I could not be more touched and flattered that such an important and bipartisan group as the International Conservation Caucus and its supporting foundation should have decided to give me so special an accolade, awarded in the name of one of the greatest and most far-sighted of conservationists, President Theodore Roosevelt. I am even more touched that you should have even noticed some of the things I have been trying to do over the years...!
At the beginning of the twentieth century, as the frontier of the America’s West was disappearing, once common wildlife was disappearing with it. President Roosevelt intervened to halt this trend and, in the process, created what has become known as the conservation ‘movement’ in the United States. The actions he took laid firm foundations for conservation action over subsequent decades, and in many other countries around the world.
The National Parks and other protected areas that he had the foresight to establish have been replicated worldwide, leading to perhaps the greatest conservation success that the world has yet seen. Nearly fifteen per cent of the Earth’s land area is now under some form of protection, which has helped to stem the loss of many ecosystems and species.
While in the early Twentieth Century many Americans saw Nature as limitless and ripe for exploitation, Roosevelt understood and described a different reality. He famously said, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased; and not impaired in value”.
During his Presidency, Roosevelt created five national parks, four game refuges, fifty-one national bird reservations, and 150 national forests protecting in total approximately 230 million acres of public land. He set in motion a positive worldwide trend of enormous importance. Yet we see all too clearly now that, in the 21stcentury, Nature is nonetheless in a serious state of decline.
A question that has exercised me for more years than I care to remember is why this might be the case. One conclusion that I have reached is that a large part of the challenge relates not so much to whether we sufficiently appreciate the beauties and wonders of Nature, but whether we regard Nature as essential for human wellbeing.
I repeatedly hear it said as I am sure you do that looking after Nature is too costly; a barrier to growth and a danger to economic competitiveness. So long as this perspective prevails, then I fear the destruction of natural systems will be seen as in some way rational and an unavoidable price of progress. As President Roosevelt himself put it “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others”.
In today’s testing times I believe we need a renewal of the kind of far-sighted leadership demonstrated by President Roosevelt. We need to move beyond creating reserves set aside for Nature to a new approach that places our relationship with the natural world much closer to the day to day concerns of humanity. The health of Nature and the security of humankind are more inextricably linked than we sometimes realize, so it is essential to our wellbeing, and ultimately to our survival, that we address them together.
This connection is something that I have sought to advance through my own modest efforts, including the work of my International Sustainability Unit. By curious coincidence, the Director of my I.S.U., Justin Mundy, is the great great nephew of Gifford Pinchot, the Governor of Pennsylvania who also, under the leadership of President Roosevelt, established the U.S. Forest Service.
I sought to advance this connection because I believe the primary challenge of our times is to find ways in which the natural systems and resources on which we depend can be sustained to support our needs indefinitely into the future, while maintaining the incredible diversity of life on Earth. Despite the evident challenges, there are nevertheless signs that the seemingly insoluble conundrums can be effectively addressed in a number of areas.
One of the great challenges, and priorities, of course, is the establishment of genuinely sustainable fisheries at a time when so many fish stocks are in serious long-term decline. Since 2010, my I.S.U. has been working to establish consensus on how best to rebuild stocks so as, among other things, to protect the livelihoods of coastal communities and to enhance food security. The potential to do this is underlined through many examples where it is already happening, including here in the United States, such as the recovery and sustainable use of the Morro Bay fishery, Gulf of Mexico red snapper and Pacific halibut stocks. So much can be achieved through taking an approach that goes beyond trading economic and ecological goals against one another and, instead, find a way to integrate them. As I see it, these and other breakthroughs such as the U.S. Magnuson Stevens Act are not a barrier to economic and social aspirations, but rather a means of achieving them. And, in this regard, I was particularly delighted to learn of the recent announcement by the U.S. Government that it would require all U.S. agencies to track all fish and seafood imports, and establish a system for American consensus to determine where fish and seafood have been caught, by whom and how. This is a tremendous step forward in the fight against illegal fishing and I very much hope will be copied by other countries.
I need hardly say that collective action by Governments is absolutely crucial when natural and marine ecosystems are under such pressure globally, including through treaties such as the Law of the Sea and the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. Whilst I am well aware that the United States has not yet ratified these important measures, I suspect that with the help of the International Conservation Caucus the kind of leadership you have shown at home in protecting the marine environment would be a welcome inspiration towards making these international agreements more effective.
President Roosevelt was very much ahead of his time in saying that, “Conservation means development as much as it does protection.” In some quarters I am led to believe that these words would still be somewhat controversial, but one has to be encouraged by the way that many people working to end deforestation, in particular, now seek to embed economically rational strategies so as simultaneously to achieve good development and conservation outcomes.
My I.S.U., through what became known as the Prince’s Rainforests Project, sought positive action in this arena through the aim of ‘making the forests worth more alive than dead’. Again, progress in different parts of the world shows what is possible through good leadership and in this regard I am particularly sorry that Jens Stoltenberg, the former Prime Minister of Norway, who achieved so much on this agenda, was not able to be here this evening. His work helped to establish the fundamental economic connections between forest conservation and human wellbeing and he is, if I may say so, a far more worthy recipient of the award you have so kindly just bestowed on me. His current role, as Secretary General of N.A.T.O., is one of supreme importance and we are all incredibly fortunate to have someone of his stature and wisdom in such a position at this time.
In the last year my I.S.U. has helped to convene a series of international conferences that for the first time addressed the linkages between the illegal trade in wildlife and both economic stability and national security. If I may say so, it is enormously heartening that the U.S. is providing such great leadership in this area, through addressing the threat of skyrocketing demand facilitated by organized criminals and in some cases terrorist groups for elephant tusks, rhino horn and tiger parts by creating a Presidential Task Force and a National Strategy on Wildlife Trafficking. It is clear that both parties are working well together to develop solutions to this most dire of problems and I can only hope that the International Conservation Caucus will build on this very important work at home and overseas, while continuing to integrate it into international assistance, defence and security programmes. As a complementary effort, my I.S.U., together with eight of the world's largest multinational financial institutions, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime and INTERPOL, has recently issued a report containing recommendations for governments, financial institutions and others that will allow the financial system to use all available tools against money laundering and other financial crime related to the illegal wildlife trade. In response to these recommendations, key governments participating next week in the Botswana Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade will pledge for the first time to "follow aggressively the money" from wildlife crime. In addition, I am proud to say that these issues are becoming an hereditary feature in my family and my eldest son, who is working very hard in this area, recently formed a task force, chaired by the former British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to examine the transport industry’s role in the illegal wildlife trade and identify ways that the sector can break the chain between suppliers and consumers.
I am also pleased to be able to tell you that after an abortive attempt in the past years to gain enough support to tackle this issue, my International Sustainability Unit has embarked on a new work stream to look at solutions to the problem of plastic waste in the marine environment. Just yesterday, here in Washington, I attended a meeting the I.S.U. co-hosted with the Global Oceans Commission to discuss this enormous challenge. The participants, representing private companies, N.G.O.'s and governments, expressed their willingness to work together to scale up both the immediate actions to stop the flow of waste into the oceans and those longer term actions needed to begin the transition across the plastics value chain to a more circular and less wasteful system.
My I.S.U. has equally embraced activities that at first sight might seem a little remote from traditional conservation concerns. This has involved joining with my Foundation for Building Community in looking at the case of cities and the worldwide problems caused by ever-greater urbanization. By addressing the question of how towns and cities might be developed in harmonious coexistence with their rural hinterlands, we are finding ways to reach more resilient and sustainable outcomes, while at the same time more effectively conserving Nature. In this case, part of the positive synergy arises from how city regions can gain a better understanding of the role of healthy ecosystems in the supply of their food and water.
While questions linked with fishing, deforestation, declining wildlife and sustainable cities might seem like a disparate hotch-potch of environmental concerns, the common factor is that they can only be resolved through the kind of integrated thinking and planning that includes genuine community participation, aided by the realization that at the end of the day these issues are also, at heart, security, social and economic matters. The question then, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how can we speed up that integrated thinking, while there is still time to do so?
One thing I believe to be vital is leadership. It is for this reason that so many people around the world are, for instance, waiting, with anticipation, for His Holiness, the Pope's forthcoming encyclical letter on human ecology. I know how fostering leadership, that all too rare quality, is one of the core concerns of the International Conservation Caucus and it seems to me that your bipartisan efforts in this arena which are virtually unique in this day and age could not be more important. The same thing must be said about your work to show how, in the end, conservation relates to the fundamental concerns of societies and governments including the wellbeing of citizens, their health, security, nutrition and prospects for continued economic development, all of which ultimatelydepend on the successful functioning of Nature's own unique economy and biodiversity.
The world has looked to the United States for leadership in so many challenging circumstances in the past. However, today we are faced by truly exceptional challenges and threats a veritable "perfect storm" which, if not met by strong, decisive and far-sighted leadership, could overwhelm our capacity to rectify the damage and thereby destroy our grandchildren's future inheritance. America’s impact is profound and it is my, and many others', fervent hope that you will continue to inspire others both at home and on the global stage.