Honourable Prime Minister and Ministers of the Crown;
Officers of Parliament;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
I need hardly say how delighted I am to be able to join all of you here this morning and to bring with me the warmest greetings of Her Majesty The Queen, who has asked me to convey her heartfelt best wishes to this assembly. For my part, I cannot tell you what pleasure it gives me to have this opportunity to visit the Solomon Islands and to be able to speak to you here, at the very heart of Solomon Islands democracy.
It has long been my wish to visit these islands, having heard so much about them from The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh following their own visits, which they both recall so fondly. I remember my father telling me about the warmth of the welcome he was given on his first visit here in 1959, when an extraordinary multitude of canoes was paddled out to greet the Royal Yacht Britannia and escort her as she approached Gizo Island. Much more recently, my son and daughter-in-law, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, greatly enjoyed their visit to the Solomon Islands in 2012, as part of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and were enormously touched by the welcome extended to them.
Over the years I have had the particular pleasure of meeting a large number of remarkable people from these islands, either in London or at Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings and other gatherings, and have followed closely the journey that this country, and her people, have taken.
Your journey has not always been an easy one, of course, as each of you will know far better than I do. This building, and this city, are built on the very ground on which the Battle of Guadalcanal was fought. This was a crucial turning point of the Second World War, when so many Solomon Islanders endured such immense suffering, and served with such distinction, in order to defend their own freedom as well as that of their Allies. We must never forget their sacrifice, or the immeasurable difference it made to the course of the war, and to the preservation of the democratic freedoms we all hold dear.
Those freedoms thrive today, as demonstrated by the public support and enthusiasm for the election which took place here recently. The triumph of democracy is a fitting tribute to all those who laid down their lives in these Islands, not just in the Second World War, but also during the difficult period of the tensions in the Solomon Islands almost twenty years ago.
As all of you know, Ladies and Gentlemen, since 2017 and the end of the RAMSI stabilisation mission, the Solomon Islands Government has had sole responsibility for the security of this country. To have so successfully and peacefully held elections this year without the presence of any external security is a mark of the Solomon Islands’ success in this regard, and a tribute to the Solomon Islanders’ remarkable resilience and commitment to democratic values.
A strong and vibrant democracy, it seems to me, offers the firmest foundation on which to build the future – ensuring that the Solomon Islands and her people are able to rise to the many challenges that lie ahead. How best to maintain peace and understanding. How to improve access to education and healthcare – including the eradication of malaria. And how to empower future generations to achieve their full potential.
With seventy percent of the population of the Solomon Islands aged thirty or under, it seems to me that there is such great opportunity to harness your human capital in support of your future economic growth and collective wellbeing. This means giving young people the skills and personal development training they need to lead productive, fulfilling lives. It also means tackling the appalling scourge of gender-based violence, as I know so many of you are determined to do, and empowering women to play a full and equal role in your society. In the Solomon Islands, as elsewhere, as long as women face the despicable threat of physical and sexual violence, or discrimination on the basis of their gender, your economy and your society will simply never be able to achieve their full and extraordinary potential.
Alongside this country’s remarkable human capital, the precious natural environment and biodiversity of these islands, both on land and below the water, represent an immense reserve of natural capital.
For, Ladies and Gentlemen, as you appreciate far better than me, your islands are blessed with astonishingly high levels of biodiversity. Your forests are of global importance, as are your coral reefs which are the second most diverse in the world. But such natural capital wealth – which, if sustainably managed, should be the bedrock of your economic growth is, at the same time, so very fragile. And, as I am sure you are only too aware, its very fragility is increased immeasurably, and alarmingly, by the growing impact of global warming, climate change and natural capital depletion. As elsewhere in the world, the uniquely precious ecosystems on which we depend for our very existence, are perilously close to a tipping point – after which it will be impossible for them, and indeed for us, to recover. This is surely a risk we cannot run, for the sake of our children and grandchildren.
However, despite the daunting challenges we face, there are nevertheless immediate remedies to hand which both conserve biodiversity and help to build climate change resilience and economic prosperity.
For example, I have been particularly struck by what I have heard about the great success of the Arnavon Community Marine Park. Such initiatives are absolutely vital for the survival of the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles, and for the protection ofsignificant areas of coral reef that support such high levels of biodiversity.
At the same time, the Marine Park is, of course, crucially important for the local communities who rely upon it for food. And as has been proved in these Islands, and elsewhere in the world, Marine Protected Areas are an utterly essential mechanism to increase fisheries catch in the surrounding area. Indeed – and this point requires constant stressing - if the world achieved the target of protecting thirty percent of the Ocean by 2030, the global fishing catch would actually increase by thirty-seven percent. Now I hope you will forgive me saying so, but it seems to me that there is such immense potential for the Solomon Islands to take a leading role in this regard, by protecting, and thus enhancing, more of your marine environment. This would, above all, help to increase dramatically the productivity of your fisheries whilst also offering a major boost to your tourism sector. With this in mind, I have been greatly encouraged to learn of the Solomon Islands’ new Oceans Policy and can only urge you, if I may, to maintain the highest level of ambition in protecting the priceless asset that your oceans represent.
Because the rewards of sustainable oceans management have never been higher, and the costs of inaction have never been more clear. Choosing a healthy ocean, and an inclusive and sustainable blue economy, will require investment and effort, but this will be repaid many times over - not least through tourism. And one compelling example of this can be found in the Galapagos islands, where the market price of a shark is about $300, but it has been estimated that the amount the same shark generates over its life through tourism is $5million.
In the same way, on these islands, I know just how crucial your native forests are to your economic prosperity, and how vitally important it is that you secure them as the natural capital from which to draw a continuing income for the future. As the world finally wakes up to the potential of a truly circular economy to decarbonize our world, and to set it on a genuinely sustainable course, it is becoming only too apparent that the bio-economy is going to be of enormous importance. And here again, if you do not mind me saying so, there is an opportunity for these Islands to lead by example and to secure and strengthen your own future prosperity at the same time. Your precious forests, smartly managed, offer a rich and durable source of income, as a uniquely sustainable supply of biodiversity for the new technologies that are now already emerging. At the same time, we have to remember that they play an indispensable role in improving our shared resilience to climate change, which threatens the prosperity and security of us all, by capturing carbon and maintaining essential rainfall.
Now responding to these challenges will require us all to work together across boundaries, and between Governments, the private sector, and populations. At last, the financial services sector and the capital markets have woken up to the huge potential now available from genuinely sustainable investment opportunities and the natural assets represented by your forests and the surrounding ocean could offer increasingly valuable structured investment opportunities.
In this shared endeavour, it is my dearest wish that The Solomon Islands might become a beacon – in this region and across the Commonwealth as a whole - showing how extraordinary natural capital can be harnessed sustainably to guarantee the prosperity and security of future generations. It is my dearest wish that the Commonwealth might become an ever-more important means by which its members, united as we are by historic ties and common values, work together to make full and sustainable use of the natural and human capital upon which, collectively, we can draw in order to secure the future for our grandchildren.
Honourable Members, I know how seriously you take this responsibility which rests with each of you. I know you are determined to do what is right, not just for today, but in the interest of the generations that will follow. For my part, I can only say how closely I will be following your progress, wishing you well, and praying for your success.
May God bless each of you and may God bless the Solomon Islands.