Press Briefing by David Sandalow, NSC Director of Environmental

(Gaborone, Botswana)


Grand Palm Hotel
Gaborone, Botswana

4:07 P.M. (L)

MR. SANDALOW: My name is David Sandalow. I'm jointly with the WhiteHouse Council on Environmental Quality and the National Security Council.My titles are a mouthful, but I'll give them to you if you want. At theCouncil on Environmental Quality, I'm the Associate Director for the GlobalEnvironment; with the National Security Council, I'm the Director forEnvironmental Affairs.

I was asked first to describe the roundtable that the Presidentparticipated in today with five leading environmental experts from aroundthe continent. It was a vigorous discussion. Participants were eloquent.The President and the First Lady were very, very engaged by theconversation.

I think the themes that emerged were, first of all, the linkagebetween poverty and environmental. Several participants spoke quiteeloquently to that, one saying environmental degradation leads to poverty,leads to environmental degradation, and the cycle continues.

A second theme that emerged was the importance of engaging localcommunities in managing natural resources and protecting the environment.A third theme that emerged was the need for broad public educationincluding education of children in order to address environmental issues.

The trade bill was mentioned, with participants encouraging thePresident and the United States with respect to the trade bill. There werea striking number of references to U.S. AID programs and their impact inAfrica and their effectiveness from several different participants.

Topics that were discussed included desertification, wetlands,wildlife, and other topics. The President at a couple of points relatedthe discussion to his experiences as a governor, and more recently theseissues and similar issues in the United States.

In addition to the roundtable, President Clinton is today announcingseveral new efforts designed to underscore the importance of environmentalprotection to our overall Africa policy. Today we are announcing effortsin connection with the spread of deserts, in connection with empoweringcommunities to manage natural resources, and on the topic of climatechange. Let me speak for a moment about desertification, which is a long wordthat I suspect few people here are familiar with and few are experts in.Desertification, the spread of deserts and the degrading of drylands, is alarge problem in African and a main priority of the Africans in discussionsabout the environment. Desertification, or the degrading of the drylands,results from over-grazing, from agricultural practices such asmono-cropping, from over-utilization of limited water supplies, and fromdrought.

The international community has been engaged in efforts to combatdesertification on this continent and other continents for quite a while,and there is now an international treaty called the DesertificationConvention, agreed to several years ago. The treaty was a top priority ofthe Africans and the President sent it to the Senate for ratification in1996. The Senate has yet to act upon it, and today the President announcedthat Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont and Senator Russell Feingold ofWisconsin will lead a bipartisan effort to obtain approval of theconvention.

I should say that the convention is a good government treaty. It hasinnovative provisions to encourage local governments and communities to getinvolved in efforts to fight the spread of deserts --in this way, it isvery resonant with the discussion that the President had at the roundtabletoday --and it also has mechanisms to improve the coordination of foreignassistance. It imposes no obligations on the United States.

A second area in which we're announcing new efforts is in promotingcommunity-based natural resource management; again, significant resonancewith the discussion today. The United States already is spending roughly$80 million a year for environmental assistance in Africa. And many of--the philosophy of community-based natural resource management reallyinfuses all of these expenditures.

Just to highlight the importance of these efforts and the importanceof involving communities in these efforts, the President today announced anew program called Green Communities for Africa, which is modeled after asimilar program in the United States. The program will provide additionaltools for local communities in Africa to take environmental considerationsinto account when making decisions.

Finally, the topic of climate change, an environmental topic that hasreceived considerable attention in the last several months. Here inAfrica, erratic weather patterns have been seen, both in Southern Africaand in Eastern Africa. In Eastern Africa there has been very heavyrainfall in the last several months. President Clinton today announcedthat NASA will initiate the first ever scientific assessment of theenvironment in Southern Africa. Working with local partners, NASA is goingto use satellite and ground-based technologies to provide an assessment formeasuring changes in the environment, improving drought prediction, andhelping assess the impact of climate change. It's a $200,000 effort whichwe hope will leverage the contribution of other partners.

Happy to take questions.

Q What's the problem with this treaty? Why hasn't it moved? Mr. Sandalow: There has not been opposition expressed to the treatythat we're aware of. We hope that the spotlight that's been shown on ithere and the attention will help move it forward in the Senate.

Q Where was it stuck in the Senate? The committee?

Mr. Sandalow: Sitting in the Foreign Relations Committee.

Q Well, has Helms taken a position?

Mr. Sandalow: Not that we're aware of.

Q Has the President ever spoken about it before?

Mr. Sandalow: The President sent it up to the Senate in 1996 andaddressed it at that time.

Q Why hasn't he made a big push before now? Why has it taken morethan a year to get around to it?

Mr. Sandalow: I think the President underscored the importance of ittoday and in Africa --the Africa trip has really brought home to him and tolots of Americans the importance of these issues.

Q How can you be optimistic that this will move, especially sincemany conservatives are very upset about this trip --this Africa trip?

Mr. Sandalow: I'm optimistic about this treaty because it is a goodgovernment treaty. It tries to make government work better. In that way,I think it is very consistent with bipartisan themes that are heard acrossthe political spectrum in the United States. I'm also hopeful that thebipartisan coalition that's already started can help move the treatyforward.

Q Can I return to the committee for a second? Are you saying theadministration doesn't know if Helms has any position on this treaty atall?

Mr. Sandalow: I'm not aware of a position the Senator has taken onthis.

Q Is this what Clinton was talking about when he said localgovernments would share power --local communities sharing power withnational governments and managing resources?

Mr. Sandalow: Yes. Oh, and more as well. And more. But that's partof it.

Q What's the difference between the provisions in the treaty andthe Green Community for Africa program?

Mr. Sandalow: The provisions in the treaty relate specifically to theproblem of spreading deserts and degrading of drylands. The GreenCommunity for Africa program could address a series of other environmentalissues such as urban environmental issues, dirty water, as well as issuesout in farms where there's not a lack of water.

Q --the fact that some of the deforestation activities in Africaare largely based on existential needs?

Mr. Sandalow: This, in many ways, is central to our policy approach inaddressing this problem. Deforestation in Africa is often based uponpoverty in local communities. And in order to address the problem ofdeforestation, it's important to tackle both the problem of poverty and theproblem of environmental degradation together. Our programs forsustainable management of natural resources are designed to do exactly that--designed to find ways to help local communities protect --to make moneyfrom protecting the environment.

QQ --first bilateral donor or is the European Communitythe first donor of --

Mr. Sandalow: The United States is the largest bilateral donor forenvironment in Africa. I'd have to look for figures for other countries.

Q But by your information, the European Community gives more,right?

Mr. Sandalow: I'd have to track down those figures.

Q Can you repeat the year of the treaty and was it signed?

Mr. Sandalow: It was signed by the United States in 1996 and sent byPresident Clinton to the Senate then.

Q Is their a deadline?

Mr. Sandalow: No, there is no deadline. The treaty has entered intoforce --more than a 120 countries have ratified it.

Q Since it really is a symbolic thing you want the United States tobe on record as being in favor of this --

Mr. Sandalow: We are a significant, bilateral donor in this sector aswell. We contribute more than $30 million a year to efforts to protectdeserts and this would help us coordinate those efforts with othercountries.

Q Has any of that money to appear in Botswana?

Mr. Sandalow: I'd have to check.

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