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International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural resources and to the World-Wide Fund for Nature

Prince of Asturias Award for Concord 1988

Speech by His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh
Madrid, 18th October

Forgive me for speaking in English, but I do not think that if I tried to speak in Spanish you would understand a word I said.

The president mentioned the occasion, some years ago, when the Duke of Lancaster was involved in the creation of the title of Prince of Asturias. You would be interested to know that The Queen now holds the title of Duchess of Lancaster and, when she is in the County of Lancaster, her health is always toasted as “Queen, Duchess of Lancaster”. Another thing that called my attention was that this was a time of peace, so to speak. I believe that there is quite a … I believe perhaps an event. Here in Madrid, on the 400th Anniversary of the Spanish Armada, there is a Philip and a Elisabeth visiting Madrid… in fact, are two Philips here in Madrid right now.

First of all, I would like to apologise for not having been able to attend the ceremony in Oviedo, when all the other Prince of Asturias Awards were presented. I am sorry that it took place right between my return from a visit to the WWF in France and our departure for Spain yesterday morning. I can only say how much I appreciate the Foundation’s generosity in organising this special ceremony today.

Needless to say, I am delighted that the World Wide Fund for Nature has been granted the honour of receiving this Award. And I am even more delighted because it was jointly granted to the WWF and our close colleagues in conservation, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The two institutions have occupied the same headquarters in Switzerland for several years and neither could hope to be as effective without the collaboration and cooperation of the other. The IUCN is the worldwide centre for information on the situation of the world’s ecosystems, whereas the WWF gathers funds and manages conservation projects in the field. In general terms, the WWF has two types of projects: one is concerned with preventing the extinction of individual species, while the other is concerned with the conservation of ecosystems and habitats. For instance, one of the most important projects for the conservation of endangered species was that of the Bengal tiger. Fifteen years ago, their numbers had dropped from 30,000 in 1940 to around 1,500. Today, the number stands around 4,500 in twelve important protected areas, areas in which the tiger is being protected. And, of course, the WWF symbol, the giant panda between two mountains, is the objective of a major project in cooperation with the Chinese at this time.

And one of the first habitat projects was the purchase of a critical area of the Coto Doñana Marshes to save them from being exploited as farmland, and, as you know, it is now part of one of the Spain’s largest national parks.

The WWF family consists of 23 national organisations, one of which is located here in Spain under the chairmanship of Don Carlos, and a growing number of partners, especially in those countries where much of the money is spent. Since the WWF was founded 27 years ago, it has become the largest nature conservation organisation with private funding in the world. It has spent about 130 million US dollars in around 5,000 conservation projects in more than 125 countries. And this includes direct support for the creation of nature parks and protected areas that nowadays cover an area equivalent to three times the size of Spain. And we continue to support these parks and protected areas through the preparation of staff and the supply of material. We also work closely with the UNESCO supporting the 77 World Heritage Sites that are major wilderness areas.

One of our most important activities is the raising of awareness. If people are not aware of the nature of this ecological and environmental crisis, it is obviously impossible to persuade them to give us their financial backing. And unless people in the area where we hope to initiate conservation projects understand what we are trying to do, we will have no hope of success.

In general terms, our proposal is to preserve the world’s genetic diversity, which means saving animal and plant species from extinction. To do so, we focus our efforts in four areas: the conservation of tropical forests, which are home to 80% of known animals and plants; secondly, the conservation of wetlands, which are of special importance for migratory species; thirdly, the oceans, with their immense natural resources; and fourthly, the protection of areas of wilderness, such as the Antarctic.

The threats to the physical and biological health of the natural world are the result of two main factors. The first is pressure from humans, and this is caused by what may be called the three “P’s”: population, progress and pollution. The human population has grown fivefold in the last 2,000 years. The current total is five billion and rising. The Bruntlent Report alone foresees that it will reach between seven and a half billion and fourteen billion people by the end of the coming century. More people need more land and resources, and this inevitably displaces all other species.

The progress of science and technology has created ever-increasing living standards and the occupation of more land for industry and agriculture. Pollution, which is a function of the increase in population and human activities in general.

The second major threat to the survival of wildlife and plant life comes from the growing human demand for wild species and their associated products. In an effort to reduce this demand, the WWF and IUCN worked together to establish the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES as it is usually known.

The fact is that the illegal trafficking of tropical fish and bird, horns, tusks, furs and skins, eggs and plants taken from the forests, such as cacti and orchids, the overexploitation of the oceans and the forests are all directly threatening the survival of a large number of species.

That, then, in very few words, is the situation that the WWF faces, but one might ask “Why? Why be concerned? What concern is it of ours if all these little-known animals and plants become extinct?” And I believe that there are probably three answers to this question: First, each single extinction threatens the future of all life on Earth; eventually, it will be the turn of the human species itself. The situation as it is now is that the people of the less prosperous countries are starting to feel the effects of erosion and the loss of natural resources. To help in the conservation of all life on Earth, we need the understanding, aid and help of the major support and development agencies to ensure that all development can be ecologically sustainable in the long term.

Second, somewhat like the situation of the mountaineer: if you ask someone who climbs a mountain why they do so, they reply, “Because it is there.” So the second reason for conserving nature and being concerned about it is because it is there. We have this wonderfully rich natural heritage and it would be an enormous act of vandalism to annihilate it in a fit of ignorance and neglect; and this is where we need the understanding and support of the scientific world as a whole, not only of those who are interested in the natural sciences. We know what to do, but we need scientific research to tell us how to do it. And the third reason is because it is part of God’s creation and it is therefore a sacred duty to take care of it and to pass it on unspoiled to coming generations.

We know that the future of humanity depends on the proper functioning of the planet’s physical and biological systems, but people have to have an emotional commitment and feel a moral obligation if we are to succeed. And I believe that this can only come from the spiritual guidance of the major religions.

Your Highness, Mr Arango, I warmly thank you on behalf of the WWF family for the singular honour and the encouragement you have afforded to us all and to the entire conservation movement by granting this award to the WWF.

Thank you.

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