Ambassador Kennedy Speaks at Asahi World Forum

Remarks by Ambassador Caroline Kennedy
United States Ambassador to Japan
Asahi World Forum

October 3, 2016

Protecting Our Environment and Oceans: How Women Taught Us to Address the Challenge of Our Generation

Good Afternoon. I want to thank President Watanabe and the Asahi Shimbun Company for your commitment to the environment, and for convening this important World Forum. This year's theme is The Environment and Beyond – Toward a Sustainable Society. Yesterday you heard solutions from Japan and today I am honored to be part of the discussion on global perspectives.

First, I would like to commend the Government of Japan for the high priority it has placed on environmental issues during its year as G7 Chair. In addition to the Environmental Ministerial in Toyama, both the Energy Ministerial in Kitakyushu and the Education Ministerial in Kurashiki which I attended included serious discussion of environmental issues.

We are also grateful to Japan for hosting the APEC High Level Workshop on Preventing Marine Litter just last week. This workshop brought together representatives from government, the private sector and civil society to address financing solutions for this important problem.

Japan has also made proposals to protect overfished stocks at recent conferences in Fukuoka and Tokyo but further action is needed by all countries. And thanks to Japan's leadership, the UN has designated World Tsunami Day which will save lives and raise awareness of the urgent need for action on climate change.

Japan is the second largest donor to the Green Climate Fund, committing $1.5 billion and the Government is now seeking ratification of the COP21 Paris Agreement which the United States and China formally entered on September 3.

As two of the world's leading democracies, Japan and the United States share fundamental values of freedom, human rights and the rule of law. We believe in the power of individuals to change the world, and the importance of working within a multilateral system to solve global challenges.

Today, I would like to talk about an area of concern to both our nations, and some ideas for who should address the problem and how.

The front line of the battle for our environmental future is the Ocean. As nations that have built their economies, their mythologies and their national identities on their relationship with the sea, both Japan and the United States have a leading role to play.

The ocean is the center of the earth's life support system. It shapes climate and weather. It holds most of life on earth. 97% of earth's water is there. As the marine biologist Sylvia Earle has said, "The Ocean is the blue heart of the planet. We should take care of our heart. It's what makes life possible."

Right now, ocean conservation is especially critical for the Asia Pacific region. There are about 2 billion people worldwide living within 50 kilometers of the ocean and most of them are in Pacific Rim countries. They depend on the ocean for their very survival and the rest of us indirectly depend on it as well. To be more specific, 12% of the world's population makes a living from the ocean, and the ocean provides more than half the oxygen we breathe.

Yet right now, we are choking the oceans with garbage, we are depleting its resources and overfishing its stocks, and we are taking for granted that the ocean will continue to mitigate the effects of global warming without adversely impacting our way of life.

These trends cannot continue without serious negative consequences to the life and health of every person on earth. And this is not something we can put off. Not only is ocean conservation a moral commitment we must make to our children and grandchildren, it is vital to the foreign policy, economic growth and national security of all our countries.

This is a personal issue for me as well. Like most Americans, my ancestors travelled across the ocean in pursuit of the American Dream and my family has had a life-long love of the sea. President Kennedy said of the ocean, "It is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea - whether it is to sail or to watch it - we are going back from whence we came."

Like my father, President Obama comes from a state that depends on the ocean. He has put the full force of his Presidency behind the effort to fight climate change culminating in the landmark COP21 Paris Agreement. He has made environmental issues, including the health and sustainability of the ocean, a top priority for the United States.

Under the leadership of Secretary of State Kerry – another sailor from Massachusetts – President Obama recently convened the third Our Oceans conference where he announced the creation of the world's largest Marine Protected Area in Hawaii, and another important one off the coast of New England.

The international community joined to announce 136 new marine conservation initiatives valued at more than $5.24 billion and the protection of almost four million square kilometers of ocean. Yet that is only 1% of the ocean. In the coming months and years, we need to keep the focus on the key ocean issues of our time – marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, marine pollution and climate –related impacts.

Japan is even more dependent on the sea than the United States. Among the nations of the world, Japan ranks 61st in terms of landmass, but FIFTH in terms of coastline. As every tourist knows, more than 450 species and 2,000 tons of seafood passes through Tsukiji market every day, and Japan consumes 70% of the world's Bluefin tuna. Yet that abundance belies the reality that fish stocks are in danger – in fact, Pacific Bluefin tuna stocks are down to 2.6% of historic levels due to a century of overfishing.

Just like I hear from fishermen in the United States, when I visited the port of Kesennuma, I learned that the catch of many species is down 90% in the past 20 years. And contrary to what we are sometimes told, the people closest to the problem – the fishermen - actually want governments to do more, even if it means that their own livelihoods may be adversely affected, so that their way of life can be passed on to their children and grandchildren.

It is difficult to grasp the magnitude of this challenge. The oceans are immense and eternal so it is hard to believe they are suffering. And because they comprise more than 60 % of the earth's surface, it is only through concerted international action that we can make progress. We need leadership, resources and increased citizen activism. But we don't have a choice, because, as Secretary Kerry says, "There is no final victory in this business of protecting the environment - but there can be a final defeat."

If our two nations lead this effort, I know we will succeed because together we already lead the world in medical research, humanitarian relief, space exploration and technological innovation. We can take inspiration and strength from the example of people who have gone before us. And because in the area of the environment some of the greatest leaders have been women.

In the United States, the environmental movement traces its roots to the work of Rachel Carson. In 1935, faced with the responsibility of supporting her family, Carson left school and took a job at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries studying fish populations and writing copy for a weekly radio program. In the 1950s she published two books about the ocean, and as she continued to study the environment, she became increasingly concerned about the widespread use of harmful pesticides – especially DDT which was killing birds and destroying plant life.

In 1962, she published the book, "Silent Spring," which prompted a national debate and a firestorm of controversy. The chemical companies attacked her with full force, but scientific evidence was on her side, and public opinion came around. She recognized that the balance between man and nature had changed during the Second World War when all resources had been dedicated to destruction. Her courageous crusade sought to restore that balance, and to assert the interconnectedness of life on earth as a scientific principle, a policy imperative and a human necessity.

She wrote, "Only within the 20th Century has biological thought been focused on ecology, or the relation of the living creature to its environment. It is useless to attempt to preserve a living species unless the kind of land or water it requires is also preserved. So delicately interwoven are the relationships that when we disturb one thread of the community fabric we alter it all – perhaps almost imperceptibly, perhaps so drastically that destruction follows."

Today, the leading marine conservationist in the United States is also a woman – Dr. Sylvia Earle. The first female Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, she set a record for the world's deepest dive and has logged more than 7000 hours underwater. Today, she leads global teams to assess environmental damage from oil spills and other catastrophes and advocates for marine protected areas as vital to the survival of life on earth – including human life.

At her recent TED talk Dr. Earle said, "There are still places in the sea as pristine as I knew as a child. The next 10 years may be the most important, and the next 10,000 years the best chance our species will have to protect what remains of the natural systems that give us life. To cope with climate change, we need new ways to generate power. We need new ways, better ways, to cope with poverty, wars and disease. We need many things to keep and maintain the world as a better place.

But, nothing else will matter if we fail to protect the ocean. Our fate and the oceans are one."

Here in Japan, women have also led the environmental movement and are continuing to do so today. In 1968, the publication of the book "Pure Land, Poisoned Sea: Our Minamata Disease", written by a local poet and homemaker, Michiko Ishimure – captured public attention and gave new momentum to the long-running lawsuit for compensation for victims of mercury poisoning.

Finally, in 2013, the text of the UN Minamata Convention on Mercury was adopted and named for the people of that town. It will enter into force after 50 countries have ratified it. Right now, we are waiting for 18 more.

In Kitakyushu, a group of mothers concerned about their children's health stood up to powerful industry forces that had made the community's air and water the most polluted in Japan. The 1965 film, "We Want Our Blue Sky Back", produced by a local women's group, prompted major policy changes and an innovative approach which has become a model for the world. Demanding action, the women enlisted local government, industry and civic groups to work collaboratively to address the problem.

50 years later, Kitakyushu remains engaged in developing environmentally–friendly technologies, innovative recycling and energy programs. Like Minamata, Kitakyushu was designated as an eco-model city by the Japanese government in 2008.

In 2011 it was selected, along with Chicago, Paris and Stockholm for an OECD study on Green Growth. With assistance from JICA, Kitakyushu has received 7,000 trainees from over 150 cities particularly from Asia and South America. In 2014, Kitakyushu officials participated in the first Japan-ROK-China policy dialogue on air pollution at the request of the Chinese government. That model will only become more important as more countries seek to solve transnational environmental problems.

Today, the legacy of Minamata and Kitakyushu lives on in a new generation of mothers from Fukushima who are asking questions about the environment in which their children are growing up.

Women's environmental leadership is not confined to the US and Japan. Dr. Wangari Maathai was one of the first African women to receive a doctorate as well as the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement which seeks to combat poverty, increase social justice and promote environmental conservation through community tree planting.

Recognizing that "sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible" Maathai acted in response to the needs of rural African women who were facing increasing violence, environmental degradation and cultural destruction due to the introduction of large-scale farming and the injustices of international economic commerce.

Since its founding, the Green Belt movement has planted more than 30 million trees in Africa. Recognizing that responsible governance of the environment is impossible without citizen empowerment and democratic space, the Movement also became a symbol and a leader in the democratic struggle in Kenya, which culminated in the 2002 transition to a democratic government.

A perfect illustration of the global network needed to care for our planet is that Maathai was inspired by the Japanese concept of "mottainai." After a visit here, she launched a new world-wide campaign with that name, to reduce the use of plastic bags, promote recycling and revive traditional sustainable basket culture in Africa.

With mothers and grandmothers like these courageous women, we have all the inspiration we need. Now it is our turn.

The greatest challenges we face today are bigger than any one country can solve alone. We need global networks of concerned citizens to address international issues like climate change, ocean conservation, violent extremism, gender-based violence and the refugee crisis.

It is increasingly obvious that women suffer disproportionately from these crises, and that when women are included in the process, the solutions are longer-lasting, more successful and more resilient. And we need the next generation to fight for change, to hold us accountable, and to lead the way forward.

One of the things that makes me most hopeful is that this is already happening. One of the outcomes of the Our Oceans conference is a website called 1,000 Ocean Actions Campaign. Just a casual look at what is happening shows that interest is growing and all kinds of people are doing more: academic institutions are offering more courses in environmental management and conservation; young residents of the Artic are speaking up and documenting the impacts of climate change on their coastal communities; religious organizations are joining to seed coral reefs worldwide; young people are taking pledges to reduce their consumption patterns; and tech companies are developing Apps to allow tracking of wind, tides, fish and market prices to help fishermen combat illegal fishing and promote sustainability.

And Ama divers in Japan and their counterparts in Korea, the Sea Women – haenyeo – are being recognized not just as tourist attractions representing a vanishing way of life, but as experts on sustainable fishing and the destruction of the marine habitat.

On a government level, Japan and the US are cooperating on a project to empower the next generation of women through education. The Peace Corps and JOCV are working together on the Let Girls Learn Initiative to educate adolescent girls in developing countries. Right now, 62 million girls do not attend school yet we know that societies where women are educated have healthier families and stronger communities.

Since women bear the primary responsibility for feeding their families, an education will give them the ability to fight for environmental justice.

JICA and USAID are working to help fishermen in the Philippines whose livelihood has been destroyed by overfishing and pollution, learn to farm seaweed as an alternative. And the learning is going two ways.

Kaori Onishi, who worked as a math and science teacher in a coastal community in the Philippines was inspired by the closeness to nature she found there. When she returned home to Mie Prefecture, she started Osugidani Nature School to bring the community together to provide outdoor experiences and environmental education. Older generations teach the children how to fish and understand the forest. And this school employs five full time and three part time workers – thereby contributing to Japan's own regional revitalization.

When I met recently with young JOCV volunteers headed overseas at JICA's Nihonmatsu training center, I was inspired by their adventurous spirit, their compassion, and their desire to share Japan's knowledge with the world and to learn from others. One of the young women said something I will never forget. She had always dreamed of going overseas as a volunteer but life had gotten in the way and she had become an elementary school teacher.

One day she was talking to her young students about their future and they asked her if she had failed to volunteer because she was a girl. The next day she signed up and was headed to the Philippines. She told me she did it to show them that girls can dream big dreams and make them come true.

Young women in Japan and in the United States share a commitment to the future. Their generation is going to make up the class of world, community, business and environmental leaders as the problems posed by climate change become real. They are educated, empowered and empathetic. And they have inspiring examples to follow.

In business and politics, both American men and women see women as more able to achieve compromise, more honest and ethical, more willing to stand up for their beliefs and more interested in improving quality of life for all people.

Tackling climate change requires exactly these kinds of values and abilities. A recent article in the Japan Times said that young people in Japan are becoming less interested in climate change. But fortunately, that number has only dropped to 74%! If we want to keep living in a world that is not only beautiful and sustaining, but also more just and more peaceful, now is the time to care and learn about the environment and how to preserve it.

Margaret Mead, the pioneering American cultural anthropologist wrote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Gambarimasho! And Arigato Gozaimasu.