Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at the Hanoi University of Natural Resources and the Environment, As Prepared04/16/2014
|Thank you, Dr. Nhan, for your kind introduction. Good morning and xin chao.|
It's an honor to be the first U.S. EPA Administrator to visit Vietnam—and the Hanoi University of Natural Resources and Environment. It’s an even higher honor to address the next generation of Vietnam’s environmental leaders.
It’s not hard to understand why they call Hanoi the “city of lakes.” These lakes are centerpieces of this community. They shape the rich culture and the beautiful landscape. I grew up in the city of Boston, Massachusetts. The scenery may be different—but I see here, too, something that’s true in every corner of the world—from the lakes of Hanoi to the inner city of Boston.
No matter where we come from—the universal need for clean air to breathe and clean water to drink binds our lives and futures together. That’s why fighting pollution, locally; betters our world, globally. Prosperity for all our people depends on our continued cooperation. That’s what I want to talk about today.
First, we must understand that when we work together to fight pollution—we all win. Pollution is blind to borders. Contaminated water flows to neighbors downstream. Air pollution is swept across the skies to nations hundreds of kilometers away. To truly fight environmental degradation in our backyard—our actions must recognize the interconnectedness of our world.
Following that principle, we’ve made tremendous global progress. That's how the world community successfully revived a dying ozone layer. The air and water pollution challenges that face this region are familiar to the United States.
Before the U.S. EPA existed, pollution shrouded our great American cities like New York and Los Angeles. Public outcry in the U.S. led to landmark laws, innovative technologies, and practices that have resulted in better health and restored natural resources.
There’s perhaps no environmental, economic, or health threat that greater exemplifies our common challenge—than the threat of global climate change. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of food and water scarcity worsening in the region. From the temperature change that multiplies disease-carrying insects and depresses crop yields—to increased storms, floods, and sea level rise—we are all vulnerable to the unfolding climate crisis.
In Vietnam, you face increased typhoons and extreme disasters along your long coastline. The sea-level could rise by one-meter by the end of the century in Vietnam. That would inundate 40 percent of the Mekong Delta and 11 percent of the Red River—forcing millions to flee the rising seas.
But as we’ve seen with historic storms, wildfires, and drought in the U.S.—no one is immune. We face climate change together. We must fight it together. Working together, we can overcome our steep, shared challenges...and through our partnership—we can give our villages, our cities, and our world—a fighting chance.
Deputy Prime Minister Phuc holds that belief too. I had the honor of meeting with him yesterday. And I applaud him for his support of commonsense environmental protection in Vietnam.
Earlier, when I met with MONRE Minister Quang, I thanked him for his leadership and commitment to working with international partners to take climate action.
Just last year, speaking to students like you, President Obama announced a Climate Action Plan that offers a roadmap for U.S. leadership. His plan outlines commonsense steps to cut carbon pollution from power plants, the biggest source in the United States. It’s a plan to spark the clean energy innovation we need in a carbon constrained world. And it’s a plan to build resilience to climate impacts we now face.
In Vietnam, you're taking steps to prepare, too. In fact—in a joint project between the U.S. Agency for International Development and Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development—you’re building resilience for communities and supporting mitigation efforts in the Red River and Mekong deltas.
President Obama’s plan also aims to establish international leadership on global climate change—and we stand as ready partners. Thanks to our national initiatives—we’re on track to reach our ambitious U.S. greenhouse gas reduction goal of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
There are some who say that the path to a healthy environment is a path that stifles a healthy economy. They say environmental protections come at the cost of business profits. I'm here to tell you that is simply not true.
From the time the U.S. enacted its landmark environmental laws; we’ve cut 70 percent of air pollution and more than doubled the size of our economy. We’ve cleaned up rivers and lakes—and we’ve driven technological innovation and created thousands of jobs. We’ve made our people healthier and our country stronger – all while generating billions of dollars in economic productivity.
The environment and economy are not at odds. In fact—they depend on one another. A clean, healthy environment is a foundation on which we can build a sustainable economy for the 21st century. And our cooperation is critical to realizing that future.
From mercury pollution to climate change—we work together on environmental issues for a simple reason: when we combine information and pool resources—our efforts go further and our people get healthier. The Vietnam Environmental Administration is working with regional partners on ways to monitor mercury pollution and manage electronic waste. Our countries are already working side by side, and yesterday, Vietnam announced it would host regional meetings on e-waste and mercury pollution. I want to congratulate you for your leadership.
Our national-level talks are important—but we also know that environmental protection starts from the ground up. Local community needs drive our collective mission to protect public health—and addressing those needs is how we measure our success.
Protecting water quality can be especially challenging in urban, densely populated places like Hanoi... Just like in the U.S.—community stewardship is vital to clean water. As part our urban waters program in the U.S.—we support communities across our country to do two things: to restore polluted waters and revitalize places nearby.
I got a chance to see that up close here in Vietnam. Earlier today, I was lucky enough to visit Lake Ao Cheo. I met the people that live on the shores of the lake. It was remarkable to see the Center for Environment and Community Research, the Women’s Association, and local government working hand in hand with residents. Their work is paying off: awareness is increasing about the dumping of waste into Hanoi’s lakes—and behavior is changing.
But ideally—that awareness starts before the pollution becomes a problem. Ideally, it starts in the classroom. That’s an ideal you all are living. My three children are about your age and they’re thinking about these issues just like you.
I’ve been to many of America’s great universities where young people are driving innovation—pushing the boundaries of green technology, science, and research. The solutions you develop will not only benefit Vietnam—they’ll benefit the world.
When you graduate, and become environmental professionals—you must be prepared to face opposition. You must be prepared to face pressures that favor short-term profits over long-term prosperity. But armed with the education you’ve earned at this university—I know you will rise to the occasion. And through your leadership, you’ll leave a cleaner, safer, and healthier planet for generations to come.
I wish you the best of luck.