Press Release

July 24, 2013
SFRC Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs Protecting the Environment and Ensuring Food and Water Security in East Asia and the Pacific

Welcome to our third hearing on the Administration’s “Rebalance to Asia” policy. Today we will examine how the Rebalance advances our security and economic priorities related to environmental protection and food and water security in the East Asia Pacific (EAP) region.  


 In June, we celebrated Oceans Month and were reminded that protecting the environment and preserving our natural resources is a challenge we must address locally, nationally and globally.


As Chair of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, I dedicate a significant amount of time and energy to advancing domestic policies that protect the Chesapeake Bay, a precious resource in my home state of Maryland and neighboring states. In my role as a member of this committee, I have supported efforts to ensure my grandchildren inherit a clean and healthy earth. As President Obama noted in his recent Climate Action Plan, we have a moral obligation to leave our children a healthy planet.


But environmental protection is not just about our moral obligation to future generations; it is also about advancing our current national security and economic interests.  


The devastating impacts of climate change and environmental degradation have touched every corner of the Earth— sending shockwaves that have reverberated in communities from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, to the peaceful plains of Middle America, to the pastoral and agrarian communities the Horn and the Sahel regions of Africa, to the low lying islands of Asia Pacific.


And regardless of what any of us may think about the scientific evidence of climate change, one thing is clear: the security and economic impacts of climate-induced shocks and environmental degradation are significant. 


For decades the U.S. national security and intelligence community has documented the strategic and economic importance of promoting smart, sustainable development; protecting the environment; and addressing the global problem of climate change, particularly in the East Asia and Pacific region.  


Some observers have criticized the Rebalance to Asia policy for not focusing on the environment and related food and water security issues. However, recent reports and public statements by Administration officials have underscored the view that helping the EAP region address environmental challenges is essential for preventing future conflict and instability and advancing our economic interests in the region.

Last month, Admiral Samuel Locklear III, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, eloquently conveyed the national security and economic impacts of climate shocks, noting that over the past four years, nearly 278 thousand people were killed in the region due to natural disasters, with over half a million displaced and  more than $800 billion dollars in lost economic productivity.


In April during his trip to Japan, Secretary Kerry of the need for sustainable fisheries, problems related to illegal mining and logging, and the need for innovative global enforcement mechanisms in the region.  


In this region, each nation’s environmental and natural resource consumption practices can negatively affect its neighbors, and climate change impacts are felt across the region:


Rivers that provide water for drinking, irrigation, industry, and ecosystems are stressed by increasing demands, pollution, and dams.


Chinese damming upstream on the Mekong [MAY-KONG] River for hydropower projects, has led to agricultural and water supply problems for downstream countries.


Growing material demands, wealth, and poor development strategies have led to illegal wildlife trade, excessive commercial logging, and deforestation, threatening native elephant, rhinoceros and other species.

The competition for energy and economic resources, including over-fishing has sparked rising tensions in the disputed waters in the South and East China Seas.  


Rising sea levels in the Pacific Ocean –home to the “World’s Largest Garbage Patch” of over 3.5 million tons of trash and pollutants—threaten to degrade their water supply, disrupt agriculture and food security, deplete marine life biodiversity, impact tourism, and displace millions— including, according to the Department of Defense, our U.S. military installations. 


Forest fires in Indonesia create a haze which devastates the air quality of neighboring countries. Air quality in China is a challenge of epic proportions.


During my trip to Beijing in June— the smog was so dense my staff and I rarely saw the sun or even the buildings on the next block. We were told the problem is even worse in the winter when power plants burning low-grade coal are running at maximum capacity. I was astonished to learn that one million Chinese die each year from air pollution. The children of American diplomats have developed to asthma and other respiratory issues.


Public discontent about the health impacts of China’s pollution problem has sparked domestic protests. Those protests have led to what I believe is a sincere commitment by the Chinese government to mitigate the impacts of climate change and implement some sustainable development and smart growth policies.  And the United States is partnering with the Chinese to do just that.


Indeed, we have launched a number of important bilateral and multilateral partnerships to combat this problem.


And we have at least one model for success in the region. Singapore is a trail blazer and model for good environmental governance for smart, sustainable development. Over the past 40 years- during a period of tremendous industrial growth- Singapore has invested in proactive government reforms to implement best practices in environmental planning, despite water scarcity, population growth, and rising sea level challenges.


Those reforms have made Singapore cleaner, greener, and more prosperous, and they have informed regional dialogue on environmental issues within ASEAN [AH-SEE-AHN].


 I look forward to hearing from our witnesses no only about the challenges, but also the partnership opportunities to advance best practices and develop innovative, economically-friendly solutions to these challenges.


I now yield to Ranking Member, Rubio for opening remarks.