Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, – A-Salaam aleykum –
It is the greatest pleasure for my wife and myself to be with you this evening, and indeed to be in Egypt again after – I can hardly believe it – more than fifteen years. We both have fond memories of Egypt, and the recollection of our last visit has drawn us back:
“Once you drink from the Nile, to the Nile you will return”
[Illee yashrab min an-neel, yar-g-allo tairni]
This is a particularly special year for a relationship that has weathered historic challenges and has blossomed into a remarkable friendship and partnership which is crucial to this decisive decade for our planet. As incoming and outgoing Presidents of the U.N. Climate Summit, “C.O.P.”, I hope it is now apparent that we have to be the custodians of a truth our ancestors understood so well; that we are part of the natural world, not separate from it, and above all it is our duty to do all in our power to protect Nature, rather than testing her to literal destruction – which is what we are doing at present.
Gathering by this wonder of the ancient world, we are reminded of miraculous feats. Indeed, Herodotus reminds us that:
‘Egypt has more wonders in it than any other country in the world, and provides more works that defy description than any other place’.
It defies the imagination to consider how your ancestors with rudimentary tools were able to construct such massive and magnificent edifices and align them almost perfectly North to South. The fact that they could do this reminds us how profoundly they understood the sacred geometry of Nature. The fact that they did do this reminds us that they understood this knowledge was essential to life and death. Like our rather more modest ancient stone circles in England, the Pyramids remind us of a connection to our planet that we have over time forgotten.
Yet we do not have to look back so far as ancient Egypt to find this connection. Today, I had the special pleasure of meeting one of Cairo’s remaining craftsmen with the knowledge and expertise to create traditional minbars which, as you know better than I do, recall the underlying geometry of Nature. We find the same patterns in Jewish and Christian art and architecture. All three great Abrahamic Faiths call us to steward the natural world, preserving and nurturing it from our own generation to the next and beyond. This was the theme of a speech that I gave at Oxford University a decade ago, entitled “Islam and the Environment”. In discussion with the Grand Imam, and some of the students and teachers at Al Azhar Mosque earlier today, I was reminded that the Quran has over 200 verses speaking to the importance of caring for our planet.
One Quranic verse struck me particularly:
“Have you considered: if your water were to disappear into the Earth, who then could bring you gushing water?”
We should heed such wisdom and re-discover a sense of the sacred by learning to live within the bounds of Nature, rather than thinking we can ignore them.
When I saw Pope Tawadros the Second earlier today, he and I agreed on the strong role that Christianity can play – regardless of denomination. Indeed, the Christian Bible begins with the injunction “to tend and take care” of God’s garden. Likewise, the Torah talks of humankind’s role “to serve it and to guard it.” So – if I might humbly say so – perhaps now is the time – of all times – especially in the face of such Global challenges, for people of faith to bury their differences and to unite around our common belief in the enduring mercy of God and resolve to be merciful to one another and to the Earth.
For those who prefer to think in less philosophical and theological terms, I offer a simple statistic: Nature is estimated to contribute some $125 trillion a year to the global economy. That is more than the annual G.D.P. of this entire, precious, planet...
Our obligation could not, therefore, be clearer. What, then, should we, as citizens or as leaders, do to halt and reverse climate change?
My recent message to G20 Leaders in Rome, and then to COP26, underscored the real, global emergency of Climate Change and biodiversity loss, leavened with optimism that we now have the technical, scientific and engineering abilities, drawing on the lessons Nature teaches us, to restore the vital balance between Nature, People and the Planet. Making that theory a reality, as I have been trying to say for many years, requires a Grand Partnership between the Private Sector, Governments and Civil Society. It will also require vast resources, on a scale even Governments cannot muster. This is why we must look to the Private Sector. My Sustainable Markets Initiative has brought together more than 300 of the world’s leading business leaders, challenging them to find ways to release the trillions of dollars of funding that would feed the investment pipeline and create durable, thriving circular economies. In this way, we would create the best and most effective act of global corporate and environmental responsibility the world has ever seen.
If we could invest that capital in a zero carbon and Nature-positive transition, we could move all of our economies onto a sustainable trajectory. The International Monetary Fund values bold climate action at $26 trillion, generating more, this the point, more than 65 million new low-carbon jobs by 2030 and avoiding more than 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution. Tomorrow, I will have the chance to meet young entrepreneurs, committed to finding innovative ways of growing business in a way which sustains our planet. These young people – who will feel the effects of a changing planet far more than myself and my generation – are the future. We owe them that future…
I know that Egypt is on the front line of urgent climate change challenges, from rising sea levels to loss of biodiversity in Egypt’s seas as temperatures rise. I can only applaud your leadership – for example phasing out coal and creating at Benban Africa’s largest solar park, with a staggering annual production capacity of 3.8 terawatt hours and, crucially, recognising the need to do more to combat the crisis. As President Sisi steps forward to take on the Presidency of COP27 later this year, the United Kingdom will be with Egypt as your friend and partner in this epic struggle to protect and restore our environment, and to build a better future for us all.