Sabailai namaste. Aunubhaekoma dhanyabad. Which I am told means “welcome and thank you for coming”. I would also like to welcome listeners to Capital FM 92.4 in Kathmandu and Radio Sarangi 101.3 in Biratnagar and Pokhara.
As British Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for South Asia, I am delighted to be here, on my first ever visit to Nepal.
It is a real honour to be asked to speak at the iconic Tri Chandra College. Countless important and influential figures from Nepalese culture, science and politics have preceded you through this hallowed institution.
Indeed, the college is renowned for being at the heart of Nepal’s vibrant student political scene, so it is no surprise that it counts a former Prime Minister and several serving Constituent Assembly members among its eminent alumni – some of whom are here today.
Each of them began as you are – students. And so I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you- the next generation of Nepal’s business and political leaders. Your futures, and the fate of your nation, are in your hands.
Everyone I have spoken to has told me that Nepal is a land of exceptional beauty – which I saw for myself earlier at Pokhara with its views of the Annapurna range. That it is a land rich in history and culture. But also one blessed with great potential.
I urge you to seize that potential – as well as fulfilling your own – and the unique opportunities open to you as Nepal moves out of the shadow of conflict towards a lasting constitutional settlement, and lays the foundations for peace, prosperity and political stability.
And, as you do so, you will continue to find in Britain the staunchest of allies.
Bicentenary of UK-Nepal relations: the history
It is no coincidence that my visit comes on the cusp of two very significant bicentennial anniversaries in UK-Nepalese relations. Both of these matter immensely to the UK and its people. Taken together, they form the heart of our bilateral ties.
The first anniversary will be next year’s bicentenary of recruitment to the Brigade of Gurkhas. There is no finer or more feared unit of soldiers anywhere in the world – or better ambassadors for the values held by the Nepalese people. And this year we commemorate the start of the First World War, a conflict during which two Gurkhas were awarded the Victoria Cross - Britain’s highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy.
Indeed, their service continues to be admired, valued and respected in equal measure, across the UK, to this day. Their sacrifices are remembered as one of our own – as befits one of the most heavily decorated regiments in the British army. I was therefore pleased to be able to see firsthand the outstanding work of the Gurkha Welfare Scheme – which ensures dignity in old age and a better quality of life for the Gurkhas’, their dependants and their communities.
I say this not just as a former soldier – but also the son-in-law of a Gurkha officer. That certainly gave me an early appreciation for the might of the Gurkhas. It is nerve-wracking enough meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time, without knowing that her father has 30 Gurkhas under his command!
March 2016 will mark the second important anniversary in our bilateral relations: the bicentenary of the Treaty of Sugauli which saw the first permanent diplomatic mission established in Kathmandu, by Britain of course. And right up to 1951, we were the only foreign country represented here. If that does not count as a special relationship, then I am not sure what does.
The world has changed beyond all recognition since these events 200 years ago. So why should you, the future of Nepal care? Why should they still matter today? And why do we still value them as highly as we do?
Because the difference between what we can do alone and what we are capable of when we work together is immense. Our solutions to the challenges we face, not the problems themselves, should shape our futures and make a difference to the world- whether in security, peace and prosperity, tackling climate change or ensuring that people everywhere have a voice and a vote.
Building a safer future
With peace at home, Nepal is working with the UK to build a safer future for the world. Nepal has the distinction of having moved from being an “importer” of security during the conflict to an “exporter” of security today.
Across Nepal young people know all too well the cost of war, and are working for peace and stability in some of the world’s toughest environments.
Nepal’s contributions to UN Peacekeeping Missions worldwide do your country enormous credit – and Britain knows from experience that Nepalese Army personnel currently wearing blue helmets are regarded as some of the most reliable and effective operators in the field.
Without you, the world – and by extension the British people – would be less safe, and less prosperous.
Building growth and prosperity
Once peace is assured, people’s thoughts naturally turn to the universal goal of securing a better life for themselves and their children.
The question on everybody’s mind becomes “how can we get our economy growing, create jobs and opportunity for all?”
It’s a question that has been central to meetings throughout my visit. Nepal has a proud recent record in reducing poverty- supported by the international community- led by the UK: Nepal’s largest bilateral aid donor.
But students, like you, the world over, ask the same questions: how will I get a job and make use of the qualifications for which I have worked so hard?
Ultimately no one else can make growth happen for you. The answer has to come from Nepal – and from each of you. Innovate, be creative, take risks, find the gap in the market and when you have a good idea, don’t stop until it becomes a reality.
And it is also your role to hold Government to account and ensure it delivers on its promises to create a thriving and open business environment.
And I am pleased to be here at the head of a delegation of British companies looking to do business with Nepal and deepen our bilateral trade and investment links.
Green economy and Climate Change opportunities
One area that is especially interesting for me - and the biggest potential I see personally for Nepal’s future prosperity - is the scope for Nepal to pioneer a truly green economy.
The UK has shown its commitment to greening its own economy, pushing for a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 and establishing an International Climate Fund of 3.9 billion pounds to help climate vulnerable developing countries like Nepal. We congratulate the Government of Nepal for the leadership it has shown on climate change - keeping climate change on the national agenda, and leading the LDC nations in climate talks.
Everyone I have spoken to talks of the energy crisis here and climate change is already having a real impact. Clearly this needs to be fixed, otherwise economic growth and investment will be held back, and health and livelihoods will be damaged.
But Nepal, a negligible carbon emitter, is in the enviable position of having the potential to supply all its energy needs in sustainable, low carbon ways. We are helping Nepal move in this direction, supporting work in climate adaptation, disaster risk reduction, forestry and hydropower.
By 2015, the UK will have spent 45 million pounds from the International Climate Fund on community forestry activities, and to support remote communities to adapt to climate change through micro-hydro schemes, solar home systems and biomass gas converters.
Hydropower is central to Nepal’s economic growth, and we are working to help Nepal deliver on this potential – tapping the energy of the fast flowing Himalayan rivers will be a major part of the solution, both here and in your wider region.
But I am also struck by the potential for other sources of renewable energy, from solar, water and forest resources. Taken together, Nepal really is a land of incredible potential, and I have met people in my last day here who are already making concrete progress towards turning that potential into reality.
Through innovation and hard work entrepreneurs are already building the future right here in Kathmandu – households and businesses are already installing low carbon and resource efficient technologies to cut their bills and improve their lives.
Imagine a future – a not too distant future – in which the flat roofs of the Kathmandu valley generate energy from solar panels, or are used to produce food. A future in which new jobs and opportunities are created in sectors that at the moment are either just emerging or simply do not exist – everything from the design and installation of smart energy grids, to measuring and managing water consumption; designing efficient public transport; to improving logistics that reduce waste and improve productivity.
These may seem distant dreams to someone in living in rural Nepal. But, as the science students here will know, Nepal is in a position to leapfrog old technologies and to build a low carbon and resource efficient economy that will deliver sustained and sustainable growth for both yourselves and future generations. All it needs is vision, energy and a willingness to work together, and in the UK you have a partner with world-class centres of excellence in science and engineering that can help Nepal make effective use of its resources whilst preserving its breathtaking environment.
So it is in these fields – the green economy and managing climate change - that I see scope for increased commercial, personal and academic links between the UK and Nepal.
It is at institutions like this one – with talented and enterprising students - where I see those new green energy jobs being created. This is the place where academic research will be translated into practical action and lay the foundations of both the UK and Nepal’s future prosperity.
Which is why I am pleased to announce today a tripling of Chevening Scholarships, to encourage more students from Nepal to study at the UK’s world-leading universities and join the long tradition of educational and academic exchange between our two countries.
The peace process and democracy underpin growth
There is a Nepalese proverb that I am sure you know well: “Opportunities come but do not linger.”
Today, in all these areas, there are opportunities for Nepal to seize. But to make the most of them, the time has come for its leaders to complete the peace process, agree a new Constitution and hold local elections. Only these can bring the political stability and greater democratic accountability needed to help Nepal unlock its economic potential.
From my discussions with them, the leaders of this incredible country understand that. I assured them, and I assure all of you here now, that the UK will remain committed to helping Nepal realise that vision, in any way we can.
Our countries have been united in a unique friendship for almost two hundred years.
And if cooperation between the UK and Nepal can conquer the world’s highest mountain, as happened 61 years ago, there is surely no limit to the heights we can reach. Those famous, oft-quoted words of Sir Ralph Turner from almost 90 years ago, remain as true today as the day they were written: “the bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you.”
By working together to solve the challenges of the present we will lay the foundations of a further 200 years of UK-Nepal friendship. We want to hear and see more of you –your diplomats, soldiers and students. Your voice is respected, and your views welcome.
The world faces many new challenges, but brings huge opportunities too. We must seize them together. Because they may not linger.