THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Vice President
Remarks by Vice President Al Gore at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the Environment and Development New York, NY June 23, 1997
Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, President Cardoso, thank you for the magnificent way in which your country hosted the Earth Summit in 1992 and thank you for your inspiring remarks. Thank you, President Razali, for your personal commitment to this process dating back to the very beginning. You presided over the first meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development which I had the pleasure to attend, and I thank you very much for the courtesy of being able to address this gathering this morning. And thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. We are extremely grateful for your hard work and dedication to the future of the United Nations.
Esteemed colleagues, ministers, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of President Clinton and the American people, welcome to New York and to this important session marking the fifth anniversary of the UN Conference on Environment and Development.
Five years ago, world leaders and concerned citizens from around the world gathered in Rio to chart a course called sustainable development. This week we measure our progress asking how successful we have been and how to do better.
In the past five years we have made much progress. We have negotiated international agreements to protect critical fish stocks, ban ocean dumping of nuclear waste and stem land based sources of marine pollution. We have forged a new global consensus on population and gender equality. We know that women's empowerment -- education, health care and economic opportunity -- is essential to building a healthy future. We have fostered democracy and increased stability around the world. We have witnessed a dramatic and inspiring rise in environmental awareness around the globe. Non-governmental organizations are active and involved, invigorating their democracies while protecting the environment. Private capital flows are skyrocketing, bringing with them the promise of economic growth and better tomorrows. And increasingly, the private sector is becoming an active and welcome partner in sustainable development. We have new and better tools to promote sustainable development. From the Internet to satellite energy, technology is opening new vistas in our efforts to improve the lives of people around the world.
And yet, enormous challenges remain. Many of the goals of Rio remain to be achieved. Take, for example, the two critical issues of climate change and forests. Today greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at record rates. Unless we change course, during the lives of our grandchildren, concentration of these gasses in the atmosphere will reach levels not seen on this planet for more than 50 million years. Scientists warn, as a result of sea-level rise, of more severe droughts and floods, loss of forest cover and the spread of infectious diseases.
Kyoto presents a critical opportunity for the world to forge an agreement with binding emissions limits, flexibility in meeting those targets and the participation of all nations. We must act. Forest loss is occurring at dramatic levels; only slightly below those witnessed during the 1980's. The consequences for human well-being, social stability, biodiversity, soil stability, water quality and climate change are extremely serious. We must reverse these trends. In the words of a president of my country early in this century, Theodore Roosevelt, "We must safeguard our forests as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral."
Today more than one billion of the Earth,s citizens live in abject poverty and more than two billion lack access to sanitation. In too many places, poverty breeds environmental degradation, and environmental degradation, in turn, breeds poverty. We have learned that there are no easy answers or quick fixes. The road to sustainable development requires a sustained commitment and conviction. It needs imagination and ingenuity. It demands engagement and enterprise from us all.
Our task for the coming days must be to chart the course for the years to come. We must unite in our resolve to meet the challenge of climate change. We must work to protect the world's forests by creating a follow-up mechanism to the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests that produces on-the-ground results, not new negotiations. We must capitalize on the upcoming Year of the Ocean to protect the marine environment and we must establish a coordinated approach to addressing the problems plaguing freshwater resources around the globe.
In short, we must roll up our sleeves and go to work. These are no small tasks but we must make sustainable development a guiding principle of the 21st century. Thank you.