Speech Christiana Figueres

Your Majesties
Your Royal Highness
Excellencies
Esteemed fellow Laureates
Members of the Roosevelt family
Ladies and Gentlemen

 

We take our inspiration today from a great leader who, in the face of an excruciating decision to lead his country into war, did not take the low road appealing to human fear, but rather took the high road, rousing his citizens toward the vision of a better humanity.

We gather today at another moment of human history that painfully screams of confrontation, of inequity, of intolerance and of prejudice.  Some would see this as a justification for their own abdication of responsibility. 

 

We here today see the opposite.  We see the urgency of constructive engagement with the challenges at hand.

 

Some would say we have abandoned the four freedoms so eloquently launched by Franklin Roosevelt in his 1941 clarion call.

 

We here today say: to the contrary! Those freedoms, enshrined by Eleanor Roosevelt into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, have been our guiding beacons.    Each subsequent generation has taken on the Roosevelt vision and has worked diligently and courageously toward its realization. Today we see the dividends of that commitment.

 

The world the Roosevelts saw was one overtaken by a global war, rampant diseases, few if any opportunities for women, and little access to education. Today we see less poverty, worldwide increase in life expectancy, a decided decline in life-threatening diseases in all nations, more educational opportunities for more young people, exponential growth in the access to information, and greater recognition of female equality and of L.G.B.T. rights.   Human life is becoming, not worse as some would have it, but rather healthier, safer, less violent, and more prosperous.

 

And yet the task is not done.  

 

The populism we see today is the consequence of economic inequalities that are more intensely experienced today than they were before.  The isolationism we see today is the fearful retreat from the increasing complexity and interrelatedness of global challenges, such as climate change, water, food security and involuntary migration.

 

In the face of these challenges some would take the low road, retrenching from their responsibility, and falling into exclusion and hostility.   We here today heed the rallying call for more understanding, more collaboration, more commonality.

 

And as we heed that call, we must do so with stubborn optimism.  Optimism because we must remain firm in our conviction that with determination and ingenuity, together we shall find a path forward no matter how complex the challenge. Stubborn optimism because it is an optimism that needs to make the deliberate choice of acknowledging and addressing the ever occurring difficulties, but not letting them paralyze the attainment of progress. It is pretty simple:  humanity just cannot afford to fail at any of our grand endeavours.  

 

My friends, the ultimate direction of history is irreversibly towards good. The arc of history does not break, it bends.   And with every seemingly insurmountable challenge that we face and conquer, it bends deeper toward more justice, more solidarity and more freedom.

 

I celebrate my fellow laureates today. They are proof that we continue to go forth with unabated resolve in our commitment to the four freedoms.

 

And I celebrate the millions of unsung heroes whose names we will never know, whose places we will never see, but who are the heart and soul of humanity.   The millions of women, men and children who with their daily lives strive to weave a human fabric “equal justice, equal opportunity, and equal dignity without discrimination”.

 

I thank the Roosevelt Stichting, and I welcome all of you to the growing family of stubborn optimists who continue to make this world a better place for everyone.