Speech by the Prince of Orange

Amsterdam, 5 October 2006

at the opening of the Global Reporting Initiative's Conference on Sustainability and Transparency entitled 'Reporting: a Measure of Sustainability'.

(Check against delivery)

'Facing the truth, acting responsibly, working together'

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

First let me welcome you all to the Netherlands. I salute you, Mr Mayor, for hosting this conference in our beautiful capital. Or rather our beautiful and sustainable capital, as you have just pointed out. Yours is an example that should be followed.

And I salute everyone here today. You are the frontrunners on the road to sustainability. While I was preparing my speech for today, I became increasingly impressed by the work many companies are doing to achieve sustainability.

  • I read, for instance, that a large international brewer has managed to cut its water consumption by seventeen percent in Indonesia, and as much as forty percent in Suriname. These are fantastic achievements. And all that was needed was local awareness training in good water management.
  • I also read about one of the world's leading aluminium manufacturers that manages to save up to 14,000 billion litres of fresh water every year in a drought-prone region simply by using the treated effluent from a nearby city for the final rinsing process.
  • And I read about a major producer of beverages that serves one billion drinks worldwide every day. This company has committed itself to becoming at least forty percent more energy efficient between 2000 and 2010.

Now that's what I call sustainability in action!

And yet, I am not mentioning any names; for two reasons. First of all, these companies are not the only ones to be taking action like this. More and more organisations and companies are using the Global Reporting Initiative's guidelines. If my sources are right, their number is fast approaching a thousand. So I could have cited many other good examples of corporate social responsibility. But my second reason is more important. I believe that we have no reason to blow our own trumpet. Though you and many others like you are on the right track, the global challenges we face give us no cause for celebration. Unfortunately, for example, too many companies still take sufficient supplies of high-quality process water for granted. So they take no account of water in calculating their production costs. This will have to change in the near future.

Ladies and gentlemen, many people feel that we have arrived at a critical point in the Earth's history. Only a few weeks ago, the world received the shocking news that, for the first time, the North Pole's ice cap had continued to melt during the winter. And last week we heard that the hole in the ozone layer was back at the record level it reached a few years ago. We must take these facts as a warning. Or rather, as two more warnings, because the evidence that we are indeed experiencing global warming is accumulating. And, as the Economist recently made painfully clear, we never imagined that the consequences for ecosystems would be on such a scale or so serious.

But how could we possibly imagine the North Pole without ice, the Gulf Stream actually slowing down or switching itself off, or the millions of tons of methane now safely stored under the Siberian permafrost being released and devastating our climate. And yet, we'd better be prepared to confront this 'inconvenient truth' before it catches up with humanity and confronts us.

In fact, I am afraid that the truth might be even more inconvenient and complicated than this. There is no question that the dominant patterns of production and consumption are leading to environmental and ecological devastation and a growing number of natural disasters. But alongside the problem of global warming and its effects there is another issue too. And that is the issue of poverty. The benefits of development are still not shared equitably and in many parts of the world the gap between rich and poor is widening. That problem is at the heart of all sustainability issues.

Ladies and gentlemen, of course I did not come here as a prophet of doom. But I am convinced of the need to face up to reality, because that is where every solution starts. Fortunately, I am not the only one to think this way. You share my views. And so does the larger part of the international community. Nowadays, most people acknowledge the fact that we have to meet our present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. That is a giant leap forwards.

The past ten years have seen an impressive number of international agreements on the subject of sustainable development and the need for international cooperation. Key are the Millennium Development Goals and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. With the MDGs, the international community set down what goals it wanted to achieve. With the 2002 Johannesburg Plan, it mapped out how it would achieve them sustainably.

In adopting the MDGs and the Johannesburg Plan, the international community took on a very great responsibility. Literally. Because how else could you describe a commitment that entails feeding 1 billion extra mouths, providing 1.3 billion more people with access to adequate sanitation and ensuring drinking water supplies for 600 million people - all by 2015? And these are today's actual numbers, not even taking into account the growth of the different challenges we will face by 2015! That is not just a 'very great' responsibility, it is a gigantic one. And because very great commitments are more difficult to meet than small ones, the question that immediately confronts us is: 'What methods and instruments do we use?'

One of the most important tools for advancing sustainability, which was also highlighted in Johannesburg, is the use of public-private partnerships - concrete partnerships between governments, businesses and other civil society parties to carry out concrete projects. The word 'partnership' implies that the business community is not only there to act as a banker, but also contributes knowledge and its own local networks. With so many corporate executives and government officials here today, you will understand that I cannot resist the temptation to dwell briefly on this subject now. I shall do so by looking at a few developments in my own field of expertise - water management.

In the last ten years, thinking on water management has undergone a sea change. The international water community is now fully convinced that there is no point attempting to achieve targets for water without taking other sectors into account. Agriculture, energy, health, the economy, ecosystems - they are all directly connected to water and often depend on it. And so the international water community developed the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management. Basically this means always taking account of the various functions water performs in a given area, and of the people who depend on it.

We as water managers are now almost in complete agreement with each other on the need for integrated water resources management. In practice, however, it is proving difficult to reach and involve other sectors. The agriculture and energy sectors are crucial. Agriculture in particular consumes water on a large scale. Eighty percent of all water supplies are used for irrigation. So every percentage point saved in agriculture gives an enormous increase in water supplies for households, industries and other users. In fact, one percent less water for agriculture means up to five percent more water for other sectors. Given existing shortages and growing demand for water, we have to make a serious effort, as I like to put it, to produce 'more crop per drop'. We simply have no other choice.

In the energy sector, hydropower is becoming increasingly important, now that reserves of fossil fuels are dwindling. Hydropower still has enormous growth potential. In developing countries in particular, a share of thirty percent of the total energy supply is feasible. Given the rising price of a barrel of oil, that is, of course, good news, provided that the negative social, ecological and economical impacts of the large-scale construction of dams and energy plants can be controlled. And of course, it is vital for a country not to become too dependent on hydropower, to avoid that a structural change in the water system will put energy supplies at permanent risk.

In practice, no sector or government can manage developments like these alone. That is why governments, companies and sectors need to work together. And that's where you and the Global Reporting Initiative come in. The great Italian filmmaker, Federico Fellini, once said that the visionary is the only true realist. I agree with him. Without a vision we cannot solve the immense problems we face. But vision must lead to action. So what we need are visionary leaders in business and government - leaders who are also willing to act. People who understand that - at the end of the day - big problems are solved on the ground, in a joint effort involving both public and private stakeholders. In short, people like you.

The shape such a public-private partnership takes, is of secondary importance. One down-to-earth example is the partnership between the water company of the municipality of Pekan Baru on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the Dutch government and a joint venture of Dutch and Indonesian companies. Together, they have committed themselves to a project that will give 280,000 people access to clean drinking water between 2005 and 2010. Half the costs will be paid from Dutch development funds; the companies taking part will foot the rest of the bill. This makes it a model public-private partnership. But, as I said, the classic model is not sacred. There is nothing to stop businesses with branches abroad from seeking partnerships with local governments and grassroots organisations, and of course vice versa.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are probably wondering what all of this has to do with the GRI. My answer is: everything, I hope. I believe that the GRI is more - has to be more - than individual businesses and organisations submitting a report each year. These reports are important and laudable, but it would be a great pity if that was the end of the story. In my view, the GRI provides us with an instrument that teaches governments, businesses and civil society organisations to talk the same plain language about sustainability. That makes it easier to hold each other responsible, and promotes mutual understanding. And that in turn lays a more solid basis for the public-private partnerships we so badly need.
So, my message boils down to three main points: facing the truth, acting responsibly and working together. To be quite honest, businesses are usually much quicker and find it easier than government authorities to account for their own performance in promoting sustainability - the municipality of Amsterdam, of course, is a notable exception. So I hope that the corporate executives here today will not hesitate to call their partners from the public sector to account. And I hope that those partners will listen and respond. And finally, I also hope that the message you broadcast from Amsterdam is heard around the globe; the message that sustainability is not a choice, but a dire necessity. Or as a famous Native American proverb puts it: 'We did not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our great-grandchildren.'

Thank you.