[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George H. W. Bush (1992, Book I)]
[June 12, 1992]
[Pages 924-926]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Address to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development 
in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

June 12, 1992
    President Collor, Mr. Secretary-General, heads of delegation, may I 
first express my admiration to Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali and my 
gratitude to Secretary General Maurice Strong for his tireless work in 
bringing this Earth summit together. This is truly an historic 
    The Chinese have a proverb: If a man cheats the Earth, the Earth 
will cheat man. The idea of sustaining the planet so that it may sustain 
us is as old as life itself. We must leave this Earth in better 
condition than we found it.
    Today this old truth must be applied to new threats facing the 
resources which sustain us all, the atmosphere and the ocean, the 
stratosphere and the biosphere. Our village is truly global. Some find 
the challenges ahead overwhelming. I believe that their pessimism is 
    Twenty years ago, at the Stockholm conference, a chief concern of 
our predecessors was the horrible threat of nuclear war, the ultimate 
pollutant. No more. Upon my return from Rio, I will meet with Russian 
President Yeltsin in Washington, and the subject we will discuss is 
cooperation, not confrontation. Twenty years ago, some spoke of the 
limits to growth. Today we realize that growth is the engine of change 
and the friend of the environment.
    Today, an unprecedented era of peace, freedom, and stability makes 
concerted action on the environment possible as never before. This 
summit is but one key step in the process of international cooperation 
on environment and development. The United States will work to carry 
forward the promise of Rio because as important as the road to Rio has 
been, what matters more is the road from Rio.
    There are those who say that cooperation between developed and 
developing countries is impossible. Well, let them come to Latin 
America, where debt-for-nature swaps are protecting forests in Costa 
Rica and funding pollution control in Chile.

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    There are those who say that it takes state control to protect the 
environment. Well, let them go to Eastern Europe, where the poisoned 
bodies of children now pay for the sins of fallen dictators, and only 
the new breeze of freedom is allowing for cleanup.
    There are those who say that change can never come because the 
interests of the status quo are too powerful. Well, let them come right 
here to Brazil, where President Collor is forging a new approach that 
recognizes the economic value of sustaining the rain forest.
    There are those who say that economic growth and environmental 
protection cannot be compatible. Well, let them come to the United 
States, where, in the 20 years since Stockholm, our economy has grown by 
57 percent, and yet we have cut the lead going into the air by 97 
percent, the carbon monoxide by 41 percent, the particulates by 59 
percent. We've cleaned up our water and preserved our parks, wilderness, 
and wildlife.
    There are those who say that the leaders of the world do not care 
about the Earth and the environment. Well, let them all come here to 
    Mr. President, we have come to Rio. We've not only seen the concern, 
we share it. We not only care, we're taking action. We come to Rio with 
an action plan on climate change. It stresses energy efficiency, cleaner 
air, reforestation, new technology. I am happy to report that I have 
just signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
    Today, I invite my colleagues from the industrialized world to join 
in a prompt start on the convention's implementation. I propose that our 
countries meet by January 1st to lay out our national plans for meeting 
the specific commitments in the Framework Convention. Let us join in 
translating the words spoken here into concrete action to protect the 
    We come to Rio with a proposal to double global forest assistance. 
We stand ready to work together, respecting national sovereignty, on new 
strategies for forests for the future. As a downpayment, we will double 
U.S. forest bilateral assistance next year. And we will reform at home, 
phasing out clear-cutting as a standard practice on U.S. national 
forests and working to plant one billion trees a year.
    We come to Rio with an extensive program of technology cooperation. 
We stand ready, Government and private sector, to help spread green 
technology and launch a new generation of clean growth.
    We come to Rio recognizing that the developing countries must play a 
role in protecting the global environment but will need assistance in 
pursuing these cleaner growths. So we stand ready to increase U.S. 
international environmental aid by 66 percent above the 1990 levels, on 
top of the more than $2.5 billion that we provide through the world's 
development banks for Agenda 21 projects.
    We come to Rio with more scientific knowledge about the environment 
than ever before and with the wisdom that there is much, much we do 
that's not yet known. And we stand ready to share our science and to 
lead the world in a program of continued research.
    We come to Rio prepared to continue America's unparalleled efforts 
to preserve species and habitat. And let me be clear. Our efforts to 
protect biodiversity itself will exceed, will exceed, the requirements 
of the treaty. But that proposed agreement threatens to retard 
biotechnology and undermine the protection of ideas. Unlike the climate 
agreement, its financing scheme will not work. And it is never easy, it 
is never easy to stand alone on principle, but sometimes leadership 
requires that you do. And now is such a time.
    Let's face it, there has been some criticism of the United States. 
But I must tell you, we come to Rio proud of what we have accomplished 
and committed to extending the record on American leadership on the 
environment. In the United States, we have the world's tightest air 
quality standards on cars and factories, the most advanced laws for 
protecting lands and waters, and the most open processes for public 
    Now for a simple truth: America's record on environmental protection 
is second to none. So I did not come here to apologize. We come to press 
on with deliberate purpose and forceful action. Such action will

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demonstrate our continuing commitment to leadership and to international 
cooperation on the environment.
    We believe that the road to Rio must point toward both environmental 
protection and economic growth, environment and development. By now it's 
clear: To sustain development, we must protect the environment. And to 
protect the environment, we must sustain development.
    It's been said that we don't inherit the Earth from our ancestors, 
we borrow it from our children. When our children look back on this time 
and this place, they will be grateful that we met at Rio, and they will 
certainly be pleased with the intentions stated and the commitments 
made. But they will judge us by the actions we take from this day 
forward. Let us not disappoint them.
    Mr. President, once again, my congratulations to you, sir. Mr. 
Secretary-General, our sincere thanks. And thank you all very, very 

                    Note: The President spoke at 3:19 p.m. in the 
                        Assembly Hall at the Riocentro Conference