American Diplomacy and the Global Environmental Challenges of the 21st Century
Address by Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Stanford University April 9, 1996
Thank you very much for that kind introduction. I am especially honored to be introduced by Gerhard, whom I have known and admired in his various incarnations, especially his current one. Even putting aside my personal ties, I can think of no better venue for my remarks today on global environmental issues than this university. From the founding of the Sierra Club in 1892 to the first Earth Day in 1970, Stanford faculty and alumni have led efforts to preserve our country's natural resources for future generations. Your centers for Conservation Biology and Global Ecosystem Function have done pioneering work. Let me also say that I am personally grateful for the continuing work of Coach Montgomery and Coach Willingham to keep the California Bear population under control. With strong leadership from President Clinton and Vice President Gore, our Administration has recognized from the beginning that our ability to advance our global interests is inextricably linked to how we manage the Earth's natural resources. That is why we are determined to put environmental issues where they belong: in the mainstream of American foreign policy. I appreciate and value this opportunity to outline our far-reachirg agenda to integrate fully environmenatal objectives into our diplomacy, and to set forth our priorities for the future. The environment has a profound impact on our rational interests in two ways: First, environmental forces transcend borders and oceans to threaten directly the health, prosperity and jobs of American citizens. Second, addressing natural resource issues is frequently critical to achieving political and economic stability, and to pursuing our strategic goals around the world. The United States is providing the leadership to promote global peace and prosperity. We must also lead in safeguarding the global environmnent on which that prosperity and peace ultimately depend.
In 1946, when I came to Stanford as a law student, the connection between the environment and foreign policy was not so readily apparent. At home, Americans were entering a period of unprecedented prosperity fueled by seemingly infinite resources. Abroad, we were beginning to focus on the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. And I was trying to master the intricacies of contracts, torts, and something called remedies, taught by Stanford's version of John Houseman. I was also trying to measure up to the high standards set by a new young Dean, Carl Spaeth, who had just come to Stanford from a very promising career at the State Department, and who first stimulated my interest in the work in which I am now engaged full time.
But since 1946, population growth, economic progress, and technological breakthroughs have combined to fundamentally reshape our world. It took more than 10,000 generations to reach a world population of just over two billion. In just my lifetimea period that may seem like an eternity to many of the students in the audience -- the world's population has nearly tripled to more than five-and-a-half billion.
These changes are putting staggering pressures on global resources. From 1960 to 1990, the world's forests shrank by an amount equivalent to one-half the land area of the United States. Countless species of animals and plants are being wiped out, including many with potential value for agriculture and medicine. Pollution of our air and water endangers our health and our future.
In carrying out America's foreign policy, we will of course use our diplomacy backed by strong military forces to meet traditional and continuing threats to our security, as well as to meet new threats such as terrorism, weapons proliferation, drug trafficking and international crime. But we must also contend with the vast new danger posed to our national interests by damage to the environment and resulting global and regional instability.
As the flagship institution of American foreign policy, the State Department must spearhead a government-wide effort to neeet these environmental challenges. Together with other government agencies, we are pursuing our environmental prioritiesglobally, regionally, bilaterally, and in partnership with business and nongovernmental organizations. Each of these four dimensions is essential to the success of our overall strategy.
First, our appcoach to these problems must be global because pollution respects no boundaries, and the growing demand for finite resources in any part of the world inevitably puts pressure on the resources in all others.
Across the United States, Americans suffer the consequences of damage to the environment far beyond our borders. Greenhouse gases released around the globe by power plants, automobiles and burning forests affect our health and our climate, potentially causing many billions of dollars in damage from rising sea levels and changing storm patterns. Dangerous chemicals such as PCBs and DDT that are banned here but still used elsewhere travel long distances through the air and water. Overfishing of the world's oceans has put thousands of Americans out of work. A foreign policy that failed to address such problems would be ignoring the needs of the American people.
Each nation must take steps on its own to combat these environmental threats, but we will not succeed until we can effectively fight them together. That realization inspired the pathbreaking efforts of the United Nations at the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment 25 years ago, and at the historic Rio Summit on Environment and Development four years ago. There, the international community forged a new global commitment to "preserve, protect and restore... the Earth's ecosystem" and to promote economic development in ways that also preserve our natural resources.
Since Rio, the United States has intensified our global efforts. We led the way to an agreement to phase out the remaining substances that damage the ozone layer, to ban the ocean dumping of low-level radioactive waste, and to achieve a new consensus in Cairo on stabilizing global population growth.
We are working to reform and strengthen the UN's key environmental and sustainable development programs. We have joined forces with the World Bank to incorporate sound environmental policies in lending programs, and to fund projects through the Global Environment Facility that directly benefit our health and prosperity. And we are striving through the new World Trade Organization to reconcile the complex tensions between promoting trade and protecting the environmentand to ensure that neither comes at the expense of the other.
This year, we will begin negotiating agreements with the potential to make 1997 the most important year for the global environment since the Rio Summit. We will seek agreement on further cuts in greenhouse gases to minimize the effects of climate change. We will help lead an international process to address the problems caused by toxic chemicals that can seep into our land and water, poisoning them for generations. We will develop a strategy for the sustainable management of the world's forestsa resource that every great civilization has discovered is "indispensable for carrying on life," as the Roman historian Pliny once wrote. We will work with Congress to ratify the Biodiversity Convention, which holds benefits for American agriculture and business. We will also seek ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty which safeguards our access to ocean resources. We will provide the leadership needed to insure that this June's UN Summit in Istanbul effectively confronts the pressing problems associated with the explosive growth of cities in the developing world.
Finally, by the end of 1997, the State Department will host a conference on strategies to improve our compliance with international environmental agreementsto ensure that those agreements yield lasting results, not just promises.
This is a daunting global agenda. Achieving these goals will take time and perseverance. But I often remember Don Kennedy's advice to graduates to set a "standard higher than you can comfortably reach."
The second element of our strategythe regional elementis to confront pollution and the scarcity of resources in key areas where they dramatiaally increase tensions within and among nations. Nowhere is this more evident than in the parched valleys of the Middle East, where the struggle for water has a direct impact on security and stability. In my many trips to the region, I have seen how rapid population growth and pollution can raise the stakes in water disputes as ancient as the Old Testament. As Shimon Peres once remarked to me, "The Jordan River has more history in it than water." We are helping the parties in the Middle East peace process to manage the region's water resourcesto turn a source of conflict into a force for peace.
There can be no doubt that building stable market democracies in the former Soviet Union and Central Europe will reinforce our own security. However, for these new nations to succeed, we must help them overcome the poisonous factories, soot-filled skies and ruined rivers that are one of the bitter legacies of commnunism. The experience of this region demonstrates that governments that abuse their citizens too often have a similar contempt for the environment.
Three weeks ago in Kiev, I walked through the wards of a children's hospital that treats the victims of Chernobyl. I saw first-hand the terrible damage that this 1O-year-old catastrophe still inflicts on the region's people. We are helping Ukraine to ensure that there will be no more Chernobyls. In Central Asia, we are helping nations recover from Soviet irrrigation practices that turned much of the Aral Sea into an ocean of sand. Our Regional Environment Center in Budapest supports the civic groups in Central Europe that are essential to a healthy democracy and to a healthy environment.
The United States also has an enormous stake in consolidating democratic institutions and open markets in our own hemisphere. To deepen the remarkable transformation that is taking place across Latin America and the Caribbean, we are advancing the agenda for sustainable development that our 34 democracies adopted at the Miami Summit of the Americas. To help democracy succeed, for example. we must cue the pressures of deforestation and rapid population growth that 1 have seen at work in the bare hills and crowded city streets of Haiti. To sustain our prosperity, we must work to preserve the rich diversity of life that I saw in the Amazon rainforest. To help heal the wounds of old conflicts, we must reverse the environmental damage that has narrowed economic opportunities and fueled illegal immigration from El Salvador. And to help combat drug trafficking and crime, we are encouraging sustainable agriculture as an alternative to the slash-and-burn cultivation of opium poppies and coca from Guatemala to Colombia. These goals will be high on our agenda at the Sustainable Development Summit this December in Bolivia.
In Africa, we are pursuing environmental efforts designed to save tens of thousands of lives, prevent armed conflict, and avert the need for costly international intervention. Our Greater Horn of Africa initiative, for example, addresses the root causes of environmental problems that can turn droughts into famines, and famines into civil wars. We must not forget the hard lessons of Rwanda, where depleted resources and swollen populations exacerbated the political and economic pressures that exploded into one of this decade's greatest tragedies. We also have a national interest in helping the nations of the region address the AIDS crisis, which is decimating a whole generation of young Africans and wasting the economic resources that African nations so desperately need to build stable governments and a brighter economic future.
To intensify our regional environmental efforts, we will establish Environmental Hubs in our embassies in key countries. These will address pressing regional natural resource issues, advance sustainable development goals, and help U.S. businesses to sell their leading-edge environmental technology.
The third element of our strategy is to work bilaterally with key partners around the worldbeginning, of course. with our next-door neighbors. Whether it is fishing on the Georges Bank or in the Gulf of Mexico, or clean drinking water from the Great Lakes or the Rio Grande, we cannot separate our environmental interests from those of Canada or Mexico.
We are extending our century-old cooperation with Canada on behalf of clean water and flood control in the Great Lakes region. We are improving conservation in our adjoining national park lands. Through the U.S.-Canada Joint Commission. we are protecting human health and natural habitats. And with all our Arctic neighbors, we are establishing a partnership to protect that fragile region.
Our joint efforts with Mexico have grown in importance since NAFTA took effect just over two years ago. Under the NAFTA side agreernents on the environment, we have set up new institutions to help communities on both sides of the border safeguard the natural resources they share. Later this spring, we will launch an innovative program that will enable business and government leaders from Texas, New Mexico, and Ciudad Juarez to reduce some of the region's worst air pollution. When our two nations' cabinets meet in Mexico City next month, I will emphasize the importance of Mexico continuing to strengthen its environmental standards.
Through our Common Agenda with Japan, the world's two largest economies are pooling their resources and expertise to stabilize population growth, to eradicate polio, to fight AIDS, and to develop new "green" technology.
Our New Transatlantic Agenda with the European Union will spur global efforts on such issues as climate change and toxic chemicals. Together, we are already advancing our environmental goals in Central Europe and the New Independent States.
Russia and China are both confronting major environmental problems that will have a profound effect on their futureand on ours.
In Russia, the fate of democracy may depend on its ability to offer the Russian people better living standards and to reverse a shocking decline in life expectancy. From Murmansk to Vladivostok, poorly stored nuclear waste poses a threat to human life for centuries to come. Economic reforms will not meet their potential if one-sixth of the Russian land mass remains so polluted that it is unfit even for industrial use, and if Russian children are handicapped by the poisons they breathe and drink.
We are cooperating with Russia to meet these challenges. Ten days from now, President Clinton will join President Yeltsin and other leaders at a Nuclear Safety Summit in Moscow which will promote the safe operation of nuclear reactors and the appropriate storage of nuclear materials. Vice President Gore and Prirne Minister Chernomyrdin are spearheading joint initiatives to preserve the Arctic environment, reduce greenhouse gases, and promote the management of key natural resources. We are even taking the satellite imagery once used to spot missiles and tanks and using it to help clean up military bases and track ocean pollution.
As we discussed this morring at your Institute for International Studies, the environmental challenges that China faces are truly sobering. With 22 percent of the world's population, China has only seven percent of its fresh water and cropland, three percent of its forests, and two percent of its oil. The combination of China's rapid economic growth and surging population is compounding the enormous environmental pressures it already faces. That is one of the many reasons why our policy of engagement with China encompasses the environment. Later this month. Vice President Gore will launch an initiative that will expand U.S.-China cooperation on sustainable development, including elements such as energy policy and agriculture.
In our other bilateral relationships, we have created partnerships that strengthen our ties while moving beyond the outdated thinking that once predicted an inevitable struggle between North and South. Under the Common Agenda for the Environment we signed last year with India, for example, we are cooperating on a broad range of shared interests from investing in environmental technologies to controlling pesticides and toxic chemicals. During my trip to Brazil last month, we strengthened a similar Common Agenda with agreements on cooperation in space that will widen our knowledge about climate change and improve management of forest resources.
The fourth and final element of our strategy reinforces these diplomatic approaches by building partnershIps wIth private businesses and nongovernmental organizations.
American businesses know that a healthy global environment is essential to our prosperity. Increasingly, they recognize that ptting economic growth against environmental protection is what President Clinton has called "a false choice." Both are necessary, and both are closely linked.
Protecting the environment also opens new business opportunities. We are committed to helping U.S. companies expand their already commanding share of a $400 billion market for environmental technologies. This effort was one of many championed by my late colleague and friend, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. His last mission to Africa helped an American firm win a contract that will protect fisheries and fresh water supplies for 30 million people in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. On my recent visit to El Salvador, I met with U.S. firms, nongovernmental organizations and their Central American partners who are pioneering the use of solar and wind power stations.
Nongovernmental organizations working with USAID have played a crucial role in advancing our environmental objectives overseas. For many years, for example, the Sierra Club has ken deeply engaged in international population efforts and it made an important contribution to the Cairo Conference. As part of these joint efforts, the World Wildlife Fund is helping to conserve biodiversity in more than 40 countries, the World Resources Institute is confronting deforestation in Africa, and the Nature Conservancy is protecting wildlife preserves across Latin America. Through the State Department's new "Partnership for Environment and Foreign Policy," we will bring together environmental organizations, business leaders and foreign policy specialists to enhance our cooperation in meeting environmental challenges.
It is the responsibility of the State Department to lead in ensuring the success of each one of the four elements of the strategy that I have discussed todayglobal, regional, bilateral and partnerships with business and NGOs. Working closely with the President and the Vice President, I have instructed our bureaus and our embassies to improve the way we use our diplomacy to advance our envirornnental objectives.
We will raise these issues on every occasion where our influence may be useful. We will bolster our ability to blend diplomacy and science, and to negotiate global agreements that protect our health and well-being. We will reinforce the role of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs which was created at the beginning of our Administration to address transnational issues. We will strengthen our efforts with USAID to promote sustainable development through effective environment and family planning assistance. And we will reinforce the environmental partnerships that we have formed with the EPA, and the departments of Defense, Energy, Commerce, Interior and Agriculture.
In addition, I am announcing today that starting on Earth Day 1997, the Department will issue an annual report on Global Environrnental Challenges. This report will be an essential tool of our environmental diplomacy, bringing together an assessment of global environmental trends. International policy developments, and U.S. priorities for the coming year.
I will continue to work with the Congress to ensure the success of our environmental efforts. The current Congress has slashed critical funding for needed environmental programs at home and abroad. We wilI press Congress to provide the necessary resources to get the job done.
Our strength as a nation has always been to harness our democracy to meet new threats to our security and prosperity. Our creed as a people has always been to make tomorrow better for ourselves and for our children. Drawing on the same ideals and interests that have led Americans from Teddy Roosevelt to Ed Muskie to put a priority on preserving our land, our skies and our water at home, we must meet the challenge of making global environmental issues a vital part of our foreign policy. For the sake of future generations, we must succeed.
Thank you very much.