restarted, but in Cancun in 2010 new commitments were agreed that secure action from all major economies. That shift was then further developed with a commitment to reach a deal this year in Paris.
At the same time, forward-thinking businesses are ever more determined that they are going to be a part of the solution to climate change, and they are acting to show that this is true.
So in the last ten years significant progress has been made and the consensus to strengthen climate action is broader and stronger than ever before. But is that consensus broad enough and strong enough? Just to be clear, last year’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and you all know this anyway, says that the ‘severe, pervasive and irreversible consequences’ of climate change, left unchecked, could be beyond our capacity to rectify. This includes more extreme weather events that damage our infrastructure, sea level rises threatening coastal cities, and the disruption of weather patterns vital for agriculture. To that alarming global picture we must add unsustainable population growth and an equally unsustainable rate of depletion of natural resources. So the stakes could not be higher, nor the consequences of failure more dire.
Ladies and gentlemen, there may have been a time in history when we could argue that there was a lack of knowledge, or at least room for doubt, about the extent to which our actions have consequences for the planet. That time has gone, and gone forever. If we are honest, we know all too clearly what we are actually doing, and that we cannot go on as we are. We urgently need to start doing things differently. And in my humble opinion we need to start integrating the business public self with the private family self. So that when you go home in the evenings, perhaps you think a little bit about what you are doing and whether it is the right way to go.
When it comes to getting things done, I have great faith in the business community, in which I include the insurance sector, pension funds and sovereign wealth funds. Once they are fully engaged and it seems to be taking an inordinate amount of time to get to that point - they have the vision, the skills and the capacity to drive real change. So I do want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the members of my Corporate Leaders Group. They are a small but highly influential group of committed business leaders who came together at my invitation ten years ago, and probably longing to be release now. And I am extremely proud of their achievements, which include consistently showing real leadership, not just through their willingness to stand up and be counted on this issue though that has been important but critically through their actions.
Incidentally, since Senior Jose Manuel Barroso is with us this evening, for which I am enormously grateful, I hope he won't mind me quoting from a recent letter he sent on stepping down from The European Commission. “Our push, he wrote, to decarbonise Europe's economy, our leadership on global environmental matters including climate action and not least our ambitious 2013 EU Climate and Energy Framework, our testimony to our strong commitment to sustainability and climate action, all this would not have been possible without the constant support that you and your Corporate Leaders Group have given to the European Commission and to me personally.
In the last few years the Group has gone from strength to strength with a series of initiatives, each bolder than the last, including being (again) the first and loudest business voice in support of a long term goal of net zero carbon emissions. They argue that this can be done in ways that create new business opportunities, while keeping costs manageable. Indeed I am told that well over half of the emissions savings required over the next 15 years to keep warming below two degrees create economic benefits that exceed their costs so they more than pay for themselves.
The transition to a low carbon economy will of course require a complete transformation of our relationship with energy, looking in particular at the role of fossil fuels and the distorting impact of the subsidies they receive. It will also require a whole new emphasis on resource efficiency, moving from the ‘take, make and dispose’ approach adopted in a linear economic model to the ‘make, use and recover’ of the circular economies we need to develop. This whole process of transition will have to be undertaken with great care and sensitivity, to manage the impact of changes on jobs and local economies.
Today the Corporate Leaders Group have released their vision for where the U.K. economy needs to go in order to continue prospering in a changing world. They have identified the need for a new level of strategy alignment and focus putting clear goals in place to ensure our infrastructure, our innovation and our skills development are all harnessed behind building a new economy. As they point out, ‘resource scarcity, energy security and extreme weather are real and growing threats to the long-term viability of business, and to the security and prosperity of the public.’
Looking ahead, I am delighted that the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership has begun work with other leadership groups that they and my sustainability charities have developed over the last decade, and with the many thousands of executives who have passed through my Business & Sustainability Programme. They are talking to all of those people about the concrete tasks that must be achieved in the decade ahead.
It is of course hugely important not to mistake the enabling step of developing a global framework with implementing the actions required to solve the real and pressing problems that face us. But getting agreement to work together globally on a common basis is key it will allow so many other local, national and regional actions to take place. And that is why things such as setting an appropriate value on carbon, to ensure that ‘the polluter pays’, and devising genuine incentives that will drive the results we need are so important.
These are not priorities just for government, or business, or solely aimed at any single segment of society. They will set the agenda for the whole of society and I invite everyone here today to work with C.I.S.L. on this "10 Year 10 Point Plan".
Of course looking ahead even sixty years, let alone six hundred much of the future will not be in the hands of most of the people gathered here today. It will be in the hands of the next generation, and the one after that. So it is a huge encouragement that a great many in that generation understand the scale of the problems, and are showing us their enthusiasm, energy and entrepreneurial zeal.
Last January, I presented the inaugural Prince of Wales Prize to Gamal Albinsaid, a doctor from Indonesia who is helping the poorest communities to gain access to health services and education through the collection and recycling of garbage.
With Gamal’s leadership and the support of the University of Cambridge and Unilever, this project has garnered worldwide attention, has increased its scale and Gamal is working with others to replicate the model.
In fact, all finalists in last year’s scheme have gone from strength to strength, meaning more sanitation in Peru, fewer wasted hours waiting for water in India, more sustainable crops in Guatemala, more access to clean energy in Mexico, more children being educated in Nepal, and the development of a new affordable poultry feed for farmers in Nigeria.
Similarly, the seven finalists this year, all of whom are under the age of thirty, have already made remarkable steps to support sustainable living in communities across Africa and Asia; and they are aiming high to scale their operations within and beyond their regions.
The application of technology, particularly mobile communications, is unsurprisingly a key theme amongst the finalists - providing advice and finance to smallholder farmers, managing inventory records for medical clinics, and helping poor people to feedback to the organisations who serve them. Others are focused on face-to-face support helping villagers to access life-improving products, setting up networks of micro-entrepreneurs to distribute sustainable technologies, and imaginative approaches to help young entrepreneurs set up businesses.
So ladies and gentlemen, seven highly enterprising finalists but of course there is one clear winner.. who is. and I don't have en envelope to open to make it more exciting.. Daniel Yu and his initiative Relief Watch.