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Public Papers - 1992 - June

Remarks on Departure for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development


Well, today I travel to Rio de Janeiro to join over 100 heads of state at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Informally, the Rio meeting has been called the Earth summit. But I want to focus for just a minute on the official name. I think it's critical that we take both those words, environment and development, equally seriously. And we do.

On the environment, America's record is second to none. No other nation has done more, more rapidly to clean up the water, the air, or preserve public land. No other nation has done more to advance the state of technology that promises cleaner growth. We are proposing to double forest assistance. No other nation has put in place stricter standards to curb pollution in the future. We've done a great deal, and we are determined to do more.

But let me say up front: I am determined to protect the environment, and I'm also determined to protect the American taxpayer. The day of the open checkbook is over. I will go to Rio with a series of sound proposals designed to foster both environmental protection and economic growth. I'll sign a climate convention that calls for sound action, like increased energy efficiency and cleaner air. I'll offer technology cooperation because I believe American technology can help clean up the world's environment. I'll propose to share U.S. science, the most advanced in the world, to increase understanding of these complex issues. And I'll bring my Forests for the Future initiative, the most concrete and effective plan for dealing with the pressing problems of deforestation of all those that have been proposed at Rio.

Finally, I go to Rio with a firm conviction: Environmental protection and a growing economy are inseparable. No matter what some people may want to pretend, they are inseparable. It is counterproductive to promote one at the expense of the other.

For the past half-century, the United States has been a great engine of global economic growth, and it's going to stay that way. Every American knows what that means for us. What many may not know is that the world also has a stake in a strong American economy. Right now, one-half of the developing countries' exports of manufactured goods to all industrialized nations are sold, yes, in the United States of America. A weak economy in this country would harm workers in other nations and cut their export earnings to a trickle. Nations struggling to meet the most elemental needs of their people can spare little to protect the environment.

Many governments and many individuals from the U.S. and other nations have pressed us to sign a treaty on what's called biodiversity. I don't expect that pressure to let up when I reach Rio. The treaty's intent is noble, to ensure protection of natural habitat for the world's plants and animal life. The U.S. has better protections for species and habitat than any nation on Earth. No one disagrees with the goal of the treaty. But the truth is, it contains provisions that have nothing to do with biodiversity.

Take just one example: The private sector is proving it can help generate solutions to our environmental problems. The treaty includes provisions that discourage technological innovations, treat them as common property though they are developed at great cost by private companies and American workers. We know what will happen. Remove incentives, and we'll see fewer of the technological advances that help us protect our planet.

My Forests for the Future initiative will offer real assistance to protect habitats, a downpayment of 0 million in new U.S. assistance toward the goal of doubling worldwide funding for forests. It invites developing countries to propose their best plans for forest conservation, and it encourages innovation, like biotechnology, that will help us protect biodiversity worldwide.

I cannot speak for actions other nations may take. But this I promise: I will stand up for American interests and the interests of a cleaner environment. And if the United States has to be the only nation to stand against the biodiversity treaty as now drawn, so be it.

I believe deeply in protecting our common environment, and I will proudly present in Rio the U.S. record that is second to none anywhere in the world.

Note: The President spoke at 7:50 a.m. at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, MD.

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