If the ocean is the lifeblood of the Commonwealth, then forests are the lungs that breathe life into its whole system. From the vast boreal woodlands of Canada to the rich primary forests of Papua New Guinea, the Commonwealth covers nearly a quarter of all forest land in the world - an estimated 900 million hectares. These biodiversity havens not only house about half of all animal species on earth, they also give us clean air, water and food, supporting the livelihoods of millions of people while tackling climate change.
Over the past 18 months, the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic have transformed our lives and prompted a period of deep reflection as a global community. In some sense, we are only now starting to understand our vulnerabilities, and in particular, how deeply exposed and interconnected we are as people, communities and as countries.
Among the greatest gifts with which I have been blessed were parents who instilled in me a deep-rooted sense of identity, and the unequivocal belief that there was no difference between what a boy and a girl could achieve.
This assurance sustained me while growing up, as the tenth child out of twelve wonderful siblings, and through the numerous times when it was suggested by others that I would never succeed, simply because I was black, poor and female.
With 95 per cent of the ocean still unexplored by humans, we are only just beginning to understand its profound influence on life on earth, including its effect on global climate and ecosystems.
The United Nations Ocean Conference offers an historic opportunity to safeguard the ocean environment and support small island and vulnerable developing coastal states, who depend on the seas for national economic growth and sustainable development.