Wanjira, High Commissioner, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Can I just join you in congratulating the children from Stoneygate College, because I am fairly sure they must have got up at half past five this morning and that there will probably be lots of sleeping on the way back. Theirs was certainly a very special performance, as I am sure you will agree, and shows very succinctly exactly the point which needs to be made.
I am very pleased and honoured to be with you today, here at the Royal Botanic Gardens, to pay a very special tribute to dear Wangari Maathai, someone whom I admired and loved so very greatly indeed (we ended up on hugging terms!), whose loss we continue to mourn, and whose remarkable legacy we celebrate, namely the Green Belt Movement, that continues to have a lasting impact on the planet.
I first met Wangari with Wanjira, as she mentioned just now, at my home in Highgrove (I had forgotten about the snow and how much your mother enjoyed my biscuits!) and my heart went out to her at once. I always so enjoyed and valued our encounters over the following years, whether in London, in Copenhagen for the 2009 “U.N.F. triple-C” Summit, or elsewhere. As you all know, Wangari had the most wonderful and infectious spirit the room would light up in her presence and her optimism and deep sense of hope, in addition to her uproarious laugh and her brimming smile, could not fail to win people’s affection...
Wangari spoke so eloquently of The Green Belt Movement’s remarkable achievements over the past forty years, not just on the natural environment and the sheer numbers of trees planted (fifty one million and counting!), which is of course extraordinary, but also with respect to her work to promote the well-being of African women across the continent; to foster peace and democracy in her homeland Kenya and across the continent; and to reduce poverty. As I said on that awful day in 2011, Wangari’s understanding of the link between human poverty and the quality of the natural environment undoubtedly influenced a generation of environmentalists and policymakers. It is, I think, no underestimate to say that her death is a profound tragedy for her family, for those who knew her and loved her and above all for the planet as a whole.
However, we can take some heart from the fact that her legacy in the form of the Green Belt Movement, will continue and I am determined that my organizations will work in partnership with you whenever they can, whether that is on the crucial issue of building consensus and action on the challenges of water, food and energy security in different countries and regions of the world, or looking at the problem of land-banking in developing countries. One area that is of particular concern to both my sons and myself is the whole question of the illegal poaching of wildlife and its subsequent trade, which as I am sure you will know has reached a dangerous crisis point and has profound consequences for crucial habitats and eco-systems on which we all depend. I have asked my International Sustainability Unit to look at this issue and I will host an international gathering together with my eldest son in May when, I hope, we might be able to help in the process of looking for solutions to this seemingly intractable problem.
I am also delighted that the Imarisha Naivasha project, which is trying to help all those who live near the great Lake Naivasha, has learnt from all that Wangari taught us. The project, which was initiated by the Kenyan Government in cooperation with my ISU and after I had a meeting with the Kenyan Prime Minister in Oslo some years ago, is looking at sustainable development prospects for the catchment as a whole, integrating restoration of the environment with social and economic opportunities for local communities.
I need hardly say that we are faced with so many mounting challenges on all sides at present that at times, it is all utterly overwhelming. Wangari is so deeply missed but as she said herself, “We have a responsibility to protect the rights of generations, of all species, that cannot speak for themselves today.”
And today we speak with love, and pride, and gratitude of someone who gave her life for others for Africa and for the World.