Integrated thinking, with sustainability firmly in mind, is also required in the third of the three dimensions I wanted to suggest to you – and that is the crucial importance of massively reducing the amount of tropical deforestation.

I really could not be more pleased or grateful that so many Nobel Laureates have been able to join world experts on climate change and influential policy-makers in this Symposium. Nobel Laureates, of course, are chosen for having ‘conferred the greatest benefit on mankind’. There could surely be no greater benefit to mankind at this moment in history than to lead the way towards a framework for addressing the inter-related economic, environmental, social, ethical and climate challenges that face our societies.

The fifteenth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (thankfully abbreviated to COP 15) in Copenhagen in December will be an historic occasion. World leaders will have the opportunity to take decisions that could lead us all to a safer and more sustainable future. They will have to identify both what needs to be done, and how it can be achieved, even against a background of considerable economic difficulty. I believe that a memorandum drawing together the wisdom and authority of this extraordinary group here could, and should, have a real influence on key decisions taken before, during and after Copenhagen. After all it seems to me that in many ways we already have some of the answers to hand; we know about energy efficiency, renewable energy and how to reduce deforestation, to name but a few, but we seem strangely reluctant to apply them. I fear that this hesitation will have catastrophic consequences. 

As you set about this task, I would like, if I may, to suggest three particular dimensions that you might like to consider and which to me, at least, provide the framework to COP 15.

The first is urgency. I don’t know about your own experience, but it seems to me that whilst there is now only a mercifully small (if vociferous!) number of people who do not accept the science of climate change and who should know better, there are still a great many who fail to recognize the real urgency of the situation. Even in the last few weeks there has been further evidence from scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Oxford that it will take much longer for the climate to recover from excessive warming than previously thought. In so many ways we are already in the ‘Last Chance Saloon’.

I mentioned last night that we only have some 97 months left in which to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions reach their absolute peak – otherwise it may well be too late to stop temperatures rising beyond dangerous levels. Those levels, as you know better than I, would render unbelievably large parts of the world uninhabitable and eventually lead to billions – yes, billions – of environmental refugees, with all that that means for global security as sea levels rise and there is massive disruption to global food and freshwater supplies. And on top of this, it would result in the extinction of millions of species and organisms – species and invisible organisms that we need for our very survival and which, of course, we take totally for granted. 

So, somehow, global decision-makers have to be persuaded that strong, committed and coordinated action is needed now, not in ten years time, or even in five, but now – otherwise there will be little left on which to base our economies. 

The second dimension which I hope you might address is the bigger picture of human interactions with Nature. This is obviously an immense subject, but whilst climate change is undoubtedly the greatest challenge of our age, it is far from being the only global ecological challenge we face. It has been described as a “threat multiplier” and in large part the threats that it multiplies are those which arise from our wilful destruction of the ecosystems that provide the essential ecological services on which we all ultimately depend. For what it is worth, I doubt if we can effectively tackle climate change without first ensuring that those ecosystem functions and services are protected. As you again know far better than I, those services are all inter-related. They depend upon a vast array of interactions between different forms of life, the way in which energy flows and the many ways in which Nature recycles waste. We have been taking them for granted for far too long and, as a consequence, many are under intolerable strain. 

In our human-centred world, with its emphasis on economics, and following decades of apparently unending material ‘progress’, it has become all too easy for us to believe that we can continue to take what we wish from natural systems on the assumption that somehow they will indefinitely replenish themselves. Unfortunately, as we are discovering, in the real world it doesn’t quite work like that. The dictum, so beloved of economists, of ‘ceterus paribus’, or ‘all things being equal’, is regrettably a thing of the past as, from now on, they aren’t and may not be again. Climate Change has fractured that essential equilibrium.

A famous study, by Robert Constanza and others, published in 1998, set out to estimate the value of Nature to the human economy by working out roughly what it would cost us to replace all the things that ecosystems provide to us. The value of rainfall, soil fertility, the work of pollinating insects, the coastal protection provided by coral reefs and mangroves, climatic stability and the medicines derived from wild species, among many others, were estimated to be worth about $33 trillion a year – that’s about twice as much as global GDP, estimated then at $18 trillion. 

In other words, the part of the economy that we measure and seek to grow year on year is actually only about half the value of the part we don’t measure. Perhaps this is why natural capital is being depleted so rapidly – because we have yet to find adequate ways to express in bald economic terms the value of the services provided to us by Nature. I may not be an economist – I’m not an economist! - or an accountant or an investment banker, but I simply cannot understand, in my simple way, how you can sustain the idea of “capitalism”, as we have come to know it, without capital – Nature’s capital. 

So, I have always felt it must be possible to devise a gentler, more integrated approach which, above all, values these services properly in the entire accounting and auditing process. This is why I was so fascinated by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity report by Pavan Sukhdev.
The first phase of this work has now been published, setting out a clear framework – based on science and economics – for valuing ecosystem services, and identifying policies to enable further progress in this area. But it also contains insights and advice of a different sort, which policy-makers need to hear. I think any economist who can write this, for instance, deserves a wide and attentive audience, and I quote - 

‘Above all we need to regain a sense of humility about the natural world. As traditional peoples have long understood, we must ultimately answer to Nature, for the simple reason that Nature has limits and rules of its own.’

If I may say so, that very much sums up the view I have held, and tried to express, during much of my life. 

An earlier and much larger study, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, went so far as to say that we might very easily not meet the Millennium Development Goals on poverty alleviation if we continue to destroy and degrade natural habitats and ecosystems in the way that we are doing now. This particular assessment was the most comprehensive stock-take of Nature ever undertaken and its findings should galvanize a transformation in how we approach development in the decades ahead. But will it? It revealed how roughly sixty per cent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth – such as fresh water, wild fisheries, air and water regulation, regional climatic regulation and natural pest control – are being degraded or used unsustainably. Despite this knowledge, the temptation to continue with “business as usual” is enormously powerful…

The review looked at twenty-four different ecosystem services and found that fifteen of them are suffering ongoing degradation. It concluded that humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively in the last fifty years than in any other period. More land was converted to cropland in the thirty years after 1950 than in the 150 years between 1700 and 1850. More than half of all the synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, first made in 1913, ever used on the planet has been used since 1985. As a result of our collective demands, some ten to thirty per cent of the mammal, bird and amphibian species are currently threatened with extinction.

The links between environmental, social and climate challenges are so strong that we need integrated solutions that address the underlying issues. That must include looking for solutions that work ‘with the grain’ of Nature. It is only too tempting to look for ‘techno-fix’ solutions, using all our power and ingenuity in the hope of coming up with something so startlingly clever and brilliant that all our problems will simply disappear. This seems to apply with regard to climate change, in particular, where all sorts of ‘geo-engineering’ schemes have been suggested. Given mankind’s rather poor track record of understanding the environmental implications of such major interventions, I fear that the cure may prove to be potentially even worse than the disease. 

If I may say so, I believe the challenge for the scientific community today is to be at least as creative as it has in the past, but to develop solutions that respect the boundaries defined by sustainability. For instance, there are huge opportunities for intelligent electricity distribution, with decentralized pathways and energy produced close to where it is consumed. This would maximize the potential for renewable energy and allow both heat and power from energy generation to be utilized. Designing ways to achieve this at minimum cost will be a major challenge, but a good deal more sensible than geo-engineering.

Integrated thinking, with sustainability firmly in mind, is also required in the third of the three dimensions I wanted to suggest to you – and that is the crucial importance of massively reducing the amount of tropical deforestation. Deforestation contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and both the associated loss of eco-system services and climate change will have a major impact on economic development and efforts to alleviate poverty. Tackling any one of these facets in isolation is a recipe for disaster.

As you are only too aware, the problem is immense and complex. About a fifth of carbon dioxide emissions arise from deforestation, especially the clearance of the tropical rainforests. That is not all, however, for not only do rainforests store carbon – year on year they absorb about fifteen per cent of the emissions coming from fossil fuels. So while they are about twenty per cent of the problem – and this is the point – they are in reality approximately thirty-five per cent of the solution. 

The rainforests also produce much of the world’s rainfall. From the Amazon basin forests alone some twenty billion tonnes of water are evaporated into the atmosphere every single day. Deforestation obviously reduces this amount, so decreasing subsequent rainfall in the rainforests but also, it increasingly appears, changing precipitation patterns across the world and contributing to food shortages. 
The rain produced by the Amazon and other rainforests also powers hydroelectric dams. In Brazil some eighty per cent of the electricity generated comes from large hydro dams that are in part powered by the rainforests. The rainforests are also home to many of the world’s remaining indigenous peoples and harbour at least a half of all the land species found on our planet. 

You will be aware, ladies and gentlemen, that much time is starting to be spent debating the linkages between food security, energy security and economic security. Solving climate change is the precondition to ensuring security and without adequately addressing tropical deforestation we cannot have an answer to climate change. It is that simple; saving the rainforests is not an option, it is an absolute necessity. 

The question today is not therefore one of if we should do it, it is very much one of how – and how quickly at that, for the longer we all argue about minutiae and statistics, and various vested interests, the more rainforest disappears and therefore the more likely it is there will be no rainforest worth speaking of by the time any agreement is reached.

Most of the rainforests are, of course, located in poorer countries where the trees, the fauna and flora, 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 so essential to human survival on this planet (the only one we have, after all), strikes me as axiomatic of the wider struggle we face in achieving a more sustainable view of progress; 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 at the situation. I don’t know why they came to me, but they did, and so I felt constrained to see what I could do to help on a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” basis. The aim, therefore, has been to consult as widely as possible and to seek out solutions to this apparently intractable problem by working with the private, public and N.G.O. sectors to try and create a global consensus.

Happily, we are making progress, not least through helping to build international agreement as to how countries can work together to meet this shared global challenge. Proposals are beginning to emerge as to how the roughly 25 billion dollars per year needed to make a significant impact might be mobilized. Such a sum may seem large but, interestingly, is equivalent to 1% of the sum paid out annually on insurance premia around the world. 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.

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, with whom we have been working for the past two years with the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, guaranteed returns while, at the same time, making available some of the significant resources needed to help slow down deforestation. The money could be paid back using a whole range of different funding streams, including auction revenues from emissions trading schemes. 

Now, the answer to deforestation does not lie in the forestry sector alone and that is why any funding needs to be targetted at least across the agricultural, energy and forest sectors to ensure the maximum impact on poverty, by providing education, health care and funding for sustainable farming and agro-forestry schemes, which includes the restoration of the vast areas, and they are vast, of already degraded land that surround the rainforests. According to U.N.D.P. there are some eighty million hectares of degraded land in Brazil alone. And in Indonesia, where I went last year, it is in the region of 45 million. So not only could it help to alleviate poverty and offer economic benefits, it may also heal some of the damage to the region's ecology. We also have a role to play as, to a very large extent, rainforest countries are reacting perfectly rationally to the economic price signal that we send by our demand for soya, beef and palm oil. We are all in this together and perhaps, particularly in the developed world, we need to demonstrate that we understand the current climate change crisis is very much of our own making, all be it unwittingly, and that the credibility of any global solution depends on us being seen to make concerted efforts to change our ways. 

That is why it seems to me that the opportunity we have for saving the forests could be a powerful example of the kind of vision we should embrace for the future – in which economic development, improving people’s lives and saving the natural capital and ecosystem services on which we all depend go hand-in-hand, rather than being seen as choices. And in this regard, I know there are many wonderfully innovative, appropriate and beneficial projects being carried out around the world by voluntary organizations, charities and N.G.O.’s that demonstrate such an integrated approach. What it needs, if you will forgive me for saying so, is for these erstwhile “alternative” projects to become more mainstream, thereby creating a genuinely human, community-based form of globalization – “from the bottom up”, if you like, – rather than the current model which is increasingly unfit for purpose and too often contributes to the destruction of many people’s cultures and identity, as well as going against the very grain of their existence.

I fear that our grandchildren will not care very much about whether in these early decades of the Twenty-First Century we managed to sustain Twentieth Century-style economic growth. What they will be far more concerned about, I suspect, is the state of the Earth’s climate; about whether there is sufficient food and water; about the security measures and economic resources needed to cope with millions of environmental refugees. That, in turn, will require a different, more holistic way of looking at economic growth. We will need to see the emergence of a genuinely sustainable economy. An economy that not only takes care of both people and planet, but also breaks the conventional mould in terms of how we look at the world. And we will need to develop a form of globalization that empowers local communities and local cultures, with all their accumulated wisdom, to maintain their own environments. Enabling these things to occur seems to me to be not only our most urgent priority, but also our greatest opportunity.

So, ladies and gentlemen, may I thank you again for agreeing so readily to take part in this Symposium. It obviously occurs at a critical moment in the run-up to COP 15 so your wisdom and advice are urgently needed; but, perhaps above all, what the world needs is a message of hope that something can be done. I do so hope that you can provide guidance as to how we can apply what we know now to ensure that we do not lose what is almost lost. 

I will look forward to hearing about your discussions with the greatest of interest.