Su Excelencia Señor Presidente de la RepÃºblica; Ministros; Gobernadores; Alcaldes; Damas y Caballeros:
Es un gran placer para mí volver a Cartagenay estar presente con todos ustedes hoy.
As the President knows it is exactly forty years since I came here while serving in the Royal Navy and I am very happy to be reminded, in this splendid building, of Cartagena’s remarkable naval history and the Royal Navy's role in Colombia in 1930s.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Colombia is such a wonderfully diverse country and it has been enormously encouraging to see some of the work being done to nurture and protect it, despite the many challenges. If I may so it is vital that you do, if I may say so, not only for the wellbeing of all Colombians, but also for the whole world, today and in generations to come.
I am especially pleased to be able to join you today for this meeting because you are discussing a subject which is very close to my heart. The health of our oceans is, of course, critical to our very existence. It is central to the economic livelihoods and the food security of coastal peoples around the world and, by its very nature, key to the health of the species and biodiversity that exist within them. In the Caribbean alone, it is abundantly clear just how dependent this region is on this incredible seascape for employment, food security and continued economic growth.
And yet, as you all know far better than me, ladies and gentlemen, our planet's oceans are under severe threat from climate change, leading to rises in sea-levels and warming temperatures; from ocean acidification; from land-based pollution of all kinds, in particular plastics; and from over-fishing and destructive fishing practices.
We are collectively eroding the natural capital that sustains both us and a vital sector of our global economy what is increasingly referred to as the Blue Economy, or the Ocean Economy. For this reason, I am delighted that today the Government of Colombia is helping to highlight our collective concern at the potential loss of these natural assets and here I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sandra Bessudo and her team at the Presidential International Cooperation Agency for all their very hard work in organizing the meeting. I would have thought, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is becoming rapidly and abundantly clear that we cannot continue along the current path of business as usual.
However, I am also glad to say that there are real solutions at hand, and a number of examples of best practice to inspire us to scale up these solutions. And this is why I am so pleased that this meeting is taking place. I have long been a promoter of the 'seeing is believing' approach, whereby those who have made progress on a particular issue are able to describe this progress to others who are, as yet, unconvinced.
It is always striking, I think, how similar the issues and the challenges are that we face in different parts of the world. This is why my International Sustainability Unit, which I set up seven years ago to try to help find solutions to some of the most pressing global challenges we face, has hosted a number of workshops in various different countries, including here in Colombia, so that fishermen from all sectors and communities, and from different countries and contexts, are able to meet. I have found that they learn a great deal from each other as they discuss and share ideas on how to effect a transition to a more sustainable system.
It seems to me that adopting a regional approach, with ever closer coordination and collaboration, is also absolutely vital, particularly if you realise that the oceans and seas on which so many depend are, in fact, a shared resource, as is so clearly illustrated here in the Caribbean which is why I do hope that the conversations started here in Colombia over the last day and a half will continue to bear fruit (or perhaps fish!) in pursuit of a shared vision for a sustainable Caribbean ocean economy based on healthy and productive oceans. I must say, I am encouraged to hear of so many good news stories from countries and territories here today from around the Caribbean region, such as here in Colombia with your proposed improvement in your Ocean Health Index; Bermuda’s Fifteen Year Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, as well as its granting of safe passage to the humpback whale; and the sustainable management of the Honduran spiny lobster fishery. I can only hope that these successes have sparked renewed partnerships and commitment to work together.
For any collaboration of this importance to work, robust and reliable data is the key factor. Knowledge of the real situation beneath the waves underpins any such collaboration and is a core ingredient when building partnerships. So, it is for this reason that today's topic of discussion, the Ocean Health Index, has proved to be such an important tool in focusing attention on the status of global ocean health, and in quantifying the quality of our natural capital. Using the Index can help us better protect it. Therefore I am greatly heartened by Colombia's efforts to work through the issues highlighted by the Index, and its willingness to share this progress, both within the country at a high-level and within the region.
But the biggest challenge, of course, is not just understanding what it is that we need to do, but actually doing it. When we think about the change to a more sustainable system, it is often the case that the biggest obstacle to transition is a lack of resources. There is, therefore, a need to direct resources towards the process of putting in place systems that become self-financing over time and that are predicated on strengthening the resilience of the very fabric that holds the Blue Economy together the ocean's natural capital.
Now ladies and gentlemen the good news is that these sustainable financing systems are not only possible, they can also be attractive to the biggest source of capital that is available globally from the private finance sector. This is because natural capital, if managed in an intelligent way, can produce real financial returns and, quite possibly, better returns than the ones achieved when the system is not so intelligently maintained.
We are repeatedly being told that there is no shortage of money out there! So, if, with the help of philanthropic and public funds, we can establish projects together and devise mechanisms which can harness this opportunity, then I am confident we could be on the road to recovery. The world has made great progress in recent years in matching capital to 'sustainable' projects, not least by increasing momentum in financial markets via Green Bonds. I see no reason why we can't duplicate this process, channelling significant amounts of willing capital towards the recovery and continued resilience of the ocean economy. And so for what its worth I certainly stand ready, with my International Sustainability Unit, to support Colombiaand the countries of the region to help ensure the long-term recovery that the Caribbean so desperately needs.
I would just like to add in closing, Ladies and Gentlemen, my heartfelt hope that the Colombian peace process, which is so important, and for which I renew my good wishes to President Santos and to all the Colombian people for its success, may help to build a sound and harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural environment. We each depend upon Nature’s benevolence, whether on land or, as is being discussed today, in the marine world. From what I have seen on this occasion and from all I have come to know about Colombia in the years since my last visit, I have no doubt that your country can play a critical role in the Caribbean, as in the world, in pursuing a much more balanced and environmentally resilient approach.
So, Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, I can only wish you every possible success in the steps that follow and emerge from this meeting, and I look forward to following the progress you make...