Ladies and Gentleman,
I am very excited to be here today and in the presence of such incredible people who are working day in, day out to ensure that we preserve this amazing planet that we all live on. Over the past couple of weeks, I have travelled around this amazing county and I have seen with my own eyes the beauty and wonder of the Australian landscape.
I am sure that many people have come here from far flung lands but I wanted to tell you a little bit about the far away land that I come from, Azerbaijan and about the work we are doing there with young people to help protect our incredible biodiversity.
In fact when I was researching my visit here I discovered that Australia and Azerbaijan have an interesting, albeit very sad, link. Both of us have lost incredible creatures. It was over 80 years ago that you sadly lost the Tasmanian Tiger to extinction and in Azerbaijan over 40 years ago the Caspian Tiger also became extinct. It is the loss of these species that should concentrate our minds and our efforts to ensure that we work to protect as much of the wildlife that we can today so that other animals do not follow this same sad path.
I believe that it is the responsibility of our generation to ensure that our children still get the opportunity to see the amazing array of wildlife, plant life and landscapes that we enjoy today.
That is why in Azerbaijan we have been working so hard over the past few years to protect the Caucasian leopard to ensure that unlike the Caspian Tiger and the Tasmanian Tiger future generations get the chance to experience the joy of these majestic creatures just as we have today.
Azerbaijan is a land of ancient tradition and rich history, a place that sits at the crossroads between East and West, where Eastern wisdom meets Western progress.
In days gone by Azerbaijan was a major center on the historic silk route. This has had an incredible impact on our culture making Azerbaijan a country that at its heart believes in tolerance, new ideas and dialogue.
This unique geographical position at the intersection of where Europe, Asia and the near East meet has not only had an impact on our culture but also on the landscape that it forms.
My native country is a place of wonderful snowcapped mountains, sharp cliffs, deep forests, meadows and lowlands.
In fact, Azerbaijan has within it nine of the world’s 11 climate zones giving it magnificent natural environments and rich biodiversity.
This is the main reason why 3 years ago we founded the IDEA Public Union, the International Dialogue for Environmental Action. Our aim in creating it was to engage the young people of Azerbaijan in protecting our environment both at home and around the world.
We are at the start of our journey, but in the short time we have been working, we have created a number of projects that ensure that the conservation of our environment is at the heart of young people’s lives.
We have planted 3 million trees, which symbolize the 3 million young people living in Azerbaijan today.
We created 200 artificial nests for flocks of swifts, so that they were not affected by the restoration work of the historic Maiden Tower.
IDEA has been working in more than 20 cities all over Azerbaijan – teaching over 8000 schoolchildren about the environment and the right way to behave to avoid damaging it.
Work is also underway to ensure that the topic of the preservation of the environment will be included in the national school curriculum, and ecology will be taught as a faculty subject in all Middle Schools.
At IDEA we are also delighted to be working in partnership with a number of organizations, many of which I know are represented here today. We worked with the UN Environment Program on a ‘Green Week’ in Baku.
We have also done a lot of work over the past 2 years to protect our endangered species. You will all be familiar with the ‘Big 5’ in Africa, some of which I was lucky enough to see when I travelled to Kenya earlier this year.
In Azerbaijan, we have identified our very own ‘Big 5’ who are most in need of our help “the Great Caucasian Five”: the bear, the eagle, the wolf, the gazelle and the Caucasian leopard. The ongoing protection of these amazing creatures is one of the primary goals of IDEA, which is why I am really proud that Azerbaijan became a member of IUCN at the Caucasian Cat Summit that we hosted in Baku earlier this year.
As a result of that summit I am really excited that, working with WWF and ZSL, we have developed an action plan for reintroducing the Caucasian leopard back into Azerbaijan so that we can ensure that the leopard doesn’t disappear like so many of this planet’s other species have.
In the past year, we have been lucky enough to have sightings of the Caucasian leopard in two of our national parks and it is such a beautiful, majestic animal. I can vividly remember the first time I saw the photographs taken in Nakhchivan and Hirkan, which justified our hopes that we might yet see the return of leopards into Europe. It is one of the unique species of the region, which is why, I believe, it is our primary task to ensure its protection so that people can travel to Azerbaijan to marvel at it for many centuries to come.
Obviously, I can talk about it but there is nothing better than seeing it for yourself so I wanted to take this moment to share with you a short film about this exciting creature and our search for it.
I think you will agree it is truly amazing and it is why I am so thrilled about our other collaboration with the IUCN this year. As I am sure you all know 2014 is an especially significant year for them as they celebrate the 50th anniversary of their Red List of endangered species so in London later this month we will be opening ‘Here Today….’, a unique and important art exhibition.
Curated by Artwise, the exhibition will feature the works of over 40 world famous artists including George Condo, Andy Warhol, Gavin Turk, Douglas Gordon, Diana Thater and many more. The space will be transformed and will take you on a journey of artworks on endangered species and environmental concern.
The expression ‘Here today, gone tomorrow’ is commonly used when talking about things that are transient – as so much in our society is today. ‘HERE TODAY…’ is a unique exhibition about our planet: the voices, visions, sounds and even smells from contemporary artists, brought together to address the global issues that are important to every single one of us in this room. I very much hope that if you are in London in December you will come and visit it.
As I travel around my country and the wider the world, I have seen with my own eyes how much young people want to protect the natural wonder of our planet. I realize that our obligation to future generations lies in the preservation of this environment so that all the phenomenal creatures that we are lucky enough to see today have the chance to survive and flourish. Let’s makes sure that future generations don’t lament the loss of species like the Tasmanian and the Caspian Tiger like we have done and can celebrate the survival of species like the Caucasian leopard.