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It’s my honor to be with all of you at this prestigious university. Let me begin by commending Sun Yat-sen University and Lingnan College for establishing the Environment, Health and Safety Academy. This partnership between US and Chinese businesses, non-governmental organizations, experts, and academic institutions has already trained more than 1,500 managers to improve environmental, health and safety performance in Chinese factories. It is making a real difference in the lives of workers and communities. It is strengthening the environment and the economy at the same time. And it is just one example of the collaborative progress that is happening here today.
It is my great honor to speak with you today. In the United States, one of the best things about my job is the many opportunities it gives me to speak to young people. Last week in Washington, D.C., I went to the White House to speak with a collection of youth leaders from across America – young people who are closely involved in the issues we work on at EPA. Today – having traveled around the world to stand before you at this historic institution – it is humbling to know that, in a little over a week, I have spoken to two groups of young people who – though separated by many thousands of miles – will together shape the future of our planet.
This institution of cutting-edge academic programs is a beacon of progress and opportunity, and – of course – home to leading environmental science and environmental engineering programs. As a chemical engineer myself, I have seen how education and technical advances drive global policies and form our social and economic fabric. I know that study and exploration are the foundations of progress and prosperity. I believe that is similar to the vision Dr. Sun Yat-sen had. I’m sure he would be proud to see all of you here, and to know that opportunity and prosperity have spread across China. Generation after generation of hard work has made this country into one of today’s great and important economies. China is a bastion of economic achievement and technological innovation. And much of the reason for that began right here at this university. As the old saying goes: "A nation's treasure is in its scholars." Since its inception, this university and its students have played a role in finding creative, innovative, and prosperity-enhancing ways to address multiple challenges. Even with all the changes China has undergone since Dr. Sun’s time, his advice to you – the motto of this university – remains important:
I have come to China to mark 30 years of environmental partnership between our two nations. The environmental issues of this generation – from local concerns about pollution in water and air, to global concerns about climate change – have made our ability to work together more crucial than ever. That is why my first official action on this trip was to join Minister Zhou to renew the official cooperation between the US and China. The partnership between our two countries’ environmental agencies began when I was about your age – and before most of you had even been born. Over the years, we have achieved many things together, including important advances like addressing the hole in the ozone layer and removing harmful lead from gasoline. We are building on that history of progress. And we are counting on your generation to be part of the work to come.
For that reason, I would like to speak with you today about our shared challenges. Earlier this year, my agency took stock of the most pressing environmental issues in America and around the world. From that work, we outlined a list of international priorities. This trip is my first overseas visit since announcing that list – and we have made them our focus as we have traveled this country.
One of the top priorities on our list is combating climate change by limiting pollutants. Yesterday, I helped opening a Regional Air Quality Meeting in Beijing, under which EPA will work with MEP to address climate forcing pollutants like methane and NOx. Climate change is a concern for both the US and China, and we must consider both environment and economic factors. President Obama and I have continued to emphasize that a strong economy and a clean environment must go hand-in-hand. And the actions we take have important impacts on your future. Since 2009, the US has been taking our nation’s first official steps to address climate change. These are measured steps to not only meet the goals we have set with the international community, but to create enduring progress. We are building information systems needed to create verifiable reductions and working with our industries to see where we can act effectively and where we can improve over time. We have fortified the science on climate change and established our legal authority to treat greenhouse gases as a pollutant. The first action under that determination was a clean cars program that will reduce emissions from American cars and trucks. We have also laid the foundation for advances in clean technology –through policies under the Clean Air Act that outline where we will focus on greenhouse gas cuts. And we are working to boost investments in innovation, research and exploration of clean energy, sustainability and energy efficiency. On the global stage, we have broad opportunities to reduce harmful pollutants like methane gases and NOx, and get climate benefits from those reductions.
Another priority is improving urban air quality. As our cities grow and expand, as more people drive cars and we must provide power for more homes and buildings, it is essential that we take steps to keep pollution from poisoning the air we breathe. Tomorrow at the Shanghai World Expo I will join in celebrating the beginnings of a program called AIRNow-International. This is a program that provides Shanghai citizens their first real-time access to local air quality information on-line – information that is critical to protecting their health and their environment. Over the last 40 years EPA has had incredible success in our own country at cutting the pollutants that cause smog, acid rain and other harmful environmental impacts. We want to share what we have learned and be partners in building healthy, sustainable urban environments.
Another of our priorities is expanding access to clean water. I just finished a boat tour of your Pearl River, in which I discussed the challenges and progress in addressing water pollution with the Director General of the Guangdong Environmental Protection Board. Clean water is an essential part of every community. China’s rivers stretch across the country, providing vital resources to hundreds of millions. The health of those waters is integral to the health of your people, to the health of your environment, and to the health of your economy. And throughout the world one of the leading health threats is from contaminated water. As prosperity and development expand across China and around the globe, the demands on our globe’s water supplies will increase. This is a challenge that calls for ingenuity and innovation, smart policies and strong collaborations. And it is an issue that touches our entire planet. We want to work together to ensure that every community in America, in China and around the world has access to clean water.
Another priority is cleaning up electronic waste. Yesterday I visited Guiyu and saw first-hand some of the strategies being used to recycle and reuse discarded electronics and appliances – everything from cell phones to iPods, from computers to digital cameras – what we call e-waste in the United States. In our country, e-waste is the fastest growing segment of local solid waste. The vast majority of discarded electronics end up in landfills – or they are often exported to developing nations, where there is less capacity to safely manage disposal. As you know, some of these wastes contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals that have been linked to cancer, developmental problems, neurological disorders and more. In far too many places around the world, e-waste is burned or broken open to recover the materials inside. These methods put these workers – men, women and even children – and their environment at extraordinary risk. The U.S. is developing laws and regulations to prevent harmful exports of used electronics. Twenty-four of our states have enacted their own e-waste laws and more states have pending legislation. Recently, draft legislation was introduced in our Congress for nationwide restrictions on exports of e-waste. I’m proud that many American companies like Dell, Apple and HP have been working to improve the way electronics are designed and produced, by using more environmentally friendly materials and finding better ways to reuse and recycle products across their lifecycles. As with our other priorities, there is no uni-lateral solution for electronic waste. We must work as a global community and coordinate efforts so that closing the borders in one country does not simply lead to e-waste flowing to other countries with weaker safeguards.
Electronic waste is directly related to another of our priorities, reducing exposure to toxic chemicals. As I said, our electronics and a number of our other products contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals. We now know that exposure to many chemicals has links to cancer, neurological disorders and other illnesses. These dangers are especially high for children, who can suffer lifelong health and economic consequences from early exposure to harmful materials. We want to work with China and the international community to ensure the safe use of chemicals and pesticides. I want to be clear that many of these chemicals can be very useful, allowing for an incredible array of innovations, including by helping farmers in America and China to feed hundreds of millions of people. By increasing our scientific and legal knowledge – through learning institutions like Sun Yat-sen University – and understanding more about the effects of chemicals, we can know how to better use them safely and effectively. While we learn more, we also want to take immediate steps that we know will reduce toxic chemicals in the environment. All of the priorities I just spoke of are part of our goal of reducing exposure to chemicals and other toxins that can do harm to our health and our environment. One major achievement happened early last year, when China and the US along with several other partner nations, agreed to work together on reducing mercury pollution world-wide. It is a great example of what we can accomplish by collaborating bilaterally and multi-laterally.
Finally, our international priorities call for building strong environmental institutions. While here, we have talked with MEP and local officials about the value of information exchange, in highlighting both the visibility and credibility of our environmental efforts. Tomorrow in Shanghai, I will take that conversation to the business community, when I speak at a forum on corporate environmental stewardship co-sponsored by the U.S. and China Business Councils for Sustainable Development. Our decades of experience tell us that it takes commitment from all sectors to advance environmental progress. Government is at its best when we act collaboratively to solve environmental problems in enduring, efficient, and effective ways. We need industries and cutting-edge companies to drive innovation. We need academics to strengthen the technical and social foundations for environmental action. We need communities to bring public stewardship, local engagement and sound advice into our work. And, of course, we need individuals to do their part. To facilitate all of that, it is essential that our nations are equipped with strong environmental institutions that can do the work – now and for generations to come.
These are the priorities that will inform the future of our work together. Many of you will be a part of that work, shaping the next 30 years of our nations’ environmental cooperation. Our shared success is absolutely essential – and you are absolutely essential to our shared success.
I have come from across the world to continue our work together and to challenge you to be a part of the solution. It is important to me as someone who values and deeply appreciates the relationship between our countries. It is important to me as someone who cares for our environment and our planet. But it is also very important to me personally. You are the young men and women who will live side by side in the global community with the generation of young Americans growing up today. That generation includes my two young sons. My sons traveled with me to China on this trip. We toured some of your cities and saw some of your great and historic landmarks. It’s an experience they will never forget, and I hope they are able to return many times.
I look at all of you and realize that most of you here are not much older than they are. When I think of what your future holds, I know it is a future you share with my two sons and every young American. In that future, our two nations will be brought even closer together through technological advances. It will be a future full of mutual economic and environmental opportunities. And – to be sure – it will be a future with shared challenges. China and the United States must face those challenges together – as technical leaders, domestic stewards, and global standard bearers – just as we have for the last three decades. Now is the time for us to work together to advance innovation, protect human health, ensure the prosperity of our people for future generations, and take steps that will not only safeguard each of our country’s welfare but protect our planet as well. I know you have lots of ideas on meeting those goals, and I look forward to hearing them now. Thank you for having me as your guest today.