Vice Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It really is a great pleasure to be able to return to Brunei for my third visit, this time with my wife whose first visit this is. I fear our time in your country is all too brief, as so often happens as I have to go to Indonesia this afternoon. But, since we arrived yesterday, we have been able to see something of the remarkably diverse ways in which our two countries are working together on issues of the greatest importance. This prestigious seat of learning is, of course, an excellent example and I could not be more delighted that in a few moments I shall be awarding degree certificates to Bruneian graduates. Ladies and Gentlemen I could not be more pleased that there is a genuine partnership between the Universities of Wales, of which I am Chancellor, and Brunei and that is a measure of the closeness of the relationship between the two partner organizations.
This partnership is present in many other areas of our relationship. During our visit to Seria yesterday we were able to meet the men of the Royal Gurkha Rifles - of whom I have the great privilege of being their Colonel in Chief and of whose quiet and outstanding valour I am inordinately proud. The Gurkhas are working ever more closely with the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, both in this country and in international peacekeeping operations. There is also a vital front line role and I could not be more impressed by the way in which the Gurkha Rifles have recently distinguished themselves on active service in Afghanistan. In whatever situation the Ghurkha riflemen find themselves, they prove time and again why they have such a unique reputation as one of the world’s most renowned regiments. They are owed a most enormous debt of gratitude for the selfless service they give and, on a personal note, I could not be more grateful to them for the welcome and hospitality they were kind enough to show my younger son during his own deployment!
After my arrival yesterday I went to see the Badas forestry reserve and planted the 1,000th tree in the forestry restoration programme. I only hope I have green fingers and the tree will survive.
It is impossible to visit Brunei without being deeply impressed by the scale and quality of your standing rainforest, covering more than sixty per cent of the country. What is particularly impressive is your determination to protect this vital resource - an asset which you hold in trust not just for your own future generations, but for the region’s and, indeed, the entire world’s children and grandchildren. Brunei has, if I may say so, made exceptional progress with Indonesia and Malaysia in putting together the “Heart of Borneo Initiative” to ensure this protection continues, unhampered by geographic boundaries. Your country’s exemplary commitment of so much of your land to this Initiative - and your rapid publication of a detailed Action Plan - are the clearest signal of your determination, under the leadership of His Majesty the Sultan, to preserve and develop your forests sustainably. I cannot commend this strongly enough because the single most effective and significant action the world can take to stabilize climate change – the greatest threat facing Mankind - is to stop tropical rainforest destruction.
We are currently trying to deal with the credit crunch but dealing with the climate crunch is of the foremost importance for you and your children and for the future of this planet.
Everyone knows that these forests, which straddle the equator in a great belt around the world, are home to some of the most remarkable and precious animal and plant life on our planet. But they also act as giant public utilities, cooling and cleaning the world’s atmosphere and providing fresh water and rainfall. In addition, and of vital importance, they store carbon on a giant scale and when the forests are cut down and burned it is released into the atmosphere. The problem has become so serious that the annual CO2 emissions from burning forests are greater than those from the global transport sector.
As you may know far better than me, the problem is getting worse ─ far worse – and rapidly.
Half of the world’s rainforests have already been lost and every year 30 million acres – an area more than twenty-one times the size of Brunei – are destroyed or degraded. We are, at one and the same time, destroying our entire planet’s air-conditioning and watering system and releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
But, Ladies and Gentlemen, we must not blame the rainforest countries for this. Too often it is demand from developed countries for palm oil, beef and soya which is the driver. The point is that all of us - the whole world – are in this together and this is why, together, we need to deploy all possible measures to stop tropical deforestation. This is, above all, why I established my Rainforests Project a little over a year ago – to try and ensure that the forests end up being worth more alive than dead. At the moment they are worth more dead than alive. The objective, quite simply, is to find an equitable means of paying for this planetary life-support system on which we all depend – and fast! My project is working to determine how much funding the rainforest countries need to re-orientate their economies so that the trees really are, durably, worth more alive than dead; to show how such funding can be provided by the developed world; and to help bring forward ways in which the funding would be used in an equitable way by the rainforest nations now. I do not pretend for a moment that the task is simple. I knew full well the immense complexities we would encounter. The global "credit crunch" most certainly has not made the task any easier. But while the world’s economy will doubtless bounce back at some point from the financial shock, Mankind will not be able to bounce back from the climate shock. The damage is becoming irreparable and the consequences terrifying - rising sea levels, spreading disease and environmental refuges on an unimaginable scale. We simply have to succeed and, in a few weeks, we will be suggesting ways in which this emergency funding can be provided in an imaginative and innovative way and, at the same time, how to facilitate and accelerate the development of market-based solutions.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me end where I began. I am delighted that so many young Bruneians choose to study in the UK and I was fascinated to hear just now of some of our alumni’s experiences. All of them have a great deal in common with myself – studying O and A levels under the Cambridge system and going to the University of Wales which I also attended back in 1969 in Aberystwyth. I know that UWIC, along with other UK institutions, is actively supporting further growth in the number of students coming to Britain with innovative joint programmes of study, and I can only applaud their work. And if I may, finally, I also wanted to congratulate most warmly all those being awarded degrees today and to wish them every possible success in the future.