THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Gaborone, Botswana) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release March 31, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY DAVID SANDALOW, NSC DIRECTOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS Grand Palm Hotel Gaborone, Botswana
4:07 P.M. (L)
MR. SANDALOW: My name is David Sandalow. I'm jointly with the White House 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 the Council on Environmental Quality, I'm the Associate Director for the Global Environment; with the National Security Council, I'm the Director for Environmental Affairs.
I was asked first to describe the roundtable that the President participated in today with five leading environmental experts from around the continent. It was a vigorous discussion. Participants were eloquent. The President and the First Lady were very, very engaged by the conversation.
I think the themes that emerged were, first of all, the linkage between poverty and environmental degradation. Several participants spoke quite eloquently 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 local communities in managing natural resources and protecting the environment. A third theme that emerged was the need for broad public education including education of children in order to address environmental issues.
The trade bill was mentioned, with participants encouraging the President and the United States with respect to the trade bill. There were a striking number of references to U.S. AID programs and their impact in Africa 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 related the discussion to his experiences as a governor, and more recently these issues and similar issues in the United States.
In addition to the roundtable, President Clinton is today announcing several new efforts designed to underscore the importance of environmental protection to our overall Africa policy. Today we are announcing efforts in connection with the spread of deserts, in connection with empowering communities to manage natural resources, and on the topic of climate change.
Let me speak a moment about desertification, which is a long word that I suspect few people here are familiar with and few are experts in. Desertification, the spread of deserts and the degrading of drylands, is a large problem in Africa and a main priority of the Africans in discussions about the environment. Desertification, or the degrading of drylands, results from over-grazing, from agricultural practices such as mono-cropping, from over-utilization of limited water supplies, and from drought.
The international community has been engaged in efforts to combat desertification on this continent and other continents for quite a while, and there is now an international treaty called the Desertification Convention, agreed to several years ago. The treaty was a top priority of the Africans and the President sent it to the Senate for ratification in 1996. The Senate has yet to act upon it, and today the President announced that Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont and Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin will lead a bipartisan effort to obtain approval of the convention.
I should say the convention is a good government treaty. It has innovative provisions to encourage local governments and communities to get involved in efforts to fight the spread of deserts -- in this way, it is very resonant with the discussion that the President had at the roundtable today -- and it also has mechanisms to improve coordination of foreign assistance. It imposes no new obligations on the United States.
A second area in which we're announcing new efforts is in promoting community-based natural resource management; again, significant resonance with 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 really infuses all of these expenditures.
Just to highlight the importance of these efforts and the importance of involving communities in these efforts, the President today announced a new program called Green Communities for Africa, which is modeled after a similar program in the United States. The program will provide additional tools for local communities in Africa to take environmental considerations into account when making decisions.
Finally, the topic of climate change, an environmental topic that has received considerable attention in the last several months. Here in Africa, erratic weather patterns have been seen, both in Southern Africa and in Eastern Africa. In Eastern Africa there has been very heavy rainfall in the last several months. President Clinton today announced that NASA will initiate the first ever scientific assessment of the environment in Southern Africa. Working with local partners, NASA is going to use satellite and ground-based technologies to provide an assessment for measuring changes in the environment, improving drought prediction, and helping assess the impact of climate change. It's a $200,000 effort which we 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 treaty that we're aware of. We hope that the spotlight that's been shown on it here 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 and addressed it at that time.
Q Why hasn't he made a big push before now? Why has it taken more than a year to get around to it?
MR. SANDALOW: I think the President underscored the importance of it today and in Africa -- the Africa trip has really brought home to him and to lots of Americans the importance of these issues.
Q How can you be optimistic that this will move, especially since many conservatives are very upset about this trip -- this Africa trip?
MR. SANDALOW: I'm optimistic about this treaty because it is a good government treaty. It tries to make government work better. In that way, I think it is very consistent with bipartisan themes that are heard across the political spectrum in the United States. I'm also hopeful that the bipartisan coalition that's already started can help move the treaty forward.
Q Can I return to the committee for a second? Are you saying the administration doesn't know if Helms has any position on this treaty at all?
MR. SANDALOW: I'm not aware of a position the Senator has taken on this.
Q Is this what Clinton was talking about when he said local governments would share power -- local communities sharing power with national governments and managing resources?
MR. SANDALOW: Yes. Oh, and more as well. And more. But that's part of it.
Q What's the difference between the provisions in the treaty and the Green Community for Africa program?
MR. SANDALOW: The provisions in the treaty relate specifically to the problem of spreading deserts and degrading of drylands. The Green Community for Africa program could address a series of other environmental issues such as urban environmental issues, dirty water, as well as issues out in farms where there's not a lack of water.
Q -- the fact that some of the deforestation activities in Africa are largely based on existential needs?
MR. SANDALOW: This, in many ways, is central to our policy approach in addressing this problem. Deforestation in Africa is often based upon poverty in local communities. And in order to address the problem of deforestation, it's important to tackle both the problem of poverty and the problem of environmental degradation together. Our programs for sustainable management of natural resources are designed to do exactly that -- designed to find ways to help local communities protect -- to make money from protecting the environment.
Q -- first bilateral donor or is the European Community the first donor of --
MR. SANDALOW: The United States is the largest bilateral donor for environment 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 by President Clinton to the Senate then.
Q Is their a deadline?
MR. SANDALOW: No, there is no deadline. The treaty has entered into force -- more than a 120 countries have ratified it.
Q Since it really is a symbolic thing you want the United States to be on record as being in favor of this --
MR. SANDALOW: We are a significant, bilateral donor in this sector as well. We contribute more than $30 million a year to efforts to protect deserts and this would help us coordinate those efforts with other countries.
Q Has any of that money to appear in Botswana?
MR. SANDALOW: I'd have to check.
END 4:20 P.M. (L)