Remarks by the President to African Environmentalists and Officials

Office of the Press Secretary
(Kampala, Uganda)

For Immediate ReleaseMarch 31, 1998


Mokolodi Nature Preserve
Gabarone, Botswana

2:45 P.M. (L)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Minister Kgoroba, for yourleadership and your kind remarks. I certainly hope that our visit herewill increase tourism in Botswana -- not so much because my wife and Icame, but because we brought such a vast American delegation and a lot ofmembers of our press corps -- and I think I can speak for them-- this maybe the only subject on which I can speak for them, but I think I can speakfor them -- they had a wonderful time, as well, and we're very grateful toyou.

Vice President Mogae, thank you for joining us andcongratulations about your assumption of office just in the next few hours.Minister Merahfe, Secretary Mpofu, Ambassador Mogwe, thank you all formaking us feel welcome. I'd like to say a speak thanks to Mr. and Mrs.Kirby and all the people associated with the Mokolodi Nature Preserve formaking us feel so welcome here. This is a perfect place for our meeting.

I thank the distinguished delegation from the United StatesCongress and Secretary Slater and AID Administrator Atwood; Reverend JesseJackson; my National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, and AssistantSecretary of State for African Affairs, Susan Rice, Ambassador and Mrs.Kruger, and our entire American delegation for being here.

And I would like to say a special word of thanks to the peoplewho day in and day out in environmental and preservation work whoparticipated in our round table. And I'd like to introduce them. And I'lldo my best to pronounce their names properly. If I don't, you'll just haveto make allowances for me. They did a wonderful job.

First, the Director of Botswana Department of Wildlife andNational Parks, Sedie Modise. From Cameroon, the Director of the UnitedNations Development Program's Office to Combat Decertification and Drought,Samuel Nyambi. From Ghana, Professor of Zoology at the University of Ghanaand Chair of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel of the RamsarConvention on Wetlands, Yaa Ntiamoa-Baidu. The Resident Representative forConservation International for Madagascar, formerly Governor of the CentralBank of Madagascar, Minister of France, and when I first met him, theAmbassador to Madagascar to the United States, Leo Rajaobelina. And theDirector of the African Conservation Centre of Kenya, Dr. Helen Gichohi.

I think it's fair to say that none of us who visit Botswana willever forget the beauty of the environment. Hillary and I and many of ourparty, as the Minister just said, have been reveling in the beauties ofChobe. And we do want to come back to the Okavango Delta. And we wouldlike to see more of the Kalahari and more of the rest of the country.

I think any human being who spends any appreciable amount of timein a uniquely pristine place, full of the wonders of animal and plant life,instinctively feel humanity's sacred obligation to preserve ourenvironment. I have been deeply encouraged by what I have just heard inthe meeting with Africa's -- some of Africa's most distinguished anddedicated environmental experts as we discussed the challenges we all facein meeting our obligation to preserve the environment.

There are challenges on every continent. Here in Africa, desertsare spreading, forests are shrinking, water is increasingly scarce. Theneeds of growing populations often clash with those of plants and animals.People's health is more at risk as pollutants poison water and air. Andhere, as everywhere, global warming threatens to aggravate droughts andfloods and hasten the spread of infectious disease.

American children in their imagination often travel to Africa.Since I was a boy, we have done that. The essence of what attracts themand people everywhere is a vision of the most magnificent, amazingcreatures on Earth living in harmony with unspeakably beautiful nature --the vision we saw realized in Chobe. That vision of somehow nature in allits manifestations in balance with people living their lives successfullyinspires environmental efforts around the world.

At the Rio Summit in 1992, for the first time nations gathered toproclaim that each country's stewardship of its own environment affects thewhole planet. Africans and Americans swim and fish in the same Atlanticocean, breathe the same air, suffer the same health risks from toxicchemicals, greenhouse gases, destruction of the ozone layer. If animal andplant species are lost, we are all diminished, even if they are lost onsomeone else's continent.

Since Rio, real progress has been made in fulfilling our mutualobligations. Nations have banned dumping of radioactive waste. Nationsare attacking water pollution, working to protect ocean life. We havereaffirmed the vital need for family planning. We have made real progressin reducing the destruction of the ozone layer.

But we must do more. And today, very briefly, I'd like to focuson three concerns we Americans share with Africans: spreading deserts,threats to species, and global warming. First, with regard to desserts; 27percent of the African continent is dessert; 45 percent more, dry land,still arable, but with limited water. The dry regions are rapidlysuccumbing to the desert, becoming wasteland, increasing the chances offamine and poverty. While climate change as a whole plays a role,agricultural practices -- too much grazing, poor irrigation practices, toomuch tree clearing, failure to rotate crops -- all these things play apivotal role.

These concerns are familiar to Americans. One hundred years agowhen our settlers moved from east to west in the United States, theybelieved they found a paradise of rich, fertile soil. They planted andplowed the land without any thought for the future. Then, in 1931, therain stopped. Fields dried up. Our skies turned black. Dust filledpeople's lungs. Food was scarce. Thousands upon thousands of starvinganimals descended from the hills to compete with people for scrap. InApril of 1935, blinding dirt blew 24 hours a day for three weeks. Afterall these years, that is still known to all Americans as the Dust Bowl. Itwas called, America's Sahara.

We couldn't make the rains return -- that was nature's province.But we could and did, as a nation, institute strong soil conservationmeasures that have helped to protect us since. And we had an agriculturalextension service of respected experts from each local community workingwith farmers to help them see that it was in their personal interest topreserve our common environment.

A half century later, at the Rio Summit with more and more arableland on the African continent turning to dust, African leaders pressed therest of the world for action. The world listened and crafted a treaty--the Decertification Convention -- to help stop the spread of desert andthe degrading of dry land. The treaty seeks to empower local communitiesand to channel foreign assistance to prevent over-grazing; to grow cropsappropriate to the land; to use the existing water supplies more wisely.

I sent this treaty to our Senate for its approval in the summerof 1996. No action has been taken since, but today I am pleased toannounce that two distinguished senators, one from each of our parties --Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont, and Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin --have agreed to lead a bipartisan effort for Senate approval. And I will domy best to get it approved as quickly as possible.

In addition to protecting our land, we must preserve that plantsand animals for their beauty and their benefit. As our participant fromMadagascar reminded me today, the rosy periwinkle found only on Madagascaris a plant you likely would walk by without a second look. But extractsfrom this plant have proved critical to attacking Hodgkin's Disease andchildhood leukemia. It could have been lost entirely with no concern forbiodiversity. A snake root plant found in India gives a drug that saveslives by lowering blood pressure. It can be lost entirely by ignoring theneeds of biodiversity. Beyond such medical breakthroughs there is majestyin God's creation and the balance of life biodiversity guarantees.

Yesterday at Chobe, we saw some of Africa's most beautiful wildanimals. I saw all the things that I dreamed of seeing, from elephants andhippos to giraffes and lions. But I also saw some animals I never knewexisted before -- the lincwe, the sable antelope, the kudu. I saw amonitor lizard. And I thought of all the people I would like that lizardto monitor. But, unfortunately, I could not catch it and take it home.

I saw the magnificent secretary bird, a bird I had never seenbefore -- and watched it in wonder. I saw the lilac-breasted roller flyand roll for us, and I wished everyone in the world -- every child in theworld and every child in Africa, especially -- could have a chance to seethese things free from the want of poverty, free from any necessity oftheir parents to think about doing things which would undermine theexistence of those birds and animals for all time.

The rest of the world thanks Botswana for its hard work toaddress these problems. Under the guidance of President Masire, MinisterKgoroba, Defense Force Commander Khama, Botswana has set aside largeportions of its lands and parks, worked to stop poachers, promotedsustainable use of resources, is working with neighboring nations toprotect rivers, ground water, forests and other resources they share.

Because such efforts are not easy, they must be supported. Thisyear, America will invest more than $80 million to help African nationsprotect their natural beauty. And we all should do more.

Across the continents, nations are also awakening to theconnection between conservation and democracy as local communities sharepower with national governments in managing wildlife and water, forest andfarmland. When people have a chance to decide, more often that not, theyactually decide to protect what is precious to their way of life.

The United States has helped to empower African communities onthe environmental matters and will increase our efforts with a newinitiative called Green Communities for Africa, based on a program alreadyworking back home. The program helps citizens in each community considerthe environmental consequences of all kinds of local decisions, fromdisposing wastes to providing clean drinking water.

Finally, we must act together to address the threat of globalclimate change. The overwhelming consensus of the world's scientificcommunity is that greenhouse gases from human activity are raising theEarth's temperature at a troubling rapid rate. And unless we changecourse, seas will rise so high they will swallow islands and coastal areasthe world over, destroying entire communities and habitats. Storms anddroughts will intensify. Diseases like malaria, Africa's terrible scourge,already killing almost 3,000 children per day, will be borne by mosquitoesto higher and higher altitudes and will travel across more and morenational borders, threatening more lives on this continent than throughoutthe world.

No nation can escape these dangers. Therefore, all must work toprevent them. As the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the UnitedStates has a special responsibility to our own people and the rest of theworld to act.

We are implementing an aggressive plan to reduce greenhouse gasemissions with programs for energy efficiency and clean technology. But itis a global problem that requires global solutions. We must reduceemissions in the developed world and promote clean energy development inthe developing world.

Under the historic agreement reached last December in Kyoto,companies have strong incentives to invest in clean energy projects notonly in the developed countries, but in developing countries. The UnitedStates also has plans to provide $1 billion dollars over five years to helpdeveloping countries to combat global warming.

Today I'm pleased to announce that NASA, our space agency,together with our partners from Southern Africa, will conduct the firstever environmental review of this part of the continent, using satellitesin space and ground surveillance. The results will provide a baseline fromwhich to measure changes in the environment, improve seasonal droughtpredictions, and help to assess the impact of climate change. We can andwe must work together to realize the promise of Kyoto.

A generation ago, our leaders began to realize this would becomean issue we would all have to face. President Kennedy said, it is our taskto hand undiminished to those who come after us the natural wealth andbeauty which is ours. In other words, the natural wealth and beauty whichis ours is not really ours. It belongs to the people who came before us,who live on in our memory, and to our children and grandchildren and theirgrandchildren which will come after.

In the United States, many of our Native American population saythat they manage their own natural resources with seven generations inview. They think, in other words, about how today's decisions will affecttheir children seven generations down the line. We can at least think ofour grandchildren. We have a serious responsibility to deal with poorpeople in a respectful way the world over because everyone deserves theright to try to advance his or her material condition so that all of ourchildren can have decent lives and get decent education and build a decentfuture.

But we know from the scientific data available to us today thatwe can grow the economy at a rate that sustains both economic well-beingand our natural resources. Indeed, we know that if we maximize the use ofscientific technology and knowledge, we can grow the economy and evenimprove the condition of the natural environment.

That is our responsibility. It has come to our generation tomake these decisions now so that future generations will enjoy all thewonderful technological advances of the 21st Century. But first, we mustact, and we must do it together. Thank you very much.

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