Remarks by the President to the People of New Zealand (9/15/99)

Office of the Press Secretary
(Christchurch, New Zealand)

For Immediate Release September 15, 1999



Antarctic Centre
Christchurch, New Zealand

1:38 P.M. (L)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. Prime Minister Shipley, to Burton and Anna and Ben; and Sir Edmund Hillary and Lady Hillary; Ambassadors Beeman and Bolger, and their wives; to Mayor Moore: Dr. Erb, Dr. Benton, Mr. Mace, Dr. Colwell; to all of those who have made our visit here so memorable.

Let me begin on behalf of my family and my party by thanking the officials and the people of New Zealand for giving us five absolutely glorious days in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We are very grateful. (Applause.)

I hope you will all indulge me just one moment. This is my only chance to speak not only to you, but to the people of the United States today. And since we're here to talk about the weather, you should know that my country is facing one of the most serious hurricanes ever to threaten the United States if the predictions of its force and scope hold true.

This morning I signed an emergency declaration for the states of Florida and Georgia to provide for assistance for emergency protective and preventive measures. I have been in close contact with our Vice President, Al Gore, and our Director of Emergency Management, James Lee Witt. They are working around the clock to prepare for the storm. I ask all of you here to remember my fellow Americans, and after we finish the state dinner tonight I am going to fly home and we will make the best job of it we can.

Let me say I am particularly honored to be here with Sir Edmund Hillary, referred to in our family as my second favorite Hillary. (Laughter.) I read that when Sir Edmund turned 50 he resolved to do three things: to build a house on the cliffs above the Tasman Sea; to become a better skier; to do a grand traverse up the peaks of Mt. Cook. I'm wondering what he resolved to do when he turned 80. I hear the All Blacks may have a new fullback. (Laughter.)

I wish you a happy 80th birthday, sir, and I wish all of us might lead lives half so full and productive as yours. (Applause.)

I come here to this beautiful city and to this place to deepen a partnership between the United States and New Zealand that is already long and strong. In this century, young Americans and New Zealanders have fought again and again side by side to turn back tyranny and to defend democracy. We have worked together on peacekeeping missions. We have stood together for expanded opportunity for our people through trade. We even let you borrow the America's Cup from time to time. (Laughter.) We hope to reverse our generosity shortly. (Laughter.) We are grateful for your friendship and we thank you for it.

This magnificent center stands as a symbol of what we can accomplish when we work together, and I would argue is a symbol of what will be most important about our cooperation in the 21st century.

You heard Sir Edmund talk about his trip across Antartica. We he started it, some people called it the last great journey on Earth. As I was reading about it, I understand that he actually overheard one farmer ask another, "that there Antartica, how many sheep do they run to the acre?" (Laughter.)

But America believed in his mission and has long been fascinated with Antarctica. Way back in 1820, Nathaniel Brown Palmer was one of the first people to sight it. A few years later, an American exploring expedition mapped more than 1,500 miles of the Antarctic coast, ending a centuries-old debate over whether a big land mass, in fact, existed around the South Pole.

Forty years ago, inspired in part by Sir Edmund's expedition, the United States convened a meeting in Washington to preserve the Antarctic forever as a haven for peace and scientific cooperation. Today, we can all be proud that not a single provision of the Antarctic Treaty has ever been violated. Forty-three nations, representing two-thirds of the world's population, adhere to the treaty. And the Antarctic is what it should be -- a treasure held in trust for every person on the planet.

We are working together to preserve the pristine waters surrounding the continent, and fighting illegal fishing that threatens to destroy species in the southern ocean.

For the United States and New Zealand, our commitments to Antarctica are based right here in Christchurch. Nearly 7 out of 10 United States expeditions to the Antarctic are staged from here. And let me say, the only disappointment I have about this trip is that I didn't stage an expedition from here. (Laughter.) So I want you to know, I expect that you will let me come back one more time, so I can fulfill my lifelong desire to go to Antarctica. (Applause.)

I think, of all the work being done here, perhaps the most important to us and to the young people here, particularly, over the next 20 years will be the work that tells us about the nature of climate change and what it is doing to the ice cap here, to the water levels around the world, and to the way of life that we want for our children and our grandchildren.

The overwhelming consensus of world scientific opinion is that greenhouse gases from human activity are raising the Earth's temperature in a rapid and unsustainable way. The five warmest years since the 15th century have all been in the 1990s; 1998 was the warmest year ever recorded, eclipsing the record set just the year before, in 1997.

Unless we change course, most scientists believe the seas will rise so high they will swallow whole islands and coastal areas. Storms, like hurricanes, and droughts both will intensify. Diseases like malaria will be borne by mosquitoes the higher and higher altitudes, and across borders, threatening more lives -- a phenomenon we already see today in Africa.

A few years ago, hikers discovered a 5,000-year old man in the Italian Alps. You might think someone would have noticed him before. They didn't because the ice hadn't melted where he was before -- in 5,000 years. If the same thing were to happen to the west Antarctic ice sheet, God forbid -- it's a remote threat now, but it could occur one day -- and if it did, sea levels worldwide would rise by as much as 20 feet. If that happens, not even Augie Auer will be able to save us from the weather. (Laughter.) Now, I want you to laugh about it because I figure when people laugh, they listen. But this is a very serious thing.

In 1992, the nations of the world began to address this challenge at the Earth Summit in Rio. Five years later, 150 nations made more progress toward that goal in Kyoto, Japan. But we still have so much more to do. America and New Zealand, in no small measure because of our understanding, which the Prime Minister so eloquently articulated a few moments ago, because of our understanding of the significance of Antarctica and the work we have done here to make this a refuge of scientific inquiry, have special responsibilities in this area.

Of course, we have a big responsibility because America produces more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world. I have offered an aggressive program to reduce that production in every area. We are also mindful that emissions are growing in the developing world even more rapidly than in the developed world, and we have a responsibility there.

But I wanted to say today -- and if you don't remember anything else I say, I hope you will remember this -- the largest obstacle to meeting the challenge of climate change is not the huge array of wealthy vested interests and the tens of thousands of ordinary people around the world who work in the oil and the coal industries, the burning of which produce these greenhouse gases. The largest obstacle is the continued clinging of people in wealthy countries and developing countries to a big idea that is no longer true -- the idea that the only way a country can become wealthy and remain wealthy is to have the patterns of energy use that brought us the Industrial Age. In other words, if you're not burning more oil and coal this year than you were last year, you're not getting richer; you're not creating more jobs; you're not lifting more children out of poverty. That is no longer true.

We now know that technologies that permit breathtaking advances in energy conservation, and the use of alternative forms of energy, make it possible to grow the economy faster while healing the environment, and that, thank God, it is no longer necessary to burn up the atmosphere to create economic opportunity.

We have somehow got to convince a critical mass of decision-makers and ordinary citizens in every nation of the world that that is true. It will help to concentrate their attention if the people who know about Antarctica can illustrate, year in and year out, in graphic terms, the consequences of ignoring climate change and global warming.

We are committed to doing more at home and to do more to help developing nations bring on these technologies, so they can improve living standards and improve the environment. We can do this. We can do it in the same way that progress is being made in dealing with the ozone layer. Consider that example -- something again which we know more about thanks to the work of scientists here.

Because of chemicals we produced and released into the atmosphere over the past 50 years, every spring a hole appears in the ozone layer above Antarctica. You already heard, and you know more about it than any country in the world, about the unhealthy levels of ultraviolet radiation which pass through. Now, ever Kiwi school child who has participated in Block Day knows what it means, why you have to have sunscreen and a hat.

But in 1987, the international community came together in Montreal and agreed to stop the use of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer. Experts tell us that if we keep going the ozone hole will shrink, and by the middle of the next century the ozone hole could actually close, so that, miracle of miracles, we would have a problem created by people solved by people, and their development. This is the sort of thing we have to do with climate change -- and the stakes are even higher.

The Antarctic is a great cooling tower for our planet, a great learning tower for our planet's scientists. What happens to it will determine weather all over the globe, and will determine the patterns of life of the children here in this audience and certainly of their children and grandchildren. It is a bridge to our future and a window on our past.

Right now, the ice is two miles thick and goes back more than 400,000 years. By studying the patterns of the past, scientists will be able to tell us what will likely happen in the future and how we are changing the future from the past based on what we are doing.

So much of what we know today from global climate patterns comes also from satellite images. But scientists have never had detailed images of key parts of the Antarctic to work with until today. So I wanted to come here with one small contribution to the marvelous work that all of our people are doing here. Today America is releasing once classified satellite images of the Antarctic's unique dry valleys. The pictures provide two sets of images taken 10 years apart and provides some of the most detailed and important information we've ever had on these ecological treasures.

Last month, Vice President Gore did the same thing for the Arctic. Both these releases will help scientists understand changes taking place at the poles, and help us take another step toward meeting the challenge of a warming planet.

This is a special challenge for our young people. We have used the Internet, through and initiative called the Globe program, to teach students in more than 50 countries that a grasp of science and ecology is the first step toward a cleaner world. I am pleased that, working with Prime Minister Shipley, we are also going to establish a new Globe program for children right here in New Zealand.

When Sir Edmund Hillary made his trek, the Antarctic was the last new place humanity looked before turning its attention to the stars. In less than four months, all humanity will be looking forward to the promise of a new century and a new millennium. When the dawn breaks on January 1st, the international timeline tells us that New Zealand literally will lead the world into a new age.

Let us vow, in this place of first light, to act in the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty, to conquer the new challenges that face us in the new millennium. Let us work with the determination of Sir Edmund Hillary to strengthen our partnership, to keep our air and water clean and our future alive for our children. We owe it to the children of New Zealand, the children of the United States and the children of the world. And we can do it.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 12:56 P.M. (L)

Remarks and Statements

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Remarks by the President Upon Departure from Auckland, New Zealand (9/14/99)

Remarks by the President and Mr. Burton Shipley to the Press Pool (9/14/99)

Remarks by the President to the People of New Zealand (9/15/99)

Press Conference of President Clinton and New Zealand Prime Minister Shipley (9/15/99)

Remarks by President Clinton and Prime Minister Shipley in an Exchange of Toasts (9/15/99)

Trilateral Summit Joint Press Statement (9/12/99)

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