The United Nations Committee on Climate Change Conference of the Parties
December 8, 1997
Thank you. Prime Minister Hashimoto and President Figueres, President Kinza Clodumar, other distinguished heads of state, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen.
It is an honor to be here at this historic gathering, in this ancient capital of such beauty and grace. On behalf of President Clinton and the American people, and our U.S. negotiator, Ambassador Stu Eizenstat, I salute our Japanese hosts for their gracious hospitality, and offer a special thank you to Prime Minister Hashimoto, and to our chairs, Minister Ohki, and Ambassador Estrada, for their hard work and leadership.
Since we gathered at the Rio Conference in 1992, both scientific consensus and political will have come a long way. If we pause for a moment and look around us, we can see how extraordinary this gathering really is.
We have reached a fundamentally new stage in the development of human civilization, in which it is necessary to take responsibility for a recent but profound alteration in the relationship between our species and our planet. Because of new technological power and our growing numbers, we now must pay careful attention to the consequences of what we are doing to the Earth - especially to the atmosphere.
There are other parts of the Earth's ecological system that are also threatened by the increasingly harsh impact of thoughtless behavior:
The poisoning of too many places where people -- especially poor people -- live, and the deaths of too many children -- especially poor children -- from polluted water and dirty air.
The dangerous and unsustainable depletion of ocean fisheries. And
The rapid destruction of critical habitats -- rain forests, temperate forests, boreal forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other precious wellsprings of genetic variety upon which the future of humankind depends.
But the most vulnerable part of the Earth''s environment is the very thin layer of air clinging near to the surface of the planet, that we are now so carelessly filling with gaseous wastes that we are actually altering the relationship between the Earth and the Sun -- by trapping more solar radiation under this growing blanket of pollution that envelops the entire world.
The extra heat which cannot escape is beginning to change the global patterns of climate to which we are accustomed, and to which we have adapted over the last 10,000 years.
Last week we learned from scientists that this year, 1997, with only three weeks remaining, will be the hottest year since records have been kept. Indeed, nine of the ten hottest years since the measurements began have come in the last ten years. The trend is clear. The human consequences -- and the economic costs -- of failing to act are unthinkable. More record floods and droughts. Diseases and pests spreading to new areas. Crop failures and famines. Melting glaciers, stronger storms, and rising seas.
Our fundamental challenge now is to find out whether and how we can change the behaviors that are causing the problem.
To do so requires humility, because the spiritual roots of our crisis are pridefulness and a failure to understand and respect our connections to God's Earth and to each other.
Each of the 160 nations here has brought unique perspectives to the table, but we all understand that our work in Kyoto is only a beginning. Non of the proposals being debated here will solve the problem completely by itself. But if we get off to the right start here, we can quickly build momentum as we learn together how to meet this challenge. Our first step should be to set realistic and achievable, binding emissions limits, which will create new markets for new technologies and new ideas that will, in turn, expand the boundaries of the possible and create new hope. Other steps will then follow. And then, ultimately, we will achieve a safe overall concentration level for greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere.
This is the step-by-step approach we took in Montreal ten years ago to address the problem of ozone depletion. And it is working.
This time, success will require first and foremost that we heal the divisions among us.
The first and most important task for developed countries is to hear the immediate needs of the developing world. And let me say, the United States has listened and we have learned.
We understand that your first priority is to lift your citizens from the poverty so many endure and build strong economies that will assure a better future. This is your right: it will not be denied.
And let me be clear in our answer to you: we do not want to founder on a false divide. Reducing poverty and protecting the Earth's environment are both crucial components of truly sustainable development. We want to forge a lasting partnership to achieve a better future. One key is mobilizing new investment in your countries to ensure that you have higher standards of living, with modern, clean and efficient technologies.
That is what our proposals for emissions trading and joint implementation strive to do.
To our partners in the developed world, let me say we have listened and learned from you as well. We understand that while we share a common goal, each of us faces unique challenges.
You have shown leadership here, and for that we are grateful. We came to Kyoto to find new ways to bridge our differences. In doing so, however, we must not waiver in our resolve. For our part, the United States remains firmly committed to a strong, binding target that will reduce our own emissions by nearly 30 percent from what they would otherwise be -- a commitment as strong, or stronger, than any we have heard here from any country. The imperative here is to do what we promise, rather than to promise what we cannot do.
All of us, must reject the advice of those who ask us to believe there really is no problem at all. We know their arguments: we have heard others like them throughout history. For example, in my country, we remember the tobacco company spokesman who insisted for so long that smoking did no harm. To those who seek to obfuscate and obstruct, we say: we will not allow you to put narrow special interests above the interests of all humankind.
So what does the United States propose we do?
The first measure of any proposal must be its environmental merit, and ours is environmentally solid and sound.
It is strong and comprehensive, covering all six significant greenhouse gases. It recognizes the link between the air and the land, including both sources and sinks. It provides the tools to ensure that targets can be met -- offering emissions trading, joint implementation and research as powerful engines of technology development and transfer. It further reduces emissions -- below 1990 levels -- in the years 2012 and beyond. It provides the means to ensure that all nations can join us on their own terms in meeting this common challenge.
It is also economically sound. And, with strict monitoring and accountability, it ensures that we will keep our bond with one another.
Whether or not agreement is reached here, we will take concrete steps to help meet this challenge. President Clinton and I understand that out first obligations is to address this issue at home. I commit to you today that the United States is prepared to act -- and will act.
For my part, I have come here to Kyoto because I am both determined and optimistic that we can succeed. I believe that by our coming together in Kyoto we have already achieved a major victory, one both of substance and of spirit. I have no doubt that the process we have started here inevitably will lead to a solution in the days or years ahead.
Some of you have, perhaps, heard from your home capitals that President Clinton and I have been burning up the phone lines, consulting and sharing new ideas. Today let me add this. After talking with our negotiators this morning and after speaking on the telephone from here a short time ago with President Clinton, I am instructing our delegation right now to show increased negotiating flexibility if a comprehensive plan can be put in place, one with realistic targets and timetables, market mechanisms, and the meaningful participation of key developing countries.
Earlier this century, the Scottish mountain climber, W.H. Murray, wrote:
"Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative. . .there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, providence moves, too."
So let us press forward. Let us resolve to conduct ourselves in such a way that our children's children will read about the "Spirit of Kyoto," and remember well the place and the time where humankind first chose to embark together on a long-term sustainable relationship between our civilization and the Earth's environment.
In that spirit, let us transcend our differences and commit to secure our common destiny: a planet whole and healthy, whose nations are at peace, prosperous and free; and whose people everywhere are able to reach for their God-given potential.
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