Speech for Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit 2022

Kia ora koutou katoa

Thank you for the invitation to join you. It’s a real pleasure to be here, and to be in such fine company. 

I want to begin today by acknowledging His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and Sir David Attenborough in creating what is becoming akin to the Nobel Prize for innovation in environmentalism.

I’m also humbled to have been asked to speak on behalf of Prince William, who will instead join us virtually. I am an exceptionally poor substitute, but I also know we all understand the need for his royal highness to be with his family at this time. 

As i was preparing my remarks today, I couldn’t help reflect on Her late Majesty the Queen. She is someone who was focused, committed and demonstrated what could be achieved when you show fortitude and longevity. 

We need all of those same characteristics to take on the environmental challenges ahead of us.

But we’re also at a cross roads in this difficult journey, where it won’t just take our global collective will to create the scale of change required to turn around our environmental trajectory, it will also take innovation. 

The speed we need to move, demands it.

Innovation will also help us overcome some of the potential inequalities that may be a by-product of rapid change. After all, innovation can be a great leveller, as well as a source of advancement.

And to help encourage and support such innovation, is the Earth shot prize.

The Earthshot Prize, those who have won it, those who have been finalists and those who aspire to be, all remind us of what is possible when we turn our minds to combatting climate change and air pollution, protecting and restoring nature and oceans, and building a waste-free world.

You give us hope. But hope is nothing without action. 

It has been an incredibly energising experience to see the projects that have been supported. The growing of coral on land to replant in oceans, giving new life to dying ecosystems. New technology that turns renewable electricity into emission-free hydrogen gas, fuelling cars, planes, powering industry and heating homes. Farm waste converted into sellable bio-products like fuel and fertiliser.

It’s not enough though to simply allow you to plough these difficult fields alone. 

While my message today is one of gratitude and encouragement, i also acknowledge that you cannot succeed in isolation. As governments, we have a responsibility to create the incentives and space for you to flourish, a receptive environment for change, and the accountability that comes with guardianship.

In many nations, that foundation for this approach has been laid for us long ago - if we choose to listen.

Where I come from, Aotearoa New Zealand, our indigenous people hold a world view that every single living and non-living thing is connected.

Our people, our plants, our animals are all descendants of Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, and their children.

And so it follows that people and nature are kin. Are family.

And we must care for one another in the spirit of kaitiakitanga – which translates into guardianship, by the people, of the land, for the next generation.

In short, Ko ahau te taiao, ko te taiao, ko ahau. I am the environment and the environment is me.

Our life source, our economy, our future.

I’ve seen this in action first-hand many times. Not least in my back yard, the pacific, where the ocean is source of protein, income, culture, and now challenge as it rises up and begins to inundate small island nations. 

It can be confronting to hear and see the stories of just how real these challenges are. But none of us are here because we have given up, but because we believe there is a way to change the future. 

The Earthshot Prize is part of that -it renews our faith in our abilities to protect, preserve and enhance our natural world. Through the power of human ingenuity we can harness ideas to address climate change, stop biodiversity collapse, halt further degradation to our environment, and through the investments of those who seek to follow this common cause – governments, industry, indigenous peoples, collectives, civil society – we can do that even more quickly.

I am here first and foremost today as a New Zealander. And we care deeply about our environment. We are by no means perfect, and our journey continues, but we have in recent years established a goal in law to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, ended the use of certain non-recyclable waste products, banned new offshore oil and gas exploration, set ourselves the goal of 100% renewable electricity generation by 2030  and committed to becoming the first country in the world to price agricultural emissions so that we know our food is not just the best in the world, but the best for the world too. 

But all of this requires innovation, and that’s also why we have for instance also created research and development tax credits, established the New Zealand agricultural greenhouse gas research centre, and the sustainable food and fibre fund. This fund has for example supported trials and research into a range of farm practices, including working with Silver Fern Farms who are helping individual farmers understand their carbon foot print. The information they’ve gathered has helped establish and verify a market proposition for low and zero carbon meat from New Zealand. 

I know we think often of our challenges, but imagine for a moment what can be achieved by channelling our potential. 

A world run on green energy. Producing food sustainably. Better jobs, higher wages in skilled professions of the future. A generation that for the first time in centuries witnesses a growing and thriving natural world.

It’s worth our energy. Our investment. Our commitment. 

And none of it needs to be done alone. 

The Sustainable Development Goals sit at the centre of the United Nation’s three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. Together, they serve as the unifying platform for intergovernmental action to address the crises we face.

And they help us to reach beyond boundaries. I know that we are close to agreeing on an international treaty to protect biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction, and to develop a Global Biodiversity Framework. In this work we can afford to be nothing less than ambitious.

While political action is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, civil society and the private sector have an equally important role to play, especially in generating innovative approaches.

The Earthshot finalists today embody this forward-thinking approach. 

And so I start where i began, by acknowledging you all, but also by reminding those that have the power and the levers to continue to create the environment for change we so desperately need. 

We cannot expect environmental innovation to happen in a vacuum, nor for good ideas to create change if they are not supported to flourish. 

We can all, and should, marvel at the ideas we see here today, but let us also remember that we have a role to play in helping pave the way for them. 

As guardians, our children expect nothing less. 

Tena koutou tena koutou tena tatou katoa.