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Floor Statement - Environmental Leadership

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. GORE. Mr. President, I rise to introduce a resolution that calls on President Bush to provide the environmental leadership he has promised. Soon, the nations of the world will meet for the third preparatory committee meeting for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. We have now passed a critical point in those meetings; less than a year remains before the conference will take place in Brazil. The conference provides a truly historic opportunity for all of the countries of the world to join together to chart a future for the planet that is bright for our environment as well as for our economies. I am afraid, however, that the critical importance of the meeting is escaping the President.

Many issues are on the UNCED agenda. All of them—oceans and water resources, preservation of biodiversity, and population, for example—require our immediate attention. Two issues, however, climate change and preservation and protection of the world's forests, have moved to the forefront. Agreements on both are to be signed at the conference, and their successful completion is of vital importance to its success. Our negotiators, however, have been standing in the way of progress on these issues.

Mr. President, 2 years ago, at their Paris Summit Meeting, the leaders of the 'Group of Seven' major industrialized nations promised decisive action to curb global warming. Now, as the members of the G7 meet again, it is clear that most of them took the pledge they made in Paris seriously. The European Community, Japan, and Canada have all committed to action. In fact, there is only one country that has yet to make good on its promise. It is by now no mystery as to who that lone holdout is—it is, of course, our own country. What is new here, however, is the growing and increasingly pronounced disgust and frustration of the rest of the industrial world with our unwillingness to live up to our pledge.

Exasperated at the complete lack of progress at the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Climate Change that the United States hosted in Chantilly, VA, Germany opened the second round in Geneva with an urgent plea for action--'It would be irresponsible,' the German representatives declared, 'to have further delays'. The situation is 'particularly urgent' they said, and the need for action is 'extraordinarily great'.

The British Government recognizes this. In fact, they apparently were so concerned by the administration's complete intransigence and endless delay tactics that they sent their environment secretary, Mr. Michael Heseltine, in a personal appeal to Mr. Sununu, Mr. Darman and others. Well, by all accounts, that appeal, too, has fallen on deaf ears. Mr. Heseltine wrote a followup letter to Mr. Sununu that has been characterized as unusually tough and personal, and Prime Minister John Major openly criticized the United States in a speech on the environment at which he announced some new initiatives that the British Government will be taking.

Mr. President, this is an intolerable embarrassment. We are the largest single contributor to the problem—the United States is responsible for some 23 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. As Prime Minister Major pointed out, the European Community—responsible for only some 13 percent of global emissions has committed to action. It is time for the United States to do the same.

And I want to emphasize that, in refusing to hear the call of the British and others, and in failing to take responsibility for our overwhelming contribution to the global warming problem, we are jeopardizing not only successful completion of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, but we are also standing in the way of the completion of an effective and binding agreement to protect the world's forests.

The administration disputes this—and I must admit it is a subtle argument. But, the fact of the matter is that the developing world has made clear that it will not agree to a binding convention on forests unless and until the industrialized countries commit, in the climate change negotiations, to stabilization and to meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Their logic is as follows: Just as fossil fuels are the economic lifeblood of industrialized society, the forests are often the economic lifeblood of developing countries. They are therefore reluctant to sign a strong forest agreement unless we are ready to sign an equally strong climate change convention.

So, Mr. President, it is high time we get on with it. While we hedge and retreat from commitment, we further jeopardize our planet's delicate climate balance and, at the same time, we are responsible for allowing the rampant destruction of the forests to continue unabated. Indeed, the destruction is not only continuing but is accelerating. The latest statistics show that—every second—another 1.5 acres of forest is torn or burded down. Thousands of species are being driven to extinction.

I call on the President to engage himself in these critically important issues. His failure to prioritize these matters is wholely irresponsible and, I would submit, immoral. I urge my colleagues to join me in this resolution, and I urge the President to heed its message.

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