The award is given to artists and cultural leaders who are helping to address the world’s humanitarian and environmental challenges.
While accepting the award, Leonardo spoke eloquently about climate change, and how future generations will place blame on the business leaders of today if nothing is done to stop the problem.
His full speech reads:
“Thank you Professor Klaus Schwab, Hilde Schwab and the World Economic Forum for this generous award. Your recognition of my work for my foundation and our partners across the globe is a true honor.
“Last month in Paris, world leaders reached an historic agreement that provides concrete framework to reduce carbon emissions. This was an important first step but we are a long way off from claiming victory in the fight for our future and for the survival of our planet. The Paris agreement was a call to action but it is now up to all of us to build this progress with ingenuity and a commitment to change. Together we are fighting to preserve our fragile climate from irreversible damage and devastation of unthinkable proportions.
“I have been traveling recently all over the world for a documentary about how this crisis is changing the natural balance of our planet. In Greenland and in the Arctic I was astonished to see that ancient glaciers are rapidly disappearing well ahead of scientific models. In India I met farmers who have seen their crops, their very livelihood, literally washed away by historic flooding. There is no doubt to the world’s scientific community that this is a direct result of human activity and the effects of climate change will become astronomically worse in the future.
“Last week President Obama told those who continue to deny the irrefutable science behind climate change that they will find themselves increasingly lonely in a swell of voices calling for action. But studies also show us that those who deny the reality of climate change will also find themselves less economically successful. We simply cannot afford to allow the corporate greed of the coal, oil, and gas industries to determine the future of humanity.
“Those entities with a financial interest in preserving this destructive system have denied and even covered up the evidence of our changing climate. Enough is enough, you know better, the world knows better, history will place the blame for this devastation squarely at their feet. Our planet cannot be saved unless we leave fossil fuels in the ground where they belong.
“Twenty years ago we described this problem as an addiction today we possess the means to end this reliance. Professor Mark Jacobson and a team of researchers at Stanford University have proven that we can meet the world’s total energy demand by using existing renewable technology by 2050. To make that potential a reality we need the collective will and conviction of political, business, and philanthropic leaders like all of you. This transition is not only the right thing for our world, it makes clear economic sense and it is possible within our lifetime. A shift of this magnitude will save nearly 42 trillion in global energy costs while creating 20 million new jobs.
“Over the last several years organizations and individuals worth 3.8 trillion dollars have already committed to divest their fossil fuel holdings and replace them with new investments in clean renewable energy projects. And leaders like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bazos have already pledged to build a zero emissions future. I ask you to join them, because if we all do our part and act with bold leadership we can achieve major meaningful progress. It is not only an inevitable transition; it is also imperative for the future of our planet.
“Which brings me to the other side of this very important issue, on the flip side to the environmental crisis. And that is the protection of our planet’s last remaining natural ecosystems; ecosystems that provide us with breathable air, drinkable water, fertile soil, and bountiful seas. These complex ecosystems can never be replaced and they are the foundation of our global economy and more importantly our interconnected climate. Life without them as we know it would simple collapse.
“Fifteen years ago today I developed my foundation to focus on these critical issues. Currently less than 3% of all philanthropic giving goes to defending our planet. Given this limited support, it’s no surprise that roughly only 2% of our oceans and 12% of our lands are formally protected from invasive human activity like commercial fishing, agriculture, logging, and energy extraction. Again 3% of all philanthropic giving goes towards the protection of our only home, planet earth. Today at LDF we are achieving tangible exciting results with over 70 partners across 40 countries and all five oceans by working with the innovative grassroots organizations and leaders, we have quickly donated critical funding they need to rapidly scale up their work. Over the last decade, we provided direct grants to support projects that have expanded protected areas on land and on sea, protecting iconic endangered species and empowered indigenous communities to fight back against corporate encroachment on their lands. But this number needs to grow and with your help and partnership it will. Generosity is the key to our future.
“With that I am pleased to announce today a $15 million grant in new commitments from LDF to fast track cutting edge sustainability and conservation projects around the world. A prime example of climate change and environmental protection is our grant to the Rainforest Action Network and their partners on the ground to protect the last remaining rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Over the last year, major fires across Sumatra have released more carbon emissions every day than the daily activity of the entire United States economy. In an effort to protect these last remaining rainforest, the vital lungs of our planet, our foundation is funding their effort to preserve 6.5million acres from the invasive and destructive practices of the palm oil industry.
“We are underway with similar efforts in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador. We are supporting the Ceibo Alliance, an indigenous effort to stop rampant and destructive oil extraction that is poisoning their lands and communities. In the United States we are partnering with the Solutions Project to promote clean energy and support local efforts to implement these projects in their communities. And in our seas, we have partnered with Google and funded the Global Fishing Watch, which is a revolutionary new platform that will actively monitor and ultimately help end the destructive practices of over-fishing. Additionally we are backing an effort to protect the size of Nebraska in the Indian Ocean off the coast of the Seychelles islands, which is home to vital marine species.
“Imagine what we could all do with more partnerships. With the alliance of many of you in this room so much can be done if we all work together. With your help we can quickly identified and fund the most innovative and effective projects that have the greatest potential to avert the crisis we face. As I look across this room I am optimistic that our ability to convene the most significant and influential minds on the planet can result in the global transition necessary to protect both our society and our natural world. Now the challenges before us require each and every one of us to take action. We owe this to ourselves, but more importantly we owe this to future generations who are counting on all of us. Thank you all very much and thank you for this great honor.”