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Climate Change, Combating Trade in Illegal Wildlife, and Protecting the World's Forests

Claudia McMurray, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Remarks to the Georgetown Leadership Seminar
Washington, DC
April 2, 2008

In our bureau we are fortunate to be able to work on an exciting range of international issues—everything from climate change, air and water pollution, to conservation of forests, oceans and marine life, to space exploration, and combating infectious diseases and bioterrorism. This morning I’d like to highlight 3 of these priorities that my bureau focuses on: climate change, combating trade in illegal wildlife, and protecting the world’s forests.

First, I’d like to address climate change. The United States believes that climate change is a serious problem. We are committed to developing a global solution that addresses the environmental problem and allows countries to grow economically. Any new agreement should have participation from all major economies, including the United States.

Assistant Secretary MacMurray speaking. [State Dept. Photo]President Bush has made clear that the United States will do its part to cut greenhouse gas emissions at home. Since 2001, we have devoted over $45 billion to climate change research and have requested $7.4 billion more in 2008 for dozens of voluntary, incentive-based, and mandatory programs.

U.S. investments in energy technology research have increased from $1.7 bilion in 2001 to over $4 billion per year, and, as a result of the 2005 Energy Bill and other legislation, there is now $38.5 billion per year available for financial assistance for clean energy technology.

In addition to our commitment here at home, last year the President announced that the United States would lead a new effort to complement the UN negotiations and develop by the end of 2008 an international approach to address climate change.

The Major Economies Process includes major developed countries like Japan and those in the European Union, and developing economies, like China and India. It recognizes that climate change must be addressed in ways that take into account the interrelated needs for energy, pollution control, and economic growth.

Our aim is to find a formula that can work for all major economies and achieve consensus next year on key elements of an agreement to take the place of the Kyoto Protocol, the climate change agreement that now governs mandatory actions.

In September, the Major Economies met for the first time. It brought together 17 countries, representing some 80% of the world’s economy, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions. The UN Climate Conference in Bali, Indonesia followed last December and opened an important new chapter in climate diplomacy.

In Bali, countries adopted what is now referred to as the Bali Roadmap. The Roadmap highlights the importance of "measurable, reportable, and verifiable" contributions from all countries. In January, the U.S. again convened the major economies plus UN representatives for two days in Honolulu. We discussed how we can contribute to the Bali Roadmap.

The major economies will continue to meet this year to discuss a framework for the next climate change agreement. President Bush hopes to bring together the leaders of the major economies at the G-8 leaders summit later this year in Japan.

Also last September, President Bush announced a new international clean technology fund to help developing nations harness the power of clean energy technologies.  The President has committed to provide $2 billion to the fund over the next three years. We are working with the United Kingdom, Japan and World Bank on this and look forward to engaging a much broader group of partners as this develops. By supporting developing countries such as India, China and others through clean energy technology, we will have a much broader effect on reducing emissions.

In addition, the United States recently joined the European Union in submitting a ground-breaking proposal in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to allow climate change technology to move more easily from one country to another.

WTO members currently charge duties – or taxes – as high as 70 percent on certain environmental goods, impeding the use of these important technologies. A recent World Bank study on climate and clean energy technologies suggests that by removing these taxes, trade could increase by an additional 7-14 percent annually.


The second issue I’d like to address is illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products.

Most people know that scores of animal species are endangered. What they assume is that species become endangered because of human population growth, which in turn leads to lost habitat and conflict between humans and animals.

All of this is true. These are the primary threats to wildlife. But in recent years, illegal trade has grown and now contributes much more significantly to the loss or threatened loss of our most endangered wildlife.

In fact, the illegal trade has brought us to a “tipping point” -- in other words, it is pushing many species over the edge to extinction.

In addition to the serious threats the trade presents to biodiversity, it is also important for other reasons. Wildlife trafficking poses health threats, as some diseases, such as avian influenza, SARS, the Ebola virus and tuberculosis, can jump from animals to humans. This problem becomes worse when animals move in the illegal global market.

Why has the trade grown so dramatically? Among other factors, organized crime has discovered that this trade is very profitable. In some cases, it rivals the economic gains made from trafficking in drugs and weapons. As Newsweek magazine put it recently, endangered animals are the new “blood diamonds.” The annual estimates of the dollar value of this trade are indeed staggering. Some put it at about $10 billion a year globally. And that is a conservative estimate.

Other estimates put it closer to $20 billion. The dollar figures are at this level because certain products command extremely high prices on the black market. The dollar figures are also high because of the sheer volume of animals flooding the market. For example, 45 million sharks are taken every year for their fins.

What is the United States doing to stop it? Two years ago, we formed an international partnership called the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking, or CAWT, to fight this illegal trade because no one country or organization can do this alone. Today, we have 19 partners, including Australia, Canada, Chile, India and the United Kingdom and 13 international non-governmental organizations.

Through the Coalition, we seek, at the highest levels of governments, to end the trade by curbing both the supply and demand for illegal wildlife and wildlife products. We are creating new international networks for stronger law enforcement, such as something called ASEAN-WEN in southeast Asia. You may have seen it featured on CNN’s Planet in Peril last fall.

Making a dent in organized crime through strengthened enforcement is only part of the solution. We must also work to stamp out demand for these products. We are talking to people who buy these products, asking them to stop. The two biggest markets for illegal wildlife and wildlife products are China - #1 – and – right here in our own backyard – the United States, which is #2.

American consumers are buying these products when they travel, on the Internet, and sometimes even in shops here at home. In most cases, they think that what they are buying is perfectly legal. We consider it the job of the United States government to let them know that this is not the case. We enlisted the help of Harrison Ford, who has for many years had a strong commitment to wildlife conservation.

Last fall, Mr. Ford generously donated his time to film three public service announcements urging consumers – both in America and other countries – to stop buying illegal wildlife and wildlife products. We plan to distribute these ads in the United States and internationally very soon.

We’ve also worked to raise political awareness of the issue. Last year wildlife trafficking issues were part of the work of the G-8. They have also been on the agenda in summits between President Bush and the EU, India, and Brazil, to name a few.

Stopping wildlife trafficking is not just about saving animals from extinction – as vitally important as that is. It is also about encouraging countries to protect the health of their citizens and promote strong law enforcement.


Illegal Logging has a similar effect. Forests are home to 70% of all land-living plants and animals and provide food, fuel, shelter, clean water, medicine and livelihood for people worldwide, so it is critical to protect them. Forests are also the “lungs” of the environment. They replenish the earth's atmosphere and provide fresh air by storing carbon and producing oxygen.

So, as you all know, forests are important. The United States has been a global leader in promoting forest conservation around the world.

In 2003, at the request of the President, Secretary of State Colin Powell launched the President's Initiative Against Illegal Logging (PIAIL) to help countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America combat illegal logging and the export of illegally harvested timber and timber products.

These illegal activities destroy forests and those who depend on them and cost countries $10-15 billion each year in lost revenues from legitimate trade. In December, the United States and China concluded a landmark agreement to work together to end the trade in illegally harvested timber. The agreement lays a foundation for increased cooperation on law enforcement, sharing information on illegal logging, and promoting the trade in legal forest products.

The United States and China are the world’s biggest producers, consumers and traders in wood products, so this agreement between our two countries is expected to have far reaching effects. The United States and Indonesia are also working together to fight the devastating problem of illegal logging and corruption in Indonesia.

Indonesia has the 3rd largest rainforest on the planet. But with more than 3,000 islands, it’s impossible for the government to enforce its own laws which ban logging. So, Indonesia’s forests are being cut down and habitat for orangutans, tigers, and other rare wildlife is being destroyed.

The illegal logs are smuggled to nearby Malaysia and then exported to China and Europe as legal Malaysian timber. China makes plywood, veneer and furniture out of the timber and sells it to Americans.

To help Indonesia stop this crime, we signed an agreement in November 2006 and have since provided $1 million to improve law enforcement cooperation, train Indonesian customs and judges, and help the government to implement a new standard to verify the legality of timber harvested and exported.

We also preserve forests under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, a unique piece of legislation that allows the United States to “forgive” some of debt that tropical countries owe us in return for their protecting their forests.

Ten years later, the United States has concluded 13 debt-for-nature agreements with countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. These agreements are generating $163 million over the next 10-25 years to protect 50 million acres of biologically rich tropical rainforests.

We have also worked to save Liberia’s forests. In 2003, the United Nations put sanctions on Liberia’s timber trade, essentially shutting down one of the country’s biggest industries. The reason? Liberia’s president at the time, Charles Taylor, allegedly used profits from his country’s timber trade to fund conflict in Liberia and in neighboring countries.

His government fell three months later. In 2004 the United States launched the Liberia Forest Initiative with about $4 million to help Liberians to recover and conserve their country’s rich and war-torn forests.

If managed well, the country's forests could generate substantial income and employ thousands of workers. The United States also launched the Congo Basin Forest Partnership in 2002 and has contributed $85 million to better manage 80 million hectares -- an area about the size of Texas.

The Congo Basin is home to the world’s second largest tropical forest, second only to the Amazon. It houses some of the world’s most incredible biodiversity, including the world’s last surviving mountain gorillas, of “Gorillas in the Mist” fame.

The partnership includes 36 partners – countries, international organizations and environmental and business interests – that are committed to strengthening national institutions in the region, working with local communities, training thousands of conservation professionals, and helping the people of the Congo Basin to conserve and manage their forests so that they and many future generations can live in and enjoy them.

This is a very brief insight into the many exciting issues that we work on in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science. I would be happy to take questions.

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