Speech by H.M. The King at the General Conference of UNESCO

H.M. The King. Photo: SCANPIX/REUTERS Remy de la Mauviniere/Pool.
H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf. Photo: SCANPIX/REUTERS Remy de la Mauviniere/Pool.
Speech by His Majesty The King at the 34th General Conference of UNESCO, Paris October 16, 2007:

Mr President, Mr Director General, Mr Chairman of the
Executive Board, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank you for having invited me to the 34th General Conference of UNESCO.

I feel honoured to be given the opportunity, at the beginning of the Conference, to address you on a matter of great concern to us all and very close to my heart, the global threat of climate change and its consequences.

By promoting collaboration among nations in the fields of education, science and culture, UNESCO contributes in an essential way to peace and security in the world.

UNESCO is indeed dealing with the cornerstones of modern society and civilization. As representatives of your nation you all have the challenging task ahead of you to look into the crystal ball, in order to make wise decisions for the future. In this context, let me remind you of the fact that the first and foremost condition for a sound development of our world community is a sound environment.

My interest in the environment started already when I was a young boy. Outdoor living was a natural ingredient for my family, in summertime as well as wintertime. I was not even 10 years old when I was encouraged to join the Scout Movement where I learnt to respect nature and other basic values of our time.

In 1972 Sweden hosted the United Nations Environment Conference. That was the very first time the world woke up to the signals of different threats that our water and air are exposed to. But it has taken until now before these threats have become common knowledge and are placed on the agendas of many governments, organizations and media all around the globe.
It has also taken until now that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to a personality and an organization that have worked hard to put the limelight on climate change.

My worries and quest for further knowledge made me start a series of Royal Colloquia, meetings with scientific experts from different parts of the world, in collaboration with the Royal Swedish Academy of Science. Every other year I gather a small number of scientists to discuss a specific environmental theme. The last couple of meetings have been dealing with different aspects of global warming.

This year we went to Greenland, where the theme for our Colloquium was "Past Climate Change: Human Survival Strategies". At the same time
Mr. Barroso, President of the European Commission was there, a good sign of the importance the Union attaches to the matter of climate change.

Nowhere in the world is the result of climate change as evident as in the Arctic. From a global perspective the development in Greenland is the most threatening, best illustrated at the Akulliit glacier, north of Narsaq. If  the ice of Greenland were to collapse the effects on the level of the oceans and the low coastal areas of the world would be immense.

It is important to learn from history. The people from the North, from Iceland and Norway, who emigrated to Greenland during the Viking period just disappeared from history. After the 15th century there are no traces of them. But scientists tell us that most probably it was climate change that erased their culture.

This is a lesson and warning to us all. Today we know that conditions for life on this planet are changing rapidly. Man-made global warming has become a major issue on the international agenda. The impact of human activity is multiple and complex; it ultimately endangers ecosystems and conditions for life. They are affected, for instance, by emission of greenhouse gases, by pollution and by disposal of dangerous waste.

The necessity to break the link between economic growth and the negative impact on the environment is the challenge we are facing today. I believe that it is possible that growth can be made sustainable. The new technology is to some extent already here, and it is being developed continuously by research and other studies.

Environmental degradation hampers economic growth and increases poverty. Sustainable use of natural resources is really a precondition for economic development. Consequently, there should be no conflict between economic growth and the reduction of poverty on one hand and measures to protect the environment on the other.

The less privileged are the first to suffer from polluted water and soil, and they also have the least ability to adjust to a changing environment. Again, the rich countries must take the lead; we cannot ask the less privileged to make excessive sacrifices.

Climate change is dangerous not only for the natural environment but also for the social relations between people. Morality and ethics could be at stake when people start questioning whose fault it is that our environment is threatened.

When we compare what is going on now to what happened to the Vikings from Greenland, there is a big difference: we have really nowhere to go when our environment is threatened in such a global and total way. Glaziers are melting. Living conditions change dramatically as a result of the rising sea level and heavy rains. Human health is affected by air and water pollution, as well as by water scarcity. Land degradation and desertification has an impact on agriculture where it occurs.

Moreover, our generation has managed to re-shape everything from the landscape to the genes. But there are alternatives to the total collapse of society. We can change current trends and patterns. However, we must act now by taking the right decisions. Action today is important for growth tomorrow and it is necessary for the sake of future generations and continued life on this planet. Lack of action means a tremendous loss in human as well as economic capital.

In all of this the international business community has a role of great importance. The participation of companies is central in creating the problems but also vital in finding the solutions.

The business community has to cooperate with the political system to create optimal energy methods. Governments naturally have the ultimate responsibility and they are already involved in a series of conferences, mainly within the UN framework.

I find it encouraging that the international business community now seems to take a more active interest. There are several new initiatives and I am myself somewhat familiar with a couple of them.

One is called3C , “Combat Climate Change — A Business Leaders´ Initiative" which has developed into a global business movement joined by 45 major enterprises from all continents.

The message is that global warming contains enormous risks but also huge opportunities for companies and investors. In just a few weeks time the3Cproject will meet in Sweden House in Washington, D.C. to discuss further action. I am looking forward very much to attending that seminar.

There is also a unique “alternative energy" project in Northern Sweden, in the city of Örnsköldsvik. It is called the Ethanol Pilot. The idea behind the project is to verify and optimize the process of producing ethanol from cellulose on a large scale basis. If everything goes according to the planning this process will be commercialized within the next decade.

The company that has developed the Ethanol Pilot is planning for large scale production of bioenergy from sugar canes in southern Africa.  The technique is to process the whole plant, sugarcane and cellulose bagass. Africa is considered the continent that most probably will pay the highest price for climate change. At the same time Africa has a great potential in terms of natural conditions and a surplus of land and water. The programmes which are already running in Tanzania and Mocambique are meant to serve as models. If they work 100 million people could be independent of fossil energy by 2030.

At a meeting in Northern Sweden in June, on the invitation of the Swedish Minister of Environment, he and his colleagues, representing 28 countries, took further steps in the direction of paving the way for a new so called climate regime.

After the meeting I had the pleasure of inviting the group to dinner at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. The certainty of these experts to continue their efforts for the best of our planet was very clear.

By arranging a special high level conference before this year´s UN General Assembly, Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon underlined the necessity for the world community to deal with climate change collectively. Decisions taken at various international high-level meetings seem to demonstrate a clear will to act. Therefore, let us move on together to concrete action while it is still possible to attain positive results.

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A pre-requisite for decisions that can save our planet is that everybody is really informed. Therefore you need freedom of information which in its turn requires guarantees of security for people in media and elsewhere.

International laws and regulations protecting those who have the task to inform us must be respected. It is with great distress we read and hear about limitations and violations of journalists in different parts of the world. Those are a matter of disrespect for human rights and ultimately a threat to our possibilities to save our planet.

The UN has declared the period of 2005 — 2014 as the decade of education for sustainable development. UNESCO has been nominated the lead agency in this work and therefore has a most important role in spreading light, knowledge and awareness about our environment and how to save it.

UNESCO must encourage all member countries to develop programmes for sustainable development and include them in their educational systems. Kofi Annan once said that education at all levels is a key to sustainable development. A judgement as valid today as when he stated it.

Mr President, Mr Director General, Mr Chairman of the Executive Board, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

October 6 was "Overshoot Day", that is the day when the world had consumed this year's ration of natural resources. From now on until the end of the year we are living beyond our means. The natural resources that we use are not regenerated any more. We have started to nibble on the capital. And we are eating quickly; only twenty years ago “Overshoot Day" was not until the end of December.

I don't think it could be said in a more clear way. The environment is the ultimate condition for human survival on earth. It is the condition for civilization and all human activity.

In this process UNESCO could help in spreading the  knowledge of the status of the environment of our planet and also assist in developing educational programs wherever it is necessary.

Thank you, once again, for letting me address you on these matters that are so vital to all of humanity and so close to my heart. Good luck with your important work in this field as well as in all other areas you are active.

Thank you!