Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I must say how grateful I am to have been invited to be with you here today as we bring together the United Nations and the Commonwealth to discuss what we are calling The Great Reset. I would also like to thank the Permanent Representatives of Canada and Jamaica for convening this meeting and Prime Minister Trudeau for his inspiring leadership on the Green Recovery.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every person on this planet and the human and economic toll is immeasurable, but I have been greatly encouraged by the growing calls for a ‘green and human-centric recovery’, precisely because it seems to me to be vital that we take strong and determined international action to mitigate the profound threats not only to lives and livelihoods, but to social and economic stability.
To do this, we must work together, across countries and across sectors. Last week, alongside Professor Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum, the UN Secretary General, the Managing Director of the IMF and a range of corporate leaders, I launched The Great Reset with the hope that it might offer a way in which, together, we might act to introduce the changes that have been long overdue in the battle to rescue the world from catastrophic global warming and climate change.
The Great Reset, rooted in my Sustainable Markets Initiative, is a global call to action to reimagine, reinvent, redesign, reinvigorate and rebalance our world. It will serve as a global hub for multi-stakeholder solutions, aligning with and, where necessary, going beyond the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement. At its heart, lies the need to maintain a harmonious balance between people, planet and the economy.
Seventy-five years after the formation of the United Nations and Bretton Woods Institutions, five years since the adoption of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement and now, with the paralyzing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, our systems and institutions are feeling the strain. And yet the scale of our ambition must be greater than ever. To deliver a sustainable future we must fundamentally rethink our ‘business as usual’ systems, institutions, investments and practices. It is time to pause, reflect and reset our trajectory.
All too often, I have found, people will not act until there is a crisis or catastrophe. With climate change and biodiversity loss the danger often feels all too distant. Although for many of you in this room, whose countries constantly face the enormity of hurricanes, cyclones, desertification, drought and wildfires, I know the danger feels alarmingly close to home. The coronavirus, by contrast, represents a global emergency that has touched everyone’s lives – right now. It has demanded urgent and ambitious action, and global solutions in which we must all play our part. It has also, or should have, indicated the appalling vulnerability to which we have exposed ourselves through the disastrous erosion of vital biodiversity.
We have an unparalleled opportunity to reimagine our future. To seize that opportunity, and to build global momentum for The Great Reset, we must put sustainability at the heart of everything we do. We have the chance to create entirely new sustainable industries, products, services and supply chains, based on a circular bioeconomy, and to transition our systems forever.
Let me offer you some specific examples:
- In aviation, an industry deeply impacted by this crisis, there are opportunities to develop commercially viable, hydrogen-powered and electric aircraft within the decade. In the interim, many in the industry are ready to adopt Sustainable Aviation Fuel made from waste material that can reduce carbon emissions – starting today.
- In renewable energy, we are witnessing breakthroughs in the cost of solar energy that have the potential to revolutionize almost every industry. We must reimagine a world that is not reliant on fossil fuels, and innovate around alternatives.
- And, in carbon capture, use and storage, there are a growing number of initiatives that might just buy us vital time as we make our transition to sustainable markets and a net zero economy.
Futhermore, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have an opportunity to rebuild the global economy; to set recovery on a new trajectory of sustainable employment, livelihoods and economic growth. Sustainable investments can powerfully drive that recovery. In a period of high global unemployment, many sustainable investments, be they in renewable energy, green infrastructure, reforestation or agriculture, can be enacted quickly, are labour intensive and have strong economic multipliers. They are also key areas for public-private collaboration.
We must not be afraid to re-orientate our long-standing and frequently perverse incentive structures if we are to reap the benefits afforded by a more sustainable world. Re-orientating economic subsidies, financial incentives and regulations can have a dramatic and transformative effect on our market systems. It is time to level the playing field and to think about how we properly deploy policies and regulation in a way that catalyses sustainable markets.
- At a macro level, we must look for drivers and accelerators. Making carbon pricing a central policy practice would help to provide incentives for investment in the transition to a sustainable future and spur technology development. If all nations move together to decarbonize and commit to roughly comparable carbon charges, no country would be able to gain an unfair advantage in global markets or be rewarded while others bear the costs of taking action to address climate change.
- We also have an opportunity to turn perverse subsidies on their head. The world’s agricultural subsidies work to degrade land, poison water and destroy forests. A similar sum could lead to much more productive, sustainable and equitable outcomes.
The Great Reset allows us to redesign systems and pathways to advance Net Zero transitions globally. Countries, industries and businesses, moving together, can create efficiencies and economies of scale that will allow us to leapfrog our collective progress and accelerate our transition. It is time for businesses, industries and countries alike to design, publicly disclose and benchmark how they will decarbonize and transition to net zero. Setting targets of 2050 and relying on future decision-makers to take the difficult decisions will not help us reach our goal; annual milestones are urgently needed to drive momentum and global synergies.
We must reinvigorate science, technology and innovation to harness catalytic breakthroughs that will alter our view of what is possible – and profitable (both to us and, most importantly, for Nature herself) – within the framework of a sustainable future. Whether it is energy storage, electric transportation, carbon capture, renewables or biotech, sustainability and profitability are no longer mutually exclusive.
- One compelling example is in forestry, where we can now transform wood, the most versatile natural material on the planet, into a new generation of wood-based alternatives to plastics, chemicals, textiles and construction materials. The bioeconomy has the potential to ignite new industries– thus providing, at last, the economic incentive to value the immense biodiversity and carbon-capture potential of restored and expanded forests.
- In speaking recently with the Presidents of Rwanda and Nigeria, I was encouraged to learn of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, or AFR100, which is a country-led effort to restore 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes across Africa by 2030. This has the potential to enhance food security, increase climate change resilience and mitigation, and combat rural poverty. Having launched my new Circular Bioeconomy Alliance last week, I believe initiatives like AFR100 have the potential to drive rapid and sustainable economic growth.
Finally, we must rebalance investment and accelerate sustainable investment in green energy, the regeneration of Nature and landscapes, the circular bioeconomy, ecotourism and green public infrastructure. This offers one of the quickest and most inclusive ways to restore activity in the short run as we look to transform our economies for the long run.
- Investing in green infrastructure has the potential to enable a whole range of economic activities for decades to come while also providing much needed employment. Investments in energy, transport, water and communities are fundamental to almost every SDG and represent some of the quickest and most inclusive ways to restore activity in the short run as we look to transform our economies in a more sustainable direction.
- We must also invest in Nature-based solutions in sectors like agriculture, forestry and fisheries – indeed, for all the resources that we take from the Earth. Nature’s contribution to the global economy is estimated to be worth more than $125 trillion annually – greater than the entire world’s annual G.D.P. Building conservation and nature-based solutions into our asset base and supply chains – as well as urgently developing an ecosystem services market – can, therefore, offer significant economic growth opportunities for countries and businesses alike.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Commonwealth has an immense opportunity to lead this Green Recovery from the front, to show the world what is possible and to encourage others to follow. Working together with investors, private sector companies and NGO’s across countries and across sectors, we can identify the solutions and implement them within this limited window of opportunity we have before us.
This opportunity is an historic and precious one. As we begin to move from crisis to recovery, we have the chance to determine and shape the world we want, not just for ourselves but for the generations which follow. But this opportunity only exists for a very short time and the window is closing already. As I am sure you will agree, Ladies and Gentlemen, we simply have no time to waste.
Introductory Remarks by HRH The Prince of Wales at a virtual meeting of UN Commonwealth Ambassadors