[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[March 31, 1998]
[Pages 476-479]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to African Environmentalists in Gaborone, Botswana
March 31, 1998

    Thank you very much, Minister Kgoroba, 
for your leadership and your kind remarks. I certainly hope that our 
visit here will increase tourism in Botswana, not so much because my 
wife and I came but because we brought such a vast American delegation 
and a lot of members of our press corps. And I think I can speak for 
them--this may be the only subject on which I can speak for them, but I 
think I can speak for them--they had a wonderful time as well, and we're 
very grateful to you. [Laughter]
    Vice President Mogae, thank you for joining 
us, and congratulations about your assumption of office just in the next 
few hours. Minister Merahfe, Secretary 
Mpofu, Ambassador Mogwe, thank you all for making us feel welcome. I'd like 
to say a special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. 
Kirby and all the people associated with the 
Mokolodi Nature Preserve for making us feel so welcome here. This is a 
perfect place for our meeting.

[[Page 477]]

    I thank the distinguished delegation from the United States Congress 
and Secretary Slater and AID Administrator 
Atwood; Reverend Jesse Jackson; my National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger; and Assistant Secretary of State for African 
Affairs Susan Rice, Ambassador and Mrs. Krueger, and our 
entire American delegation for being here.
    And I would like to say a special word of thanks to the people who 
work day-in and day-out in environmental and preservation work who 
participated in our roundtable. And I'd like to introduce them. And I'll 
do my best to pronounce their names properly. If I don't, you'll just 
have to make allowances for me. They did a wonderful job.
    First, the Director of the Botswana Department of Wildlife and 
National Parks, Sedie Modise; from Cameroon, 
the Director of the United Nations Development Program's Office To 
Combat Desertification and Drought, Samuel Nyambi; from Ghana, professor of zoology at the University of 
Ghana and Chair of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel of the 
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Yaa Ntiamoa-Baidu; the resident representative for Conservation 
International from Madagascar, formerly Governor of the Central Bank of 
Madagascar, Minister of Finance, and when I first met him, the 
Ambassador of Madagascar to the United States, Leon 
Rajaobelina; and the Director of the 
African Conservation Centre of Kenya, Dr. Helen Gichohi.
    I think it's fair to say that none of us who visit Botswana will 
ever forget the beauty of the environment. Hillary and I and many of our 
party, as the Minister just said, have been reveling in the beauties of 
Chobe. And we do want to come back to the Okavango Delta. And we would 
like to see more of the Kalahari and more of the rest of the country. I 
think any human being who spends any appreciable amount of time in a 
uniquely pristine place, full of the wonders of animal and plant life, 
instinctively feel humanity's sacred obligation to preserve our 
environment. I have been deeply encouraged by what I have just heard in 
the meeting with Africa's--some of Africa's most distinguished and 
dedicated environmental experts as we discussed the challenges we all 
face in meeting our obligation to preserve the environment.
    There are challenges on every continent. Here in Africa, deserts are 
spreading; forests are shrinking; water is increasingly scarce. The 
needs of growing populations often clash with those of plants and 
animals. People's health is more at risk as pollutants poison water and 
air. And here, as everywhere, global warming threatens to aggravate 
droughts and floods and hasten the spread of infectious disease.
    American children in their imagination often travel to Africa. Since 
I was a boy, we have done that. The essence of what attracts them and 
people everywhere is a vision of the most magnificent, amazing creatures 
on Earth living in harmony with unspeakably beautiful nature, the vision 
we saw realized in Chobe. That vision of, somehow, nature in all of its 
manifestations in balance with people living their lives successfully 
inspires environmental efforts around the world.
    At the Rio Summit in 1992, for the first time, nations gathered to 
proclaim that each country's stewardship of its own environment affects 
the whole planet. Africans and Americans swim and fish in the same 
Atlantic Ocean, breathe the same air, suffer the same health risks from 
toxic chemicals, greenhouse gases, destruction of the ozone layer. If 
animal and plant species are lost, we are all diminished, even if they 
are lost on someone else's continent.
    Since Rio, real progress has been made in fulfilling our mutual 
obligations. Nations have banned dumping of radioactive waste. Nations 
are attacking water pollution, working to protect ocean life. We have 
reaffirmed the vital need for family planning. We have made real 
progress in reducing the destruction of the ozone layer.
    But we must do more. And today, very briefly, I'd like to focus on 
three concerns we Americans share with Africans: spreading deserts, 
threats to species, and global warming. First, with regard to deserts, 
27 percent of the African continent is desert--45 percent more, dry 
land, still arable but with limited water. The dry regions are rapidly 
succumbing to the desert, becoming wasteland, increasing the chances of 
famine and poverty. While climate change as a whole plays a role, 
agricultural practices--too much grazing, poor irrigation practices, too 
much tree clearing, failure to rotate crops--all these things play a 
pivotal role.
    These concerns are familiar to Americans. One hundred years ago when 
our settlers moved from east to west in the United States, they believed 
they found a paradise of rich, fertile soil. They planted and plowed the 
land without

[[Page 478]]

any thought for the future. Then, in 1931, the rain stopped. Fields 
dried up. Our skies turned black. Dust filled people's lungs. Food was 
scarce. Thousands upon thousands of starving animals descended from the 
hills to compete with people for scrap. In April of 1935 blinding dirt 
blew 24 hours a day for 3 weeks. After all these years, that is still 
known to all Americans as our Dust Bowl. It was called America's Sahara.
    We couldn't make the rains return; that was nature's province. But 
we could and did, as a nation, institute strong soil conservation 
measures that have helped to protect us since. And we had an 
agricultural extension service of respected experts from each local 
community working with farmers to help them see that it was in their 
personal interest to preserve our common environment.
    A half century later, at the Rio Summit, with more and more arable 
land on the African Continent turning to dust, African leaders pressed 
the rest of the world for action. The world listened and crafted a 
treaty, the Desertification Convention, to help stop the spread of 
desert and the degrading of dry land. The treaty seeks to empower local 
communities and to channel foreign assistance to prevent overgrazing, to 
grow crops appropriate to the land, to use existing water supplies more 
    I sent this treaty to our Senate for its approval in the summer of 
1996. No action has been taken since, but today I am pleased to announce 
that two distinguished Senators, one from each of our parties--Senator 
Jim Jeffords of Vermont and Senator Russ 
Feingold of Wisconsin--have agreed to 
lead a bipartisan effort for Senate approval. And I will do my best to 
get it approved as quickly as possible.
    In addition to protecting our land, we must preserve the plants and 
animals for their beauty and their benefit. As our participant from 
Madagascar reminded me today, the rosy periwinkle, found only on 
Madagascar, is a plant you likely would walk by without a second look. 
But extracts from this plant have proved critical to attacking Hodgkin's 
disease and childhood leukemia. It could have been lost entirely with no 
concern for biodiversity. A snakeroot plant found in India gives a drug 
that saves lives by lowering blood pressure. It can be lost entirely by 
ignoring the needs of biodiversity. Beyond such medical breakthroughs, 
there is majesty in God's creation and the balance of life biodiversity 
    Yesterday at Chobe, we saw some of Africa's most beautiful wild 
animals. I saw all the things that I dreamed of seeing, from elephants 
and hippos to giraffes and lions. But I also saw some animals I never 
knew existed before--the lechwe, the sable antelope, the kudu. I saw a 
monitor lizard. [Laughter] And I thought of all the people I would like 
that lizard to monitor. [Laughter] But, unfortunately, I could not catch 
it and take it home.
    I saw the magnificent secretary bird, a bird I had never seen 
before, and watched it in wonder. I saw the lilac-breasted roller fly 
and roll for us, and I wished everyone in the world--every child in the 
world and every child in Africa, especially--could have a chance to see 
these things free from the want of poverty, free from any necessity of 
their parents to think about doing things which would undermine the 
existence of those birds and animals for all time.
    The rest of the world thanks Botswana for its hard work to address 
these problems. Under the guidance of President Masire, Minister Kgoroba, Defense 
Force Commander Khama, Botswana has set aside 
large portions of its lands and parks, worked to stop poachers, promoted 
sustainable use of resources, is working with neighboring nations to 
protect rivers, ground water, forests, and other resources they share.
    Because such efforts are not easy, they must be supported. This year 
America will invest more than $80 million to help African nations 
protect their natural bounty. And we all should do more.
    Across the continents, nations are also awakening to the connection 
between conservation and democracy as local communities share power with 
national governments in managing wildlife and water, forest and 
farmland. When people have a chance to decide, more often than not, they 
actually decide to protect what is precious to their way of life.
    The United States has helped to empower African communities on 
environmental matters and will increase our efforts with a new 
initiative called Green Communities for Africa, based on a program 
already working back home. The program helps citizens in each community 
consider the environmental consequences of all kinds of local decisions, 
from disposing wastes to providing clean drinking water.

[[Page 479]]

    Finally, we must act together to address the threat of global 
climate change. The overwhelming consensus of the world's scientific 
community is that greenhouse gases from human activity are raising the 
Earth's temperature at a troubling, rapid rate. And unless we change 
course, seas will rise so high they will swallow islands and coastal 
areas the world over, destroying entire communities and habitats. Storms 
and droughts will intensify. Diseases like malaria, Africa's terrible 
scourge, already killing almost 3,000 children per day, will be borne by 
mosquitoes to higher and higher altitudes and will travel across more 
and more national borders, threatening more lives on this continent and 
throughout the world. No nation can escape these dangers; therefore, all 
must work to prevent them.
    As the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States has a 
special responsibility to our own people and the rest of the world to 
act. We are implementing an aggressive plan to reduce greenhouse gas 
emissions with programs for energy efficiency and clean technology. But 
it is a global problem that requires global solutions. We must reduce 
emissions in the developed world and promote clean energy development in 
the developing world.
    Under the historic agreement reached last December in Kyoto, 
companies have strong incentives to invest in clean energy projects not 
only in the developed countries but in developing countries. The United 
States also plans to provide $1 billion over 5 years to help developing 
countries to combat global warming.
    Today I'm pleased to announce that NASA, our space agency, together 
with our partners from southern Africa, will conduct the first-ever 
environmental review of this part of the continent, using satellites in 
space and ground surveillance. The results will provide a baseline from 
which to measure changes in the environment, improve seasonal drought 
predictions, and help to assess the impact of climate change. We can and 
we must work together to realize the promise of Kyoto.
    A generation ago, our leaders began to realize this would become an 
issue we would all have to face. President Kennedy said, ``It is our 
task to hand undiminished to those who come after us the natural wealth 
and beauty which is ours.'' In other words, the natural wealth and 
beauty which is ours is not really ours. It belongs to the people who 
came before us, who live on in our memory, and to our children and 
grandchildren and their grandchildren which will come after.
    In the United States, many of our Native American population say 
that they manage their own natural resources with seven generations in 
view. They think, in other words, about how today's decisions will 
affect their children seven generations down the line. We can at least 
think of our grandchildren.
    We have a serious responsibility to deal with poor people in a 
respectful way the world over because everyone deserves the right to try 
to advance his or her material condition so that all of our children can 
have decent lives and get decent education and build a decent future. 
But we know from the scientific data available to us today that we can 
grow the economy at a rate that sustains both economic well-being and 
our natural resources. Indeed, we know that if we maximize the use of 
scientific technology and knowledge, we can grow the economy and even 
improve the condition of the natural environment.
    That is our responsibility. It has come to our generation to make 
these decisions now so that future generations will enjoy all the 
wonderful technological advances of the 21st century. But first, we must 
act, and we must do it together.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:45 p.m. at the Mokolodi Nature Preserve. 
In his remarks, he referred to the following Botswana Government 
officials: Minister of Commerce & Industry George Kgoroba; Vice 
President Festus Mogae; Minister of Foreign Affairs Mompati Merahfe; 
Permanent Secretary at the Department of Foreign Affairs Ernest Mpofu; 
Ambassador to the U.S. Archibald Mogwe; President Ketumile Masire; and 
former Defense Force Commander Ian Khama, currently Minister for 
Presidential Affairs and Public Administration. The President also 
referred to Ian Kirby, founder of the preserve; and U.S. Ambassador 
Robert Krueger and his wife, Kathleen. A tape was not available for 
verification of the content of these remarks.