Dear friends, I am very glad to participate in this wonderful event. Just 4 days ago I did not know if I would be able to take part. I would like to convey my greetings to all of you present here, and to congratulate all of you at this 20th anniversary of Green Cross International.
This is quite a story. In 1992, the first Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro. Parallel to that there was also a big meeting of nongovernmental organizations, environmental NGOs, in which representatives from NGOs and parliaments from 108 countries participated.
This was at a time when I was no longer the leader of the State of my government (of the Soviet Union). Even before that, when I was the President, I spoke to a large academy of people of nongovernmental organizations in Moscow who met to discuss peace and the environment.
And even then I insisted on the need to pay more attention to problems of the environment, and I said we need a global movement for the environment. And I said let us take as an example the Red Cross, let us create a Green Cross organization.
So in 1992, when things had changed for me, they sent me a telegraph from Rio de Janeiro, from the NGOS that had gathered there reminding me of that proposal.
They said that they wanted to complement the plan of action adopted by the Heads of States and government in Rio de Janeiro by creating a global nongovernmental environmental organization.
Within two days, I responded to that proposal saying that I agree to lead the creation of such an organization.
I always regarded environmental problems as of great urgency.
That started when I was still working in my home country in the Caucuses and then when I started to work in Moscow. I learned of shocking facts regarding the mistreatment of the earth, water, soil and air in my home country.
We used to be proud, for example, of the huge hydropower stations that we build in various parts of the Soviet Union, and it was a huge program that was continued, but the result was we had to flood 14 million hectares of the most arable land, the best soil, and I still think that that was a mistake. 14 million hectares of the best land was lost. Villages where people lived were also lost.
This is just one example to give you of the state of the environment. Deforestation was going on rapidly, rivers were being polluted. Of course this was done because we needed to rebuild the country after the (Second World) War when half the country had been destroyed. But in the process we were losing a lot.
The basin of the River Volga, where 70% of the population of the country had lived, had become one of the most polluted rivers, and that is why we need to think about how to save the soil, the land, the rivers, and most of all how to save the people.
And like many people, I was ready to take the initiative and to start working in order to revive our forests, land, rivers and lakes. And this was one reason why I gave such a prompt reply to the requests to become the founder of Green Cross International.
I would like to note the special contribution of Switzerland, the Netherlands, Japan and Russia as the first organizations that started this process. It is good that we also have been able to work with the United States, and the result is, I think, some very important achievements.
On this 20th anniversary there are many thing we can be proud. But those who have been working with us from the very beginning know that we have had our share of disappointments too. But they are behind us.
I would like to thank those who I have mentioned, and others, for this work that they have been doing that has changed the attitude towards the environment.
Just one recent example in Russia: there was a plan to build a new rapid road from Moscow to St Petersburg. The authorities were ready to destroy a forest to build that road, and people from Moscow and all over the country protested, and they had to reconsider those plans. This is just one example. And there are many similar examples on other continents, Latin America, Europe, everywhere.
Nevertheless, we are still in the process of losing our planet. We are very close to the “red line.” And I would like you to discuss that during the Earth Dialogues, I would like to propose a subject for that discussion. Even though we have had many discussions, and many conferences and forms on water and other environmental problems, we are not even close to achieving our goal. We still see that the environment and nature are shrinking. The Earth will of course survive anyway, but it will be a very different Earth for those who live on it. It is not an exaggeration. I think that we feel almost physically the shrinking of the water, the air and living space so to say.
Remember, after World War Two, there was a strong peace movement that included prominent people who created a committee to defend peace. The most credible people in the world were in that movement.
I am not calling for repeating it in the same way, but we need to do more.
It is very important that we have Glasnost on the environment. It is very important we have organizations that work for it. But we have not achieved enough. I believe that the problem of the environment is the number one challenge for the 21st century, as well as, of course, the problem of getting rid of nuclear weapons. That is still the number one challenge that we need to address.
My appeal to you is this: Let us issue an appeal from this 20th anniversary General Assembly of Green Cross International to urge people all over the world to join a movement that will be against war, that will be against nuclear weapons, that will also work against the new arms race that is starting right in front of us, that would work also against arms trade, that is happening on a huge scale. Weapons support conflicts in all kinds of places, conflicts between various groups and clans, in Africa and other continents. Weapons fuel conflicts. Sophisticated planes and weapons are being supplied to those areas of conflicts.
New weapons are being developed in order to conduct remote wars, even without people being involved, but these wars still kill innocent human beings. All those drones and pilotless fighters, but the result of those drones, as I said, is that people and villages are being destroyed. It is a new kind of war that we are witnessing. There is a real threat certainly of more conflict with sophisticated weapons of mass destruction. And this is also, of course, destroying nature at a time when climate is changing, and as a result of it we are seeing floods, catastrophes and disasters. So let us urge people to unite in a movement against war and for the environment, against the destruction of our planet, and against such actions of human beings that destroy our planet.
I hope that you will support this and we will think together about how to develop this movement.
Our organization is the one that speaks about the three main challenges: security, economy and environment. I think that as an organization that has branches in dozens of countries that we can take this initiative in order to urge young people, and also the governments, to change their ways.
So what we are going to do tomorrow is to continue the Earth Dialogues to continue the initiative that was started with the Earth Charter. I would like to recognise here my old friend, Ruud Lubbers. His country, the Netherlands, financed the process of developing the Earth Charter. We supported this work. We are very grateful for that. Their support was enormous, and our gratitude is also enormous. While we continue building this global movement let us also continue the work that we have already started, because this is real work, it is dedicated work that has already born fruit. The environmental education programme started by the Russian Green Cross has expanded, and let us continue that work as well.
To conclude my remarks, which are as always rather lengthy, I just would like to say that we should not spare our time, hours, our days, our years in order to do this work, because the clock is striking 5 minutes to midnight. So we have to be alarmed. We have to be concerned.
When I spoke about wars and conflicts, this is about what is happening in the Middle East. During my final weeks as President of the Soviet Union, I initiated a congress on the Middle East in Madrid. The Middle East is very difficult. I remember when Secretary of State (George) Shultz was making shuttle trips to the Middle East trying to solve the problems. But then Secretary of State Shultz came to Moscow and he understood that the United States cannot do it alone, he came to see me and said that we no longer want to push your country out of the Middle East. Let us work together. And I think that “let us work together” is still what we need to do, whenever we have been able to achieve something, is in when we were together, like in Europe, in uniting Germany, in eliminating nuclear weapons. Whenever we were able to achieve something it was when we were working together, so once again I call for an anti-war movement. It is difficult. Look what is happening in Syria. It is very difficult to do something positive there.
I still think the President of the United States is a real democrat, but he is finding it very difficult to act as a democrat. I remember how hard it was for me. I was criticized not being decisive, for not being resolute enough, And now they are criticising the president of the United States for not being decisive enough. Well, if he is not decisive enough in shooting and bombing, then I think it is a good type of indecisiveness. If, however, they decide to shoot without regard for the opinion of the people everywhere, including in the United States, then I think the consequences will be very bad. So I am asking our American friends who are present here, make a call to Washington, and tell them what our opinion is. Let them know what we think about this.
What we want to do is to use this occasion not only to congratulate ourselves on our work together, but also in order to think about how to continue our work, our struggle to preserve life on Earth, which is the only place where human beings can live.
When we ended the Cold War, we wanted to create conditions for a peaceful world, and I want our organization to become stronger, and our projects and programmes to be more effective. I am 82 years old but I still want to act. I still want to do something. This goes back to my youth when I was part of that same peace movement. It is still very much a part of me, this vigour, this motivation, this enthusiasm, that I would like to convey, that I would like to hand over to younger people who will fight for the future of our planet.
Green Cross International
2 September, 2013