Contact Us

Newsroom

Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

The Luso-American Development Foundation "Environmental Challenges in the 21st Century" EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner Lisbon, Portugal

04/06/1998
Remarks Prepared for Delivery The Luso-American Development Foundation "Environmental Challenges in the 21st Century" EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner
Lisbon, Portugal

                         April 6, 1998


     Thank you Mr. Machette (ma-SHETT) for those warm words of introduction. And thank you to the Luso-American Development Foundation for inviting me to speak tonight about the environmental and public health challenges both Portugal and the United States face in the coming century.

     Our countries are quite different -- different in size, culture, language, and pace of growth.
But we share a common desire: To have a healthy environment, healthy people, as well as a healthy economy.

     A few decades ago, in both our countries, these things were at odds -- environmental protection pitted against economic growth. This was a sign of the times. We needed strong laws to protect our water, land, and air.

     Twenty five years ago, we actually had rivers catching fire in the U.S. That crisis prompted passage of the Clean Water Act. We found barrels of toxic chemicals buried under a community in New York -- and that spurred passage of our nation's toxic waste cleanup law. When we found widespread contamination in one of our largest city's water supply we passed the Safe Drinking Water Act.

     Under these laws, we've made great progress. By any measure, our rivers are safer, our skies cleaner, our land freer of toxic waste. But we all know our work is not done -- not in the U.S., not in Portugal, not in any country in the world.

     Today we face a new set of challenges, challenges where another law, another regulation are not necessarily our best solutions.     I'm talking about hard-to-control water pollution from urban and agricultural runoff -- a big problem in the U.S. I'm talking about air and water pollution that crosses the boundaries of countries. And I'm talking about one of the challenges all the world's nations face together, and that's global warming.

     President Clinton and Vice President Gore believe that we can meet all these challenges if
we keep a few principles in mind: building strong partnerships, finding common-sense, cost-effective strategies, and ensuring a healthy economy and a healthy environment.

     These are the tenets of a new generation of environmental and public health protection, and they lie at the core of everything we do to safeguard the American people and to meet our international commitments on the environment.

     Let me speak directly to global warming: the single, greatest environmental threat to every nation.

     More than two-thousand of the world's experts on the global environment have told us there is ample evidence that, for the first time in history, pollution from human activities is changing the earth's climate.

     Modern industrial activity -- particularly the burning of fossil fuels -- is filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases," which trap the Sun's heat and cause the steady, gradual warming of the Earth's surface temperatures.

     The global average surface temperature is now a full degree Fahrenheit higher than it was at the beginning of this century -- and it may rise another two to six degrees over the next century.

     That may not sound like much to many people.  But here's what the scientific community
says it will mean over the course of the next century:

     All around -- more frequent and more intense heat waves, causing thousands more heat-related deaths. Severe droughts and floods will become more common. Tropical diseases like malaria will expand their range.  Agriculture will suffer.  The oceans will rise, perhaps by several feet over the next century -- swamping many coastal areas.

     In Portugal, already we have seen less spring and summer precipitation in the North, where agriculture is concentrated. In the South, drought and more desert areas. Along your coasts -- where most Portuguese live -- rising sea levels and more intense storms and storm damage.

     There is no doubt that the time has come to act. Global warming will be our legacy to our children if we do not begin reducing the pollution that causes it.     We've heard many people in the U.S. -- and around the world -- say we can't do this. It will harm our economies. It will be all pain and no gain.

     We know the opposite to be true. Time and time again, we have seen that we can protect the environment, protect our health, and still have strong economic growth. Today, in the U.S., we have some of the toughest environmental and public health protections in our history, and our economy is the strongest in a generation.

     We know the nations of this world -- the U.S. included -- can meet the targets of the Kyoto climate change agreement in ways that will build our economies, build competitiveness -- not tear them down.

     In the U.S., President Clinton has proposed a package of research and development initiatives and tax incentives to create a market for energy efficient technologies and processes.

     We have a partnership with our auto industry to produce cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars.

     We have plans for a domestic pollution trading program, which will use the power of the marketplace to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
     
     Already we have programs underway -- partnerships with more than 5,000 organizations and businesses -- some of the biggest companies in the country -- to use energy more efficiently in everything from our televisions to our computers to the lights in our office buildings.  

     Just in 1997, these partnership programs together prevented the release of more than 15 million tons of carbon dioxide, while at the same time, saving businesses and consumers more than $1 billion.

     We believe that the nations of the world -- in partnership -- can use the same kinds of cost-effective, market-based mechanisms to fight global warming.

     We support programs like international emissions trading, and what we call joint implementation -- a common-sense system that allows a firm in one country to invest in a project that reduces emissions in another country.

     For example, if a company wanted to build a clean energy wind power plant on the coast of Portugal, it could sell in the international marketplace what we call pollution credits -- or credits equal to the amount of pollution saved by this plant   an innovative way to finance clean, but sometimes more costly, technologies.

     The possibilities are endless when countries work together. We can find ways to meet the challenge of global warming, and the same time promote sustainable growth.     Of course, little of this will matter if developing countries do not also curb their
greenhouse gas emissions. Consider this: If the entire industrialized world reduces emissions, but emissions from the developing world continue at their current pace, we still will be faced with dangerous rates of global warming.

     Developing countries have an historic opportunity to chart a different energy future than we, in the industrialized world, did. The developing countries can learn from our errors, and invest in technologies now -- renewable energy, waste management, efficient industries -- to grow to their potential, to grow sustainably, and save themselves from undoing costly mistakes down the road.

     We ask Portugal's support in urging developing nations to participate -- in earnest -- in global efforts to combat climate change. The U.S. will not assume binding obligations unless key developing nations join our efforts. Global warming is not something one nation can solve alone. It is an international problem, requiring a truly international solution.

     In the U.S., we believe that global warming is the next century's overriding environmental
challenge   and that is why I speak at length about it tonight. But there are others, to be sure: protecting our children from environmental tobacco smoke and lead in gasoline and paint   in the U.S. alone, we estimate between 300,000 and 1 million children have asthma aggravated by tobacco smoke in their homes, which is also linked to a large number of respiratory tract infections in young people -- and more than 1 million U.S. children under the age of five suffer from lead poisoning.

     Providing safe drinking water around the world is a top priority of many nations, with at least four million children in less developed countries dying every year from diarrheal diseases due to contaminated water.

     Learning more about the chemicals that disrupt our endocrine systems is another priority
  and finding ways to cooperate on environmental education, the world's advancing deserts, our oceans, soils, forests, the ozone layer, and the declining diversity of the world's plants and animals.

     We will continue to work with our international partners   the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the European Union, and others   pooling our talents and resources to find the most innovative, most cost-effective, most protective ways we can to address these problems common to us all.

     Facing this new century, these global challenges, this is not the time for us to sit back and relax, or to try to go it alone. This is not a time for isolation. This is not a time to withdraw.

    This is a time to tap into the very best each nation can offer, and work together until we can ensure that the world we pass on to our children is safe, healthy, clean, and economically vibrant. We must not rest until the job is finished, until all our children and their children and the generations to come have the opportunity to grow up with water that is safe to drink, homes free from contamination, air that is pure, and an environment free from dangerous chemicals.

     The people of Portugal, the people of the United States, the people of the world deserve no less.

     Thank you.