Mr President, Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of the National Assembly, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I find it hard to believe it is eight years since I came here and 35 years since I served on the West Indies Station in the Royal Navy for seven months (I keep telling my sons this!).
It is even harder to believe I am the same age as the University of the West Indies (which one has worn best, do you think?).
I am very pleased to bring my wife here for the first time. Since we stepped ashore at Staubles Bay yesterday morning my wife and I have been enormously touched by the warmth of the welcome we have received. Also at Queen’s Park Oval this morning – where we witnessed Trinidad and Tobago’s cunning plans to train the next generation of West Indian cricketers to try to thrash England!
Mr President, you do not need me to tell you that this warmth reflected in the welcome also runs right through the long and enduring friendship between Trinidad and Tobago and the United Kingdom. We share common roots with you – and, indeed, many of your neighbours – stretching back several centuries. But this would count for little if it did not enable us to work together, as Commonwealth partners, on the full range of international issues which affect us.
One of those issues – and one which resonates around the World, affecting all of our societies - is, of course, the fight against international crime and, in particular, the illegal trade in narcotics. In this context I was greatly impressed by the narcotics interdiction exercise which we saw at Staubles Bay this morning and so pleased to hear of your partnership with Vosper Thorneycroft which is providing the most up-to-date equipment to ensure that your Government is as well-equipped as possible in this challenging task. I know that Trinidad and Tobago is tackling security issues not just on a national level but, indeed, on a regional one by taking a leading role within CARICOM. Can I just say how much I applaud all that you are doing and emphasize how good it is to know that the United Kingdom is working in the closest possible partnership with you, offering a range of technical and practical expertise?
I realize, too, that another of the major challenges you face is how to combat and mitigate the effects of accelerating climate change in this region in a way that allows for the necessary environmental measures to be integrated within the ambition for increased development. This was an issue which I was able to discuss briefly with you, Mr President, and with the Prime Minister during our meetings yesterday.
Unfathomably, however, there still seem to be some ‘Climate-Sceptics’: those who argue that the case for rapid action to counter climate change is overstated – or, indeed, completely invented. Ladies and Gentlemen, if I may speak plainly among friends, this is sheer madness. The scientific facts are as plain as they are alarming. Worringly, in the last few months we have learnt that the North Polar ice cap is melting so fast that some scientists are predicting that in seven years it will completely disappear in Summer. (The trouble is, of course, that all this is out of sight and out of mind for the majority of us.) The effects will, of course, be felt much closer to home. You know only too well in Trinidad that your coast-line is being encroached upon by rising sea levels, and the danger this poses for supplies of drinking water. Is this not just the latest in a series of ever-more-urgent wake-up calls that should alert us to the alarming fact that we are literally destroying our own life-support mechanisms? And yet there are those who think we should do nothing very much - or at any rate very little -to disturb the “business as usual” approach.
I, for one, as you may have guessed by now, do not count myself among them. This is why, after being approached by some deeply concerned experts last year, I decided to see what small part I could play in finding innovative solutions to the problem of the destruction of the world’s rainforests. As you all know better than myself, deforestation has a major impact on climate change, damaging the planet’s ‘air conditioning system’ and extinguishing entire species of plants and animals about which we know very little. Quite simply, we are not doing nearly enough to stop it, nor doing it fast enough. All the experts say we have less than eighteen months left to find a solution. With your – and my – grandchildren in mind, I fear I could not sit idly by - that is why I started a Rainforests Project, to which I am recruiting major companies from around the world. I am doing this on the back of twenty-three years spent working with the private sector to encourage corporate social responsibility and to build partnerships with community groups.
My objective is quite simply to create the largest ever global public, private and N.G.O. sector partnership in order to find – in the simplest of terms – a way to make the forests worth more alive than dead and secure the livelihoods of those who depend on these greatest of our planet’s natural resources. As I was able to say at a reception for business leaders yesterday evening, I have long believed that the private sector has a particularly important role to play. It would be splendid, therefore, if we were able to find a way to create a Commonwealth network; a means to link climate change champions from individual companies to share ideas and expertize, and to spread Best Practice.
Whatever the case, Mr President, I really could not be more proud – or reassured – that the United Kingdom can count Trinidad and Tobago among our friends and allies in measuring up to these immense global challenges so that we can win the ever more urgent battle to protect such a special region as the Caribbean for the benefit of those who come after us.