COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
UNITED STATES SENATE
REVIEW OF IMPLEMENTATION OF ENVIRONMENTAL TREATIES
July 24, 2002
Committee Chairmen Jeffords and Biden, Subcommittee Chairman Sarbanes, and members of the Committees: good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss U.S. adherence to its sustainable development commitments, particularly those made at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
I am the editor of a 32-chapter book on U.S. sustainable development efforts in the ten years since the Earth Summit, entitled Stumbling Toward Sustainability. The book is being published this week by the Environmental Law Institute. The book’s 42 contributors come from universities and law schools, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, and state government. They are respected experts in their fields.
A list of chapters and authors is attached to this statement. The book’s synthesis, which pulls together the major themes of the book and summarizes each of the chapters, is also attached.
Ten-Year Assessment: U.S. Made Little Progress
The U.S. has unquestionably begun to take some steps toward sustainable development, largely because of our environmental and conservation laws. Yet, on balance, the United States is now far from being a sustainable society, and in many respects is farther away than it was at the time of the Earth Summit in 1992. Unlike many other developed countries, the United States has not used a strategic process to move the country toward a sustainable future and has not educated the American people about the opportunities and challenges of sustainable development.
With 5% of the world's population, the United States was at the time of the Earth Summit responsible for about 24% of the world's energy consumption and almost 30% of the world's raw materials consumption. Since the Earth Summit, materials use has increased 10%, primary energy consumption has increased 21%, and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 13%. Over and over, increases in materials and energy efficiency, and in the effectiveness of pollution controls for individual sources, were outweighed by increases in consumption. Despite a significant increase in municipal waste recycling in the past decade, for example, the U.S. generation and disposal of municipal solid waste per capita have been growing since 1996. According to Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, “four more planet Earths” would be needed for “every person in the world to reach present U.S. levels of consumption with existing technology.” Yet the U.S. standard of living–equated with high levels of consumption and “the good life”-- is widely envied and emulated throughout the world.
The United States has not exercised the kind of international leadership necessary to encourage or support sustainable development around the world. U.S. law and policy continue to encourage unsustainable development in a variety of ways, including subsidies and fragmented local decision making that encourages sprawl. As a whole, the condition of America’s natural resources and ecosystems has not improved, and appears to have deteriorated slightly, over the past decade. Our infrastructure and social support systems continue to cause environmental degradation and underserve the poor.
National Sustainable Development Strategy is Needed
The federal government should adopt and implement a national strategy for sustainable development, with specified goals and priorities, to harness all sectors of society to achieve our economic, social, environmental, and security goals. The strategy would lead to a stronger, more prosperous America with higher quality of life because we would be pursuing these goals in ways that support each other in greater and greater degrees over time, rather than undermining each other. The strategy could be modeled on that of the European Union or states such as Oregon and New Jersey, and specifically address climate change, biodiversity, international trade, and other major issues.
The President could get the process started with an appropriate executive order to federal agencies under the Government Performance and Results Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. An executive-level entity would be needed to coordinate and assist in the implementation of the strategy. A counterpart entity in Congress would also be helpful. A set of indicators to measure progress in achieving goals would make the strategy more effective and meaningful.
In addition, the U.S. needs to recognize that its substantial consumption levels, coupled with domestic population growth, have serious environmental, social, and economic impacts. Americans also need to understand that human well-being can be maintained and enhanced by more efficient and effective use of materials and energy. A shift in taxes from labor and income, on one hand, to materials and energy consumption, on the other, would encourage both greater efficiency and reduced negative environmental impacts. A variety of other legal and policy tools that have successfully been used at the state level to reduce environmental effects of consumption and for other purposes are also available, including renewable energy portfolio standards and smart growth legislation.
The U.S. needs to take a stronger and more constructive leadership role internationally, not only on terrorism but on the broad range of issues related to sustainable development. Congress should repeal or modify laws, policies, and subsidies that encourage unsustainable development. Protection of natural resources and the environment must focus more holistically on the resources to be protected, and on understanding those resources. Transportation, public health, and other social infrastructure and institutions should be designed and operated to further economic, environmental, and social goals at the same time.
In virtually every area of American life, a few people and organizations are exercising leadership for sustainability. The United States would take a large and decisive step toward sustainability if individuals, businesses, educational institutions, local and state governments, federal agencies and others would simply adopt and build on the leading sustainability practices of their counterparts. A properly conceived and implemented strategy would lead to that result.
These and other recommendations are set out in detail in the book. They provide an issue-by-issue roadmap for sustainability in the United States.
Toward a Brighter Future for Our Children and Grandchildren
We now face growing environmental degradation around the world and a growing gap between rich and poor. These are related problems, and they hinder or undermine everything else we care about--security, economic development, social well-being, and even effective governance. Put differently, poverty and environmental degradation are deeply destabilizing because they stifle or reduce opportunities and quality of life for many, many people.
In the next 50 years, global population is projected to increase by three billion people, and the global economy is likely to grow by four or five times. As difficult as things now are, environmental degradation and the gap between rich and poor are likely to get much worse if continue business as usual. Should that be our legacy for our children and grandchildren?
We know what we need to do to move toward sustainability, and we also know why. As Americans, we are called to face these challenges, and to seize this opportunity.