Office of the Press Secretary
(New York, New York)

For Immediate Release June 26, 1997


The United Nations
New York, New York

6:30 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen: Five years ago in Rio, the nations of the world joined together around a simple but revolutionary proposition, that today's progress must not come at tomorrow's expense.

In our era, the environment has moved to the top of the international agenda because how well a nation honors it will have an impact, for good or ill, not only on the people of that nation, but all across the globe. Preserving the resources we share is crucial not only for the quality of our individual environments and health, but also to maintain stability and peace within nations and among them. As the father of conservation in our nation, John Muir, said, "When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."

In the years since Rio, there has been real progress in some areas. Nations have banned the dumping of radioactive wastes in the ocean and reduced marine pollution from sources on land. We're working to protect the precious coral reefs, to conserve threatened fish, to stop the advance of deserts. At the Cairo Conference on Population and Development, we reaffirmed the crucial importance of cooperative family planning efforts to long-term sustainable development.

Here in America, we have worked to clean up a record number of our toxic dumps and we intend to clean 500 more over the next four years. We passed new laws to better protect our water, created new national parks and monuments, and worked to harmonize our efforts for environmental protection, economic growth and social improvement, aided by a distinguished Council on Sustainable Development.

Yesterday, I announced the most far-reaching efforts to improve air quality in our nation in 20 years, cutting smog

levels dramatically, and, for the first time ever, setting standards to lower the levels of the fine particles in the atmosphere that form soot. In America, the incidence of childhood asthma has been increasing rapidly. It is now the single biggest reason our children are hospitalized. These measures will help to change that, to improve health of people of all ages, and to prevent as many as 15,000 premature deaths a year.

Still, we here have much more to do, especially in reducing America's contribution to global climate change.

The science is clear and compelling: We humans are changing the global climate. Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are at their highest levels in more than 200,000 years, and climbing sharply. If the trend is not changed, scientists expect the seas to rise two feet or more over the next century. In America, that means 9,000 square miles of Florida, Louisiana, and other coastal areas will be flooded. In Asia, 17 percent of Bangladesh, land on which 6 million people now live, will be lost. Island chains such as the Maldives will disappear from the map, unless we reverse the predictions.

Climate changes will disrupt agriculture, cause severe droughts and floods and the spread of infectious diseases, which will be a big enough problem for us under the best of circumstances in the 21st century. There could be 50 million or more cases of malaria a year. We can expect more deaths from heat stress. Just two years ago, here in the United States in the city of Chicago, we saw the tragedy of more than 400 of our citizens dying during a severe heat wave.

No nation can escape this danger. None can evade its responsibility to confront it. And we must all do our part -- industrial nations that emit the largest quantities of greenhouse gases today, and developing nations whose green house gas emissions are growing rapidly. I applaud the European Union for its strong focus on this issue, and the World Bank for setting environmental standards for projects it will finance in the developing world.

Here in the United States, we must do better. With 4 percent of the world's population, we already produce more than 20 percent of its greenhouse gases. Frankly, our record since Rio is not sufficient. We have been blessed with high rates of growth and millions of new jobs over the last few years, but that has led to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions in spite of the adoption of new conservation practices. So we must do better, and we will.

The air quality action I took yesterday is a positive first step, but more must follow. In order to reduce greenhouse gases and grow the economy, we must invest more in the technologies of the future. I am directing my Cabinet to work to development them. Government, universities, business and labor must work together. All these efforts must be sustained over years, indeed, over decades. As Vice President Gore said Monday, "Sustainable development requires sustained commitment." With that commitment, we can succeed.

We must create new technologies and development new strategies like emissions trading that will both curtail pollution and support continued economic growth. We owe that in the developed world to ourselves and, equally, to those in the developing nations.

Many of the technologies that will help us to meet the new air quality standards can also help us to address climate change. This is a challenge we must undertake immediately and one in which I personally plan to play a critical role.

In the United States, in order to do our part, we have to first convince the American people and the Congress that the climate change problem is real and imminent. I will convene a White House Conference on Climate Change later this year to lay the scientific facts before our people, to understand that we must act, and to lay the economic facts there so that they understand the benefits and the costs. With the best ideas and strategies and new technologies and increased productivity and energy efficiency, we can turn the challenge to our advantage.

We will work with our people and we will bring to the Kyoto conference a strong American commitment to realistic and binding limits that will significantly reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases.

I want to mention three other initiatives briefly that we are taking to deal with climate change and to advance sustainable development here and beyond our borders.

First, to help developing nations reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the United States will provide $1 billion in assistance over the next five years to support energy efficiency, develop alternative energy sources and improve resource management to promote growth that does not have an adverse effect on the climate.

Second, we will do more to encourage private investment to meet environmental standards. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation will now require that its projects adhere to new and strengthened environmental guidelines, just as our Export-Import Bank already does and as I hope our allies and friends soon will. Common guidelines for responsible investment clearly would lead to more sustainable growth in developing nations.

Third, we must increase our use of new technologies even as we move to develop more new technologies. Already, we are working with our auto industry to produce cars by early in the next century that are three times as fuel-efficient as

today's vehicles. Now we will work with businesses and communities to use the sun's energy to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels by installing solar panels on 1 million more roofs around our nation by 2010. Capturing the sun's warmth can help us to turn down the Earth's temperature.

Distinguished leaders, in all of our cultures we have been taught from time immemorial that, as Scripture says, "One generation passes away and another comes, but the Earth abides forever." We must strengthen our stewardship of the environment to make that true and to ensure that when this generation passes, the young man who just spoke before me and all of those of his generation will inherit a rich and abundant Earth.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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