Remarks By Al Gore
Climate Change Conference
December 8, 1997
Since we gathered at the Rio Conference in 1992, both scientific consensus
and political will have come a long way. If we pause for a moment and look
around us, we can see how extraordinary this gathering really is.
We have reached a fundamentally new stage in the development of human
civilization, in which it is necessary to take responsibility for a recent but
profound alteration in the relationship between our species and our planet.
Because of our new technological power and our growing numbers, we now must
pay careful attention to the consequences of what we are doing to the
Earthespecially to the atmosphere.
There are other parts of the Earth's ecological system that are also
threatened by the increasingly harsh impact of thoughtless behavior:
But the most vulnerable part of the Earth's environment is the very thin layer
of air clinging near to the surface of the planet, that we are now so
carelessly filling with gaseous wastes that we are actually altering the
relationship between the Earth and the Sunby trapping more solar radiation
under this growing blanket of pollution that envelops the entire world.
- The poisoning of too many places where peopleespecially poor people
live, and the deaths of too many childrenespecially poor childrenfrom
polluted water and dirty air;
- The dangerous and unsustainable depletion of ocean fisheries; And
- The rapid destruction of critical habitatsrain forests, temperate
forests, borial forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other precious
wellsprings of genetic variety upon which the future of humankind
The extra heat which cannot escape is beginning to change the global
patterns of climate to which we are accustomed, and to which we have adapted
over the last 10,000 years.
Last week we learned from scientists that this year, 1997, with only three
weeks remaining, will be the hottest year since records have been kept.
Indeed, nine of the 10 hottest years since the measurements began have come in
the last 10 years. The trend is clear. The human consequencesand the economic
costsof failing to act are unthinkable. More record floods and droughts.
Diseases and pests spreading to new areas. Crop failures and famines. Melting
glaciers, stronger storms, and rising seas.
Our fundamental challenge now is to find out whether and how we can change
the behaviors that are causing the problem.
To do so requires humility, because the spiritual roots of our crisis are
pridefulness and a failure to understand and respect our connections to God's
Earth and to each other.
Each of the 160 nations here has brought unique perspectives to the table,
but we all understand that our work in Kyoto is only a beginning. None of the
proposals being debated here will solve the problem completely by itself. But
if we get off to the right start here, we can quickly build momentum as we
learn together how to meet this challenge. Our first step should be to set
realistic and achievable, binding emissions limits, which will create new
markets for new technologies and new ideas that will, in turn, expand the
boundaries of the possible and create new hope. Other steps will then follow.
And then, ultimately, we will achieve a safe overall concentration level for
greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere.
This is the step-by-step approach we took in Montreal 10 years ago to
address the problem of ozone depletion. And it is working.
This time, success will require first and foremost that we heal the
divisions among us.
The first and most important task for developed countries is to hear the
immediate needs of the developing world. And let me say, the United States has
listened and we have learned.
We understand that your first priority is to lift your citizens from the
poverty so many endure and build strong economies that will assure a better
future. This is your right: it will not be denied.
And let me be clear in our answer to you: we do not want to founder on a
false divide. Reducing poverty and protecting the Earth's environment are both
critical components of truly sustainable development. We want to forge a
lasting partnership to achieve a better future. One key is mobilizing new
investment in your countries to ensure that you have higher standards of
living, with modern, clean and efficient technologies.
That is what our proposals for emissions trading and joint implementation
strive to do.
To our partners in the developed world, let me say we have listened and
learned from you as well. We understand that while we share a common goal,
each of us faces unique challenges.
You have shown leadership here, and for that we are grateful. We came to
Kyoto to find new ways to bridge our differences. In doing so, however, we
must not waiver in our resolve. For our part, the United States remains firmly
committed to a strong, binding target that will reduce our own emissions by
nearly 30 percent from what they would otherwise bea commitment as strong, or
stronger, than any we have heard here from any country. The imperative here is
to do what we promise, rather than to promise what we cannot do.
All of us, of course, must reject the advice of those who ask us to believe
there really is no problem at all. We know their arguments; we have heard
others like them throughout history. For example, in my country, we remember
the tobacco company spokesmen who insisted for so long that smoking did no
harm. To those who seek to obfuscate and obstruct, we say: we will not allow
you to put narrow special interests above the interests of all humankind.
So what does the United States propose that we do?
The first measure of any proposal must be its environmental merit, and ours
is environmentally solid and sound.
It is strong and comprehensive, covering all six significant greenhouse
gases. It recognizes the link between the air and the land, including both
sources and sinks. It provides the tools to ensure that targets can be
metoffering emissions trading, joint implementation and research as powerful
engines of technology development and transfer. It further reduces
emissionsbelow 1990 levelsin the years 2012 and beyond. It provides the
means to ensure that all nations can join us on their own terms in meeting
this common challenge.
It is also economically sound. And, with strict monitoring and
accountability, it ensures that we will keep our bond with one another.
Whether or not agreement is reached here, we will take concrete steps to
help meet this challenge. President Clinton and I understand that our first
obligation is to address this issue at home. I commit to you today that the
United States is prepared to actand will act.
For my part, I have come here to Kyoto because I am both determined and
optimistic that we can succeed. I believe that by our coming together in Kyoto
we have already achieved a major victory, one of both of substance and of
spirit. I have no doubt that the process we have started here inevitably will
lead to a solution in the days or years ahead.
Some of you here have, perhaps, heard from your home capitals that
President Clinton and I have been burning up the phone lines, consulting and
sharing new ideas. Today let me add this. After talking with our negotiators
this morning and after speaking on the telephone from here a short time ago
with President Clinton, I am instructing our delegation right now to show
increased negotiating flexibility if a comprehensive plan can be put in place,
one with realistic targets and timetables, market mechanisms, and the
meaningful participation of key developing countries.
Earlier this century, the Scottish mountain climber, W.H. Murray, wrote:
"Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back,
always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative. . .there is one
elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid
plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, providence moves,
So let us press forward. Let us resolve to conduct ourselves in such a way
that our children's children will read about the "Spirit of Kyoto," and
remember well the place and the time where humankind first chose to embark
together on a long-term sustainable relationship between our civilization and
the Earth's environment.
In that spirit, let us transcend our differences and commit to secure our
common destiny: a planet whole and healthy, whose nations are at peace,
prosperous and free; and whose people everywhere are able to reach for their