Daniel A. Clune
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Washington, DC
April 21, 2010

Today, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day -- a grassroots movement that emerged in the U.S. in 1970 and arose from the frustrations of men and women moved to action by the degradation of the natural world they witnessed around them. Galvanized by smog that choked cities, chemical wastes that set rivers ablaze, and pesticides that threatened us with a silent spring, ordinary citizens banded together to advocate for clean air and water and the protection of endangered species.

Their labor bore much fruit, including:

  • The creation of the Environmental Protection Agency,
  • Passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts, and
  • The founding of environmental NGOs, such as Earth Day Network, whose CEO Kathleen Rodgers is with us here today.

We have an obligation to carry on and build upon their legacy. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the significant environmental challenges of our generation -- particularly climate change. But the lesson to be drawn from the pioneers of Earth Day is that these challenges are surmountable through commitment, perseverance and public and private partnership. Let me give you some examples of how the United States is carrying forward this legacy in our work overseas and within the Department.

Human-induced climate change is perhaps the greatest environmental challenge of our generation, and we are committed to tackling this problem head-on. Under President Obama, the U.S. has done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than ever before, both by supporting domestic policies that advance clean energy and address climate change and by vigorously engaging in international climate negotiations. In the past 15 months, the U.S. has invested over $80 billion in clean energy, instituted historic new vehicle efficiency standards, and boosted efficiency standards for appliances like refrigerators and microwaves. In October, President Obama signed an Executive Order on Federal Sustainability to reduce the Federal Government's carbon footprint. We in the State Department have pledged to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.

The United States is also dedicated to improving access to clean water. In 2005, our Congress passed the Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act, which makes access to safe water and sanitation for developing countries a specific policy objective of our foreign assistance programs. As Secretary Clinton stated on World Water Day about a month ago, "It's not every day you find an issue where effective diplomacy and development will allow you to save millions of lives, feed the hungry, empower women, advance our national security interests, protect the environment and demonstrate to billions of people that the United States cares -- cares about you and your welfare. Water is that issue."

The United States is also actively engaged in international efforts to protect our oceans, ensure sustainability of the world’s living marine resources, and mitigate the impacts of human activities on the marine environment. The United States is leading international efforts to protect global fish stocks from overfishing and to protect the world’s coral reefs and fragile coastal and deep sea habitats.

The Arctic is another high priority. As environmental changes in this region open new areas to human activities, such as transportation, resource exploitation, and fishing, we are committed to ensuring that those activities are conducted in a way that protects the fragile Arctic environment.

I should note that 2010 is not only the 40th year that we have celebrated Earth Day, it's also the “International Year of Biodiversity”, and many events throughout the year will offer an opportunity to take stock of our progress and the considerable challenges that lie ahead.

Since 2002, when the global community made it a goal to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss, we’ve seen a great expansion and strengthening of protected areas across the world, decreases in deforestation rates in some key countries like Brazil and Indonesia, and a growing appreciation for the role of coral reefs, forests, and other natural ecosystems in supporting food security, maintaining freshwater supplies, and combating and adapting to climate change.

However, we must acknowledge that the rate of biodiversity loss overall has accelerated over the past eight years, and we continue to lose primary tropical forests, coral reefs, wetlands and the species that depend on them at an alarming rate. On this 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, we should rededicate ourselves to conserving and sustainably using the planet’s biodiversity. As biologist E.O. Wilson warned, “This is the folly that our descendants are least likely to forgive us.”

Before I close, I'd like to point out very briefly the work that we in the State Department are doing to "lead by example." At last year's Earth Day celebration, Secretary Clinton launched the "Greening Diplomacy Initiative." The G-D-I, as we call it, is intended to reduce the Department's environmental footprint, cut costs, and empower employees to "think creatively" about ways to contribute to these efforts as well. Among the program’s achievements so far are:

  • A new Department Bike Program, which provides loaner bikes to our employees to travel to meetings across the city,
  • Plans to integrate environmentally friendly procedures into our training programs at the Foreign Service Institute, and
  • The design of more energy-efficient, green buildings for our embassies and consulates.

As the Secretary just mentioned, the Department is pleased to partner with the Earth Day Network and our diplomatic colleagues in D.C in launching the D.C. Greening Embassy Forum. The aim of the forum is to share best practices on sustainable operations and to highlight the Diplomatic missions’ collective greening activities. Ambassador Lintu from the Embassy of Finland will speak shortly about this.

As we all know, the challenges before us are daunting. We face rising waters where we don't want them and droughts where we do; plants, animals and fish vanishing from the face of the Earth forever; and desertification turning farmland into dust while hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry each night.

Yet, we know from the pioneers of Earth Day that we -- nations and individuals -- can chart a new course. We must build a legacy for the next generation just as these far-sighted men and women did for us. Thank you.