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Speech by HRH The Prince of Wales at the A4S Summit 2019

HRH The Prince of Wales spoke at the A4S Summit 2019.


"If I may say so, I really am enormously grateful to you all for giving up what I know is very precious time to attend this A4S Summit and quite a few of you have been before I think, so I can recognise one or two familiar faces lurking in the audience.

And again, if I may say so, it’s remarkable to think that it has been 15 years since I formed A4S.  And with your support, Ladies and Gentlemen, much has been achieved.  The ideas behind A4S’s creation have become widely accepted, I think, and embedded though the work which the A4S Accounting Bodies Network, the CFO Leadership Network and Asset Owners Network, and of course the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure, have all undertaken.  Every year has seen us make progress in this area.

And this Summit is no exception.  So far, 36 CFOs from the Leadership Network and beyond have made a commitment to net zero emissions.  Members of A4S’s Asset Owners Network are reallocating investment towards sustainable outcomes. For example, by making the sustainable option the default fund for pension-savers.

And, following this Summit, I understand that members of the A4S Accounting Bodies Network will be issuing a call to action for accountants, everywhere, to respond to the climate emergency as a matter of urgency, and will make their own commitment to provide the training, support and infrastructure their members need in order to respond.

If I may say so, I am heartened by all these changes.

But, Ladies and Gentleman, (there’s always a but!) I’m afraid we all have to do more – much much more.  We now, at last, must seize the hugely important opportunity to reimagine our world through the lens of sustainable markets and to put people and planet at the heart of global value creation.  The crisis we face is now, thankfully, I think well understood.  We see the devastating impact of global warming and climate change, and the loss of biodiversity.  I have observed over many decades, with mounting despair I have to say, our failure to see the destructive nature of many of the decisions we make.  Our collective failure to make sustainable choices has put the future in peril.  Small steps therefore are no longer sufficient.  We must now pause and reflect on our trajectory.

So, having invested so much time, effort and what is left of my sanity in trying to get the message across through A4S over the past 15 years, I am unapologetically going to ask you for more.  More actions, more investment, more support and importantly, more leadership, that’s what’s so critical, in making the changes which will rapidly decarbonize the entire global economy.  

As the world finally begins to awaken to the sustainability movement, calls are increasing for a new kind of market – a sustainable market – one that is inclusive, equitable, green and profitable and where sustainable principles drive growth. Sustainable markets generate long-term value through the balance of natural, social, human and financial capital. They drive systems-level change through consumer demand, sustainable alternatives and an enhanced partnership between the private and public sectors. And they inspire the kind of innovation we so urgently need. And I can only say that after 30 years of trying to find sustainable investments to invest in, which wasn’t easy at all, as you can imagine, suddenly the whole opportunity is changing, literally in the last year to 6 months, and more and more people are beginning to realise what needs to be done, where they need to invest their money in a much more beneficial way to ensure we put the world onto a much more sustainable path.

And I am glad to say that there are promising moves in this direction already.  Multinational businesses, global investors, asset-owners and financial institutions are beginning to grasp the full extent of potential profitability and value associated with integrating positive environmental and human impact into core business models.  

With proper financial analysis and longer-term modelling of return on investment, we can better articulate the financial and non-financial benefits of transitioning to sustainable markets and rapid decarbonization across core business lines and supply chains.  Increasingly, as we look at blended and innovative finance, we need economic, financial and accounting expertise to determine how best to structure and value sustainable investments in the short, medium and long-term.

Boards of all organisations need to have the skills to understand the climate impact of the decisions they make.  CFOs here have a decisive, central role to play in setting ambitious, science-based targets and ensuring that there are strategies, plans and budgets in place to deliver the actions which will limit warming to 1.5 degrees, or less if possible, raising and allocating the funds your organisations need for transition and adaptation.

Now to further these efforts, and building on the work we have done to date with A4S, I have recently created a Sustainable Markets Council with the generous support of the World Economic Forum.  And in the coming year, we will work with coalitions of willing actors and actresses across public and private and philanthropic sectors to demonstrate the potential for sustainable market creation.  Our goal, Ladies and Gentlemen, is not to duplicate the work of others, but to convene, to leverage and to scale up examples of best practice around the world.

For my part, I will be making 2020 a critical year to mobilize concrete action across the decade.  Beginning in January, on a monthly basis, (I must be mad!) I will be convening industry leaders, (or trying to) to identify game changers, seek out scalable investments and identify the remaining barriers to acceleration.  Working with ‘Mission Possible’, these industries include: aviation, the automotive sector, forestry, agriculture, renewable energy, the circular bio economy, cement, steel, plastics and chemicals and heavy transport. Now I need hardly say that I would very much welcome your contributions to these efforts as the private sector holds, I’ve always felt, the ultimate key to tackling quickly enough the crisis we face.

In June, I plan to bring this message to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda, to call on the fifty-three member states to engage actively in this important agenda.  And it’s my hope that by the end of the year, at COP 26 in Glasgow, significant progress will have been made to mobilize action and investment into scalable decarbonization initiatives while also energizing the systems-level drivers that create the enabling conditions required for this acceleration to occur.

Global challenges require global solutions and global innovation across sectors and borders.  Such an approach, I strongly believe, will unlock unparalleled opportunity to reimagine and build the sustainable future we can all be proud of, while bringing Nature back to the center of the circle.  

I must say, in the past three months, I have been inspired by the progress that is being made and I would just like to highlight three examples.  To start with, the Whittle Lab at Cambridge University is looking to transform aviation through the decarbonization of Propulsion and Power.  They have created incredible efficiencies by merging the digital and physical worlds in order to speed up innovation.  And they are now looking to develop commercially viable hydrogen-powered and electric aircraft within the decade.

I have been similarly intrigued by (some of you have probably heard about all this) the solar breakthrough, “Heliogen”, backed by Bill Gates among others.  And as probably many of you will have seen, they have discovered a way to use artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors to reflect so much sunlight that it generates extreme heat above 1,000 degrees Celsius.  And this breakthrough means that, for the first time, concentrated solar energy can be used to create the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, glass and other industrial processes.  And they predict that with this technology they will soon be able to beat the price of fossil fuels with zero carbon emissions.  This does I think have the potential to revolutionise almost every industry.

Having long advocated for innovation in carbon capture and storage, I was fascinated to learn about the work done by the Swiss-based “Climeworks” to commission the world’s first commercial-scale, direct air capture plant which is removing existing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it underground as rock. And interestingly, some of this captured CO2 is also being used in carbonated drinks by Coca-Cola Switzerland.

Well ladies and gentlemen, we can see I think from these examples just how big our thinking must be. These big ideas require high levels of investment and a radical shift in business- and finance-as-usual solutions.  Beyond major innovations and technologies, we must also look to invest in and finance Nature-based solutions.  And this aligns with the call by the majority of global conservation organisations to protect 30% of the world’s terrestrial and marine biodiversity by 2030 and 50% by 2050.  Nature’s contribution to the global economy, it has to be remembered, is worth more than $125 trillion annually.  So, building conservation and Nature-based solutions into projects represents a massive opportunity, including in areas such as the circular bio economy, ecotourism, green infrastructure, genuinely sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry and sustainable fisheries.

As we work to accelerate our transition to sustainable markets and rapid decarbonization, we of course need to be pricing things properly – be it carbon, Nature or externalities.  For the sustainable market economy to function, we need it priced in a way that creates the right incentives.  So, Ladies and Gentlemen, your collective expertise in financing, together with your decision-making roles, can make an enormous difference, particularly if we work collectively and within industries to drive the change required – including the all-important “polluter pays” principle.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, we simply have no time to waste, we have only a very small window of opportunity left.  2020 to 2030 needs to be a decade of real delivery, setting humanity on the right path towards a sustainable future, as well as ensuring greater adaptation and resilience to the changes already underway. I’ve just come back from the Pacific, where so many islands are disappearing rapidly under rising sea levels and whole communities are having to be moved inland. In Fiji for instance, the Prime Minister came to see me the other day and when he was in London from Fiji and he was saying it is deeply depressing. So, I hope you will look to the recommendations set out in A4S’s Financing Our Future Report to help frame your actions and that you will join me (if you can bear it!) in accelerating a shift to sustainable markets and rapid decarbonisation, and I’m afraid I mean rapid. All these young people are expecting it, wanting it, they get more and more frustrated and desperate. So, it would be nice to recognise that, it seems to me, finally that we owe it to them not to leave them and bequeath them with a totally poisoned and destroyed world which we’re busily, at the moment, about to do. So, it is only through concerted action that we will prevail.  Using the resources, insight and know-how, present here today, (you couldn’t get much more really!) we can act, and act now.  And nothing less, I am afraid, will do. So, for what it’s worth, I’m relying on you all Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you."

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