Diplomacy and the Global Environmental Challenges of the 21st Century
Text As Prepared for Delivery on April 9, 1996 Address
and Q&A Session 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 Gephard,
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-reaching agenda to integrate fully environmental
objectives into our diplomacy, and to set forth our priorities for the
The environment has a profound impact on our national 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 environment
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
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 lifetime -- a 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
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 meet these environmental challenges.
Together with other government agencies, we are pursuing our environmental
priorities -- globally, 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 approach 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
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
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 environment -- and to ensure that neither comes at the expense of
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 forests -- a
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
ensure 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
agreements -- to ensure that those agreements yield lasting results, not
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 strategy -- the regional element -- is to confront
pollution and the scarcity of resources in key areas where they dramatically
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 resources -- to 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 communism. 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 10-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 irrigation
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 ease the pressures of deforestation and rapid population
growth that I 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 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 world - - beginning, 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
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 agreements 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"
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 future -- and 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 Prime 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 morning 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
American businesses know that a healthy global environment is essential
to our prosperity. Increasingly, they recognize that pitting economic
growth against environmental protection is what President Clinton has
called "a false choice." Both are necessary, and both are closely
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 been 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
today - global, 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 environmental objectives.
We will raise these issues on every occasion where our influence may
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,
Interior and Agriculture.
In addition, I am announcing today that starting on Earth Day 1997, the
Department will issue an annual report on Global Environmental 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 will
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 waters 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.