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Remarks on the International Coral Reef Initiative in Port Douglas, Australia

November 22, 1996

Thank you very much. Premier and Mrs. Borbidge, Mayor Berwick, Minister Hill and Mrs. Hill, members of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and to Minister Moore and Mrs. Moore, especially to Alicia Stevens for reminding us what this is all about today.

Hillary and I and our party have had a wonderful visit to Australia. We understand now why it is called the Lucky Country. But we believe that there is more than luck involved here. Today we celebrate the commitment of the people of this country, of the United States, and people all over the world to the proposition that we must preserve the natural resources that God has given us. We are here near the biggest, best managed protected marine and coastal area in the world for a clear reason: Australia has made a national commitment to be good stewards of the land with which God blessed you.

I am especially pleased today, as has already been said, that the Government of Australia is honoring the United States by naming a section of the Great Barrier Reef after Rachel Carson. Rachel Carson was the great American environmentalist; she was a marine biologist. Vice President Gore wrote about Rachel Carson: She brought us back to a fundamental idea lost to an amazing degree in modern civilization, the interconnection of human beings and the natural environment. That interconnection clearly imposes upon all of us a shared responsibility. To preserve a future for our children and grandchildren, we must care for our shared environment. It is a practical and a moral imperative.

We are citizens not only of individual nations but of this small and fragile planet. We know that pollution has contempt for borders, that what comes out of a smokestack in one nation can wind up on the shores of another an ocean away. We know, too, that recovery and preservation also benefits people beyond the borders of the nation in which it occurs. We know that protecting the environment can affect not only our health and our quality of life, it can even affect the peace. In too many places, including those about which we read too often now on the troubled continent of Africa, abuses like deforestation breed scarcity, and scarcity aggravates the turmoil which exists all over the world.

I am very proud of the work our two nations have done to preserve our natural heritage. Just as we have been allies for peace and freedom, we must be allies in the 21st century to protect the Earth's environment. Our work together on the International Coral Reef Initiative is a shining example of what we can achieve. Founded in 1994 by Australia, the United States, and six other governments, this initiative helps nations and regions to conserve, manage, and monitor coral reefs.

Pollution, overfishing, and overuse have put many of our unique reefs at risk. Their disappearance would destroy the habitat of countless species. It would unravel the web of marine life that holds the potential for new chemicals, new medicines, unlocking new mysteries. It would have a devastating effect on the coastal communities from Cairns to Key West, Florida, communities whose livelihood depends upon the reefs.

Steadily we are making progress. In this part of the world, the ICRI has played a crucial role in slowing the use of cyanide to harvest coral reef fish. Around the world, more than 75 nations and scores of organizations have participated in ICRI programs. Today, with your knowledge and leadership, we are seeing to it that the world's reefs make it into the next century safe and secure. And I thank you for that.

Let me say that our effort to save the world's reefs is a model for the work that we can do together in other environmental areas, and there is a lot of work to do. Deforestation is claiming an area the size of South Korea every year. Let us, together with the United Nations, develop a strategy for the sustainable management of all our forests.

Toxic chemicals and pesticides banned here and in the United States can still find their way into our lives, endangering our land, our water, and our children. Rachel Carson, whom we honor here today, helped alert us in the United States to these dangers. Let us now forge a global agreement to stop these toxic substances from being released into the world around us.

Today, thanks to the Montreal Protocol, we are slowing the production and the consumption of chlorofluorocarbons, the chemicals that have been eating a hole in the Earth's ozone layer. We're on our way to closing the ozone hole that threatens Antarctica and Australia. Now we must see to it that this landmark treaty is enforced from one corner of the Earth to another. We need no more new holes in the ozone.

Finally, we must work to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. These gases released by cars and power plants and burning forests affect our health and our climate. They are literally warming our planet. If they continue unabated, the consequences will be nothing short of devastating for the children here in this audience and their children.

New weather patterns, lost species, the spread of infectious diseases, damaged economies, rising sea levels: if present trends continue, there is a real risk that sometime in the next century, parts of this very park we are here in today could disappear, submerged by a rising ocean. That is why today, from this remarkable place, I call upon the community of nations to agree to legally binding commitments to fight climate change.

We must stand together against the threat of global warming. A greenhouse may be a good place to raise plants; it is no place to nurture our children. And we can avoid dangerous global warming if we begin today and if we begin together.

If we meet all these challenges, we can make 1997 a milestone year in protecting the global environment. We can do it in a way that encourages sustainable development. One thing we've learned in recent years is that protecting the environment and promoting human progress are not incompatible goals; they go hand in hand. I am very pleased that the United Nations General Assembly will have a special session in New York next year to review our progress in advancing sustainable development since the Earth summit in Rio.

An Australian folktale has it that in the beginning the sky was so close to the Earth that it blocked out all the light. Everyone was forced to crawl in the darkness, collecting with their hands whatever they could find to eat. But the birds of that land decided that if they worked together they could raise the sky and make more room to move about. Slowly, with long sticks, they lifted the sky. The darkness passed, and everyone stood upright.

If we work together as those birds did, we can preserve our environment for our children, for their children, for generations beyond. Let us lift our sights and ourselves to that great challenge.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:45 p.m. at Port Douglas Park. In his remarks, he referred to Queensland Premier Robert Borbidge and his wife, Jennifer; Mayor Mike Berwick of Port Douglas; Senator Robert Hill, Minister for the Environment, and his wife, Diana; John Moore, Minister for Industry, Science, and Tourism, and his wife, Jacqueline; and Alicia Stevens, Port Douglas student who introduced the President.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on the International Coral Reef Initiative in Port Douglas, Australia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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