President Bongo, Your Excellencies, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen: I did just want to say how very grateful I am that you have taken time out of your immensely schedules to be here today. And, if I may, I'd like to express my particular gratitude to Paul Polman for having agreed to co-host today's meeting, as well as for his outstanding leadership on this and so many other issues concerning the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals .
I am delighted to learn that yesterday's discussions and the high level dinner were fruitful and I look forward to learning more about the commitments that have been made and the next steps that have been agreed.
As it happens, it is almost exactly ten years to the day that I gathered a few people together at Clarence House to discuss how to halt tropical deforestation and asked Justin to form what became the Prince's Rainforests Project, which then grew into the International Sustainability Unit. I was rather hoping that the problem would have been resolved by my sixtieth birthday, but as my seventieth looms rather large next year and the situation is only somewhat improved, I do slightly wonder what Justin and the I.S.U. has been up to!
It does seem that at the conceptual level the argument has been won, for there can be few sane people – except, perhaps, for a few totally insane ones – who would now challenge the enormous value of the world's remaining forests. Moreover, there has been progress by some of the world's forest countries, a number of which are represented here today, including Gabon, Colombia, Brazil, Indonesia and Ghana, in putting in place measures that have made a difference.
I realise only too well how difficult it is for governments to reconcile the many pressures on their natural resources and I can only salute their efforts to protect the forests – for the benefit of their people, for the resilience of their economies and, indeed, for the well-being of all humanity.
I would also wish to acknowledge the enduring efforts by donor governments, such as Norway, Germany and the U.K., who have worked to support forest country governments to develop the plans needed to address the complex drivers of deforestation. I am delighted that, after a meeting I hosted in St. James' Palace in 2012, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom, along with the World Bank, formed the G.N.U.W. Group which has done much to encourage donor co-ordination.
I have very clear memories of the many meetings over the years that brought together different stakeholders to encourage a private sector consensus on how to proceed. I am encouraged, therefore, that perhaps the biggest shift in attitude over the decade has come from leading companies involved in tropical commodity supply chains, a good many of whom are represented here today. Genuine efforts are now being made to give substance to ambitious, no-deforestation pledges.
Notwithstanding all the progress made, however, it remains indisputably and demoralizingly the case that we are not winning. At least ten million hectares of forest continue to be lost every year, with new fronts of deforestation opening all the time.
Recent science suggests that, as result of loss and degradation, forests now act as a carbon source rather than a carbon sink. It also means that their vital role in sustaining global and regional water cycles and, therefore, our food, energy and human security, is increasingly in jeopardy. How, Ladies and Gentlemen, how could we have allowed ourselves to get into this most dangerous of positions which so threatens our children's future?
Every country bears responsibility for this state of affairs. Indeed, a report published today by W.W.F. and R.S.P.B. highlights the point by setting out the scale of the U.K.'s own deforestation footprint.
As we approach 2020, therefore, it seems to me that the case for all of us to redouble our efforts could not possibly be stronger. In the context of today's meeting, I would just like to touch on four specific points, if I may.
The first is that, despite all the numbers that get bandied about, it still remains difficult to tell whether companies really are succeeding in removing deforestation from their supply chains. I do wonder, therefore, whether it isn't time for reporting and standards across supply chains to be aligned and made more consistent. Surely every company ought to be transparent about its deforestation footprint and put in place systems to verify the traceability of all the commodities it supplies to the market?
In this regards Ladies and Gentlemen, I am encouraged that technology, specifically Financial Technology or 'FinTech', may have a useful role to play in this field, and at a recent visit to Barclays Bank's Eagle Lab in Kensington I was fascinated to learn about two start-up ventures, Everledger and HaloTrade, that are pioneering such an approach to radically improve transparency and traceability of goods circulating through the economy, with major implications for guaranteeing provenance. Halo, for example, incentivises suppliers to raise their social and environmental standards, as they are given access to financing priced at the risk of the better-rated buyer, on condition that they participate in the system of ethical production.
My next point relates to an increasing concern about the extent to which success in reducing agricultural expansion into forests comes at the expense of the destruction of other wonderful ecosystems, such as the Cerrado, the Chaco and the world's remaining savannahs, all of which are also vital for the services they provide and the biodiversity that they sustain.
Thirdly, underscoring the essential truth that we are all in this together, the role of the financial institutions could not be more important. Until they implement commodity investment policies that exclusively favour sustainable production, deforestation-free supply chains are going to remain very elusive.
Finally, it is absolutely vital that we take our combined efforts to scale, through jurisdictional and sector-wide approaches, backed by local and national governments.
Ladies and Gentlemen, despite the enormity of the challenge, I remain convinced that by working together, it is still possible to take the decisive action necessary to save the world's remaining forests. But we should be in no doubt that the future of the world's vital forests, and therefore of the planet, as a whole, really does rest in our hands.