Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am deeply honoured and humbled to receive the Sustainable Development Leadership Award for 2008. It is indeed a great privilege to be recognized by such a prestigious organization as The Energy and Resources Institute of India (TERI).
I wish to extend my profound thanks to the Chairman of TERI, Dr. Arcot Ramachandran, Director General of the Institute, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and all members of the Institute, for recognizing my work to raise global awareness on the plight of an innocent yet seriously imperiled people.
This Award symbolizes TERI’s support for worldwide efforts to promote sustainable development practices. It also recognizes the plight of the world’s low-lying Small Island Developing States such as the Maldives.
I, therefore, dedicate this Award to the people of the Maldives who continue to battle against the elements on a daily basis. In particular, every island community of ours that was devastated by the deadly tsunami of December 2004, every family whose homes have been damaged by sea swells and every individual who has had to migrate from his or her home island to safer islands because of rapid beach erosion are the true champions in the fight against climate change.
India has always recognized the environmental vulnerability of the Maldives, and the prompt humanitarian assistance and support that the Indian Government has extended to us in every hour of national need, including the tsunami of 2004 and the sea swells last year, have contributed a great deal to rehabilitating the lives of the victims. I, therefore, take this opportunity to reiterate our thanks to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, his government and the friendly people of India for their continuing support.
Present among us at this august gathering is someone whose name is linked with sustainable development. I am, of course, referring to the former Prime Minister of Norway, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, under whose stewardship the phrase ‘sustainable development’ was first coined in 1987.
Dr. Brundtland’s Report, Our Common Future, inspired a generation of policymakers, diplomats and environmentalist to take up the challenge of safeguarding Mother Earth for our future generations. I can honestly say that I was one of many who drew inspiration from the Report.
I began my climate change diplomacy work in 1987. My first speeches on the subject were at the Vancouver Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and the UN General Assembly, on 15 and 19 October 1987, respectively.
We have surely come a long way since then. I believe that our efforts have been quite successful. This very Summit is ample evidence that the world is today taking environmental security very seriously indeed.
Twenty years ago, the challenge was to spread our message as far as possible, and to as many decision-makers as possible. The road was, more often than not, a bumpy one. There were anxious moments when it seemed that negotiations were on the verge of failure. The weeks and months leading up to the Kyoto Protocol were one such example. Nevertheless, we persisted and made the necessary breakthroughs to keep the process moving along.
I must acknowledge and pay tribute to a group of very dedicated people without whose vision and determination the dreams and aspirations of my people would have been shattered long ago. The strongest card that we had during deliberations was the unambiguous scientific evidence that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change continued to present at regular intervals. I was, therefore, delighted when the coveted Nobel Peace Prize for last year was awarded to Dr. Pachauri and the IPCC. They have always been true champions of climate change diplomacy.
Together we have made a difference. We came away from Bali with a Roadmap that has the potential to turn our aspiration of a comprehensive post-Kyoto climate change agreement into a reality. For that to happen, we need to show character and determination.
As the climate change debate had advanced over the past decade, the human dimension of the problem had largely been ignored. It is high time that we put people back at the heart of climate change diplomacy. Climate change is a human problem that could potentially affect the lives of people living in all parts of the world.
The 300,000 people of the Maldives may be among the first to suffer from the ill-effects of climate change, but, eventually, every country will have to face the problem.
Before I conclude, I wish to commend TERI and all its partners and sponsors for taking the initiative to host this important annual Summit. Previous editions of the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit were of course tremendously successful.
This time, TERI has opted for a theme that strikes at the very heart of the toughest global environmental challenge of our time. Understanding the relationship between sustainable development and climate change can unlock the door to a number of pragmatic and effective solutions to the problem. I believe that the mix of experience and expertise that this forum has brought together is the key to unlocking this door.