Atlantic Council Global Citizen Awards 2019

Monday, September 23, 2019

New York, New York


David McCormick, chairman of the Atlantic Council’s International Advisory Board and chief executive officer of Bridgewater Access


Sebastián Piñera, president of the republic of Chile

Introductory speaker:

Kristine Tompkins, president of Tompkins Conservations and UN Patron of Protected Areas


ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats and direct your attention to the screen. Our program is about to begin.

(Music plays.)

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2019 Atlantic Council Global Citizen Awards.  Please welcome to the stage chairman of the Atlantic Council’s International Advisory Board and co-CEO of Bridgewater Associates David McCormick.  (Cheers, applause.)

DAVID MCCORMICK:  Good evening.  So glad to have you all here, distinguished honorees and distinguished guests, our spectacular new chairman of the Atlantic Council, John Rogers, and our awesome president Fred Kempe.  On behalf of all them, ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to welcome you to the 10th annual Atlantic Council Global Citizens Award.  We’re really glad to have you here tonight.  

My wife, Dina Powell McCormick, and I want to thank you for being with us tonight.  It’s an incredible crowd.  And for some of you who know me, you know I’d been chasing Dina around for quite some time. And I finally caught her.  And so I’m really happy to be able to introduce her tonight as Dina Powell McCormick.  And glad to be with you.  (Applause.) 

This is – this is our best turnout for Global Citizen Awards since we started 10 years ago.  And it’s a testament to the unbelievable awardees we have this year.  We gather in New York on the eve of the 74th U.N. General Assembly.  And this is where the leaders of the world come together to try to navigate some really seismic shifts in the world – the emergence of a new major-power competition, emerging technologies, profound and growing risk to climate change.  These are the issues of the day.  

And each year on the margin of the General Assembly the Atlantic Council hosts the Global Citizen Awards to create a moment, to pause and to shine light on some exceptional individuals who are improving the state of the world, and that’s what we have tonight.  Our aim is to celebrate these individuals, to celebrate their incredible work and, through them, to inspire others to contribute and lead.  But beyond that, we celebrate something more fundamental and, really, at the core of the Atlantic Council, which is the idea that through a common purpose and inspired leadership we can navigate our way to a better world.

And so tonight we recognize the accomplishments of four outstanding individuals for their leadership, their commitment, and their character.  The first is the president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, who has masterfully navigated Chile – (applause) – through times of hardship and regional instability with innovative approaches to combating climate change and advocating free trade and foreign investment and, really, a pragmatic approach to economic revitalization.

We also have with us tonight the prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, who too has been a leader in combating the threat of climate change – (applause) – and a leader who has really reinforced the importance of the transatlantic relationship in sustaining European and global security.

We also have tonight my good friend, Brian Grazer, and his incredible wife, Veronica.  Veronica and I literally grew up in the same small town in Pennsylvania, went to the same high school, and he is an award-winning Oscar producer who has really had an extraordinary career in film and television, garnering more than 40 Academy Award nominations, 195 Emmy nominations.

But beyond a remarkable career in movies which has really captured the human condition and inspired us, he’s been a role model for his philanthropy and his efforts, ranging from support of mental health to diversity.  

And finally, we have musician, technologist, and philanthropist (Applause.)  Now, is not only a remarkable artist but also a leader within the technology industry where he’s advanced educational opportunities to promote the next generation of leaders.  And I want to tell you, when I went home to my daughters and said, I’m the chairman of the Atlantic Council International Advisory Board, I couldn’t have got less of an impression that they were impressed by all that.  But when I said I might be hanging out with, there was a coolness factor that was attributed to me, which is hard when you have six teenagers.  So I really thank him for being here, in particular. 

So thank you all for being here and thank you for everything you do on a daily basis to help the Atlantic Council.  Your contributions take on outsized importance facing – into the face to today’s global challenges.

Finally, I’d like to extend a special welcome to Anna Deveare Smith – actress, playwright, teacher, author.  (Applause.)  And tonight we’re delighted to announce that she’s going to be the Atlantic Council’s first artist in residence.  So that’s a great addition.  (Applause.)

And, finally, let me just conclude by recognizing a few heads of state that have been privileged to join us this evening – that we’re privileged to have join us this evening: Her Excellency Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the president of Croatia – (applause) – His Excellency Abdalla Hamdok, prime minister of Sudan – (applause) – Her Excellency Kersti Kaljulaid, the president of Estonia – (applause) – and Her Excellency María Fernanda Espinosa, the president of the United Nations General Assembly.  (Applause.)

So thank you to them, to the many ministers and ambassadors in the room.  We’re so delighted to have you here.  In all, we have a total of 600 individuals in the room tonight, representing over 40 countries.  What a great way to kick off the important work of this week.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you, and please enjoy the evening.  (Applause.)

ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage president of Tompkins Conservation and U.N. Patron of Protected Areas, Kristine Tompkins.  (Applause.)

KRISTINE TOMPKINS:  I am very happy tonight to be president – present in honoring President Pinera and his lovely wife and friend, Cecilia.

Suppose it was perfectly certain that the life and fortune of every one of us would one day or another depend upon our winning or losing a game of chess.  Don’t you think that we should all consider it to be a primary duty to learn at least the names and the moves of the pieces?  And that’s why I’m here tonight.  It’s very plain and an elementary truth that the life, the fortune and the happiness of every one of us and those who are connected with us depends upon our knowing something of the rules of the game infinitely more difficult and complicated than chess.  It is a game which has been played out for untold ages.  The chessboard is the world.  The pieces are the phenomena of the universe.  And the rules of the game are what we call the laws of nature. Thomas Huxley, 1868.

My late husband Douglas and I have been working in Chile for over 25 years and donating large tracts of land toward the creation of national parks.  President Sebastian Pinera has played a key role in this effort, which in the last few years oversaw the creation of five new national parks and the enlargement of three others totaling just over 12 million acres.

Chile has stepped forward with one of the highest percentages of land conservation in the world.  It’s not the largest country, nor is it the richest country, but it has shown that it is possible and become a world leader to conserve key habitat while also minding the store of its economy.

It has also declared wildly large marine conservation areas. And the government of President Pinera has announced the decarbonization of the energy matrix before the middle of this century.

Chile is also, as most of you know, the host for COP in December. And everybody involved in Chile is very happy about that.

These actions are worthy of the recognition of acknowledging that there is so much to be done.  This recognition of President Pinera invites us to think what else can we do to face the crisis we face.  What must we stop doing to face the crisis we face?

Science and our common sense tell us what the rules of the high-stakes game of climate change are, and we are clear on what needs to be done to change the end of this story.  Still, in all, we are left wringing our hands, wanting to act but not willing to lead where it is necessary, hesitating to risk losing the comforts and economies of all of our modern lives.  It’s our job to listen to what the scientists have been saying for decades and, for once, come to agreement that the lack of action on the part of all of us is becoming, and has become, a moral issue.

We’re at the 11th hour, and everybody knows it.  We know the rules of this chess game.  Our actions need to reflect our personal ethics, and we will all be judged by our actions long after we’re gone—and rightfully so.  For me personally, the time has come to change our limited concept of peace, commonly considered, measured and celebrated by solely human interaction. Let us widen our recognition of peace to include the ethic that all life has intrinsic value, and may we measure ourselves rather by peace between the human and the non-human world.

It is with this sentiment I ask President Piñera to join me here to receive this recognition, which represents both tremendous opportunity and the responsibility for Chile and the whole planet.  Congratulations, Sebastián.  (Applause.)

(Music plays.)

PRESIDENT SEBASTIÁN PIÑERA:  Good evening to everyone.  Let me thank, first of all, Fred Kempe and John Rogers for this award and for this opportunity to share with you some reflections and some thoughts about our fight against climate change and global warming.

Thank you, Kristine, for your kind words and warm welcome. You have given Chile a real treasure, and we will take care of it because we understand that this is a moral issue.  And at the same time, we have a common cause with Kristine, and a real strategic alliance with a strong sense of environmental protection.  

It’s a great privilege and a great honor to receive this award, because this award has a very special meaning.  Each generation has its own challenges.  But no generation has had such an urgent and formidable challenge as climate change and global warming as our generation. This is the battle of our lives. The human being is the smartest creature on Earth, but at the same time it’s the only creature that is able and sometimes willing to destroy our planet Earth – our only planet Earth.  

That’s why political leadership is about doing what is right for your people, for your country, for the world, even when it is unpopular or when you have to face great difficulties.  And today, we are facing great difficulties.  First of all, the two superpower that should be joining forces to lead us to win this battle are engaged in a too-long and too-harmful tariff war.  We are seeing acts of terrorists in the Middle East, and at the same time massive migration in many areas of the world, including South America, due to the incompetent and dictatorship of Maduro in Venezuela.  

But these difficulties and divisions cannot prevent us from acting together to face the formidable threats to mankind that we will have to face.  Leadership is about balancing the competing interests of different groups, but sometimes those different interests come together, and this is the case, and the urgency, and the need to fight climate change and global warming.  Many prestigious magazines have published pictures of Planet Earth with headlines saying, “let’s save Planet Earth.”  I believe they are totally wrong.

Planet Earth has existed for more than 4.3 billion years, and during that long time and period, it has faced and survived all kind of threats:  glaciation, heat, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, collision with (asteroids ?), deluge, floods, you name it.  What is really at risk is not our planet, but the survival of human beings on our Planet Earth.  We have to remember that 99 out of 100 species that ever existed do not longer exist, and of course, we don’t want to add the human race to that sad list.

Some people are skeptical about climate change and global warming, but we know too much to remain skeptical.  This scientific evidence – and tomorrow we will know the main resource of a report, “United for Science,” that will tell us things like the last five year(s) has been the hottest five years in the history of mankind; that today we have this largest concentration of greenhouse gases and the highest temperature in known history of mankind. 

Therefore we need to act now.  This is not a matter of opinion, politics, ideology, or faith; it’s a matter of science.  

What can we do?  We have two options:  one, wait and see, and face the consequences.  Second, act now and face this challenge, and change the history, and avoid a tragedy.  Of course, Chile and many countries have chosen the second option.  That’s why we accepted to host the next COP summit meeting that will take place in Santiago, Chile, in December of this year.  That’s why we have committed ourselves to become a carbon-neutral country; that means zero net emissions before 2050.

What we are doing to achieve that – (applause) – we have put a plan into action that is already moving, with four basic pillars:  first, total decarbonization of our energy matrix, and replace coal as a source of energy by the energy of the wind, the solar energy, the land energy, the energy of the oceans.  Second, we are transforming our public transportation system from a system based on fossil fuels to a system based on electro mobility. Third, we are establishing very high standards of energy efficiency in all sectors of our society.  And finally, we are engaged in a very ambitious reforestation program to take advantage of the capacity of Chile to host forests, rain forests, and many other kind of forests.  (Laughter.)

We are – Chile was a poor country in terms of the old fossil fuels, but we are extremely rich in terms of the renewal and clean energies of the future.  The energy of the sun in a country that has the deserts with the highest radiation of the world; the energy of the wind in a country that has more than 5,000 kilometers close to that Andes mountains; the energy of the sea with more than 6,000 kilometers of coastal line; and the energy of the land in a country that has more than 20 percent of the active volcanos of the world.

Chile was one of the first countries in the world to ban plastic bags because one plastic bag takes less than one second to reproduce, it’s used on average not more than 50 minutes, and it takes 400 years to biodegrade. So that means 400 years contaminating our land and our ocean.

But we have to be aware because we are still moving in a direction that very close and very soon there will be more plastic bags than fish in our oceans.  We are leaving behind the old disposable culture and replacing it by a new recycle culture with much less waste.  We are shifting from a linear economy to a circular economy who also – who reuses its waste, and therefore is much more ecologic.

To protect our nature, our biodiversity, and our planet is not only an environmental obligation; it’s a moral obligation.  We have that obligation with ourselves, our children, our grandchildren, and those that will come who have, of course, a right to inherit a better world than the one that we’ll receive from our parents.

We are the first generation to suffer the consequence of global warming and climate change, but we are the last generation that can do something to change the course of history and avoid the tragedy.  That’s why our call is for action.

The time has come for action.  And therefore, from the very south of the world and from the confines of the world, Chile makes a call to all nation(s) and all people of good faith to join forces to win this crucial war.  The time is now.  The time for action has come.  Let’s move.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)