Address by H.E. Valdas Adamkus

President of the Republic of Lithuania

at The Catholic University of America

on the acceptance of Doctor of Law, Honoris Causa Regalia

Environmental Protection as Our Moral and Legal Obligation: An Old Issue in the Modern Post-Cold War Context

Washington D.C.,

October 21, 1998


Mr. President, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor for me to be among you today. Thank you for the respect accorded to me and to accept the honorary regalia granted to me by this University I feel extremely happy that my long term involvement in the environment protection world has received such a high academic evaluation.

I am especially honored to be conferred the degree of Doctor of Law Honoris Causa by this reputable Catholic University of America whose history dates back more than 110 years ago. An award from a University that is so active in the environment protection research and that pays such great attention to raising it's student's awareness of environmental issues is particularly dear and important to me.

At the same time, I feel an additional burden of responsibility upon me because, in spite of the festive mood in this hall today, the challenges to our environment still loom high. I also feel obliged to work even harder to help safeguard clean and safe environment.

Concern for the environment has become an integral part of the modern society's world perception and way of life. The development of industry and business now is first of all perceived as the development of environmentally friendly industry and business; an oil spill primarily brings forth the issue of environmental damage and recovery instead of the tanker company's losses. Progressive societies have already set down certain ecological standards in road building, manufacturing, agriculture, and even in such private spheres of human activity as fishing and recreation.

If we look at costs of such a transformation in mentality, it is clear that this concern over ecology is largely conditioned by the survival of mankind itself. Land turning into deserts, depleting drinking water resources and ozone depletion- all are the results of man's irresponsible economic activity, which we should repair within the shortest time.

In a number of countries one can often find politicians urging for a rapid development of economy at any cost. They believe that anew enterprise, which creates multiply jobs, is much more valuable than a couple of million dollars spent on a non-profit wastewater treatment facility. Besides, according to them, by setting strict ecological standards the state restricts business initiative and prevents people from building their well being.

Such reasoning is not alien not even to Western societies. The influence of similar arguments in Lithuania is strengthened by the fact that, having suffered along with other hardships genocide against nature during fifty years of Soviet occupation, the society is used to putting economic or political interests above the ecological ones. This distorted scale of values needs to be transformed as well. That is why environmental protection in the post-soviet context inter links with both legal and moral reform.

The legacy of the past is still painfully felt in Lithuania. About 18 percent of industrial and urban wastewater is discharged into Lithuanian lakes and rivers untreated. While withdrawing from Lithuania, the Soviet army whose bases occupied about 1 percent of the country's territory left behind soil contaminated with oils and heavy metals. A subsequent study revealed that, for example, at the huge military airfields in Siaulial and Kedainiai the oil pools or the soil were an average thickness of 5 to 15 inches.

Such a situation is, most probably, characteristic of most of the Central and Eastern European countries in transition. To be honest, environmental protection has been a critical issue in Western societies as well. Yet our situation is different. We solve our environmental problems in the modern context, being somewhat 'privileged' of having the opportunity to make full use if the advanced modern technologies and the accumulated experience of the Western community.

I am convinced that the prime goal of modern times is to ensure that considerations of rapid economic growth do not overshadow our attention to environmental protection.

This first and foremost requires creating a clear-cut mechanism of legal regulation in the sphere of environmental protection. I am pleased to say that Lithuania has already made considerable progress in this sphere. Our Environmental Protection Act adopted as early as 1992 lays down the main principles of environmental work. In 1996 the Lithuanian Parliament adopted a National Strategy for Environmental Protection which sets down Lithuania's main priorities in this field. Lithuania has also ratified major United Nations environment-related conventions, including the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity and others. Several weeks ago I myself signed in New York the Kyoto Protocol on the reduction of greenhouse gasses emissions.

Another important issue is established in the country of a legal climate that would favor the development of environment-friendly business. Entrepreneurs should be encouraged to use not only the latest but also the most environmentally advanced technologies. The estimates of our specialists indicate that an immediate commissioning of waste water treatment facilities in major Lithuanian cities and introduction of relevant technologies would enable us to reduce the promotion of untreated effluents to 1 percent before the turn of the century.

It is equally important to promote prospective foreign investments in Lithuania that would be accompanied not only by new technologies but also by innovative, environment-friendly mentality. The investments of the American Corporation Williams International into the Lithuanian oil sector provide a perfect example of this. What may be most important of this investment, is the modern American management style which Williams International will bring to everyday operations of both the new oil terminal and the Soviet-era oil refinery.

It should be emphasized that those who inflict damage to the environment must bear full responsibility and be subject to severe sanctions. From my own experience of working at the United States Environmental Protection Agency I know how difficult it is to force businesses to abandon what they call the 'fast buck' principle and to invest into environmentally friendly projects. The same experience tells me, however, that a strict and principled stand coupled with tireless educational work ultimately leads to desired results.

Environment-related awareness of the general public is no less important than the promotion of green business. The Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania clearly states that taking care of the environment is the duty of every citizen. It is therefore imperative to seek that this principle does not remain a mere declaration but becomes part and parcel of every person's world outlook. In this respect, a crucial role in environment-related awareness belongs to the family, the school and the media.

Environmental education and training constitute a significant element of the National Environmental Strategy of Lithuania, with educational institutions and the Church, which enjoys immense moral prestige in the country , having a special role to play. I am convinced that sustainable development can only be achieved through rational use and replenishment of natural resources as well as protection of sound environment.

I would like to stress the importance of an active and creative citizen in this process. In the United States, the environmental movement for a ban on DDT in its earliest days has set a model for citizen action and mobilized a high degree of political participation which continues today. In Lithuania, we too have historical premises for high public awareness of environmental issues. The national liberation movement Sajudis indeed stemmed from the Lithuanian environmental community's early struggle to protect Lithuania's natural resources from the ruthlessness of Soviet planners brought Lithuania's independence. As recent public opinion polls indicate, 44 percent of the population still perceive environmental pollution as an internal threat. Our task is to turn this awareness into positive action, aimed at environment-friendly creativity and innovation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are no and cannot be frontiers in environmental matters. A small state can be the cause of major environmental problems, just as it can effectively contribute to their prevention. Therefore, regional and international co-operation is a major factor in the prevention of ecological threats.

Lithuania has made every effort to promote regional co-operation. Environmental protection is among the areas high on the agenda of the Council of the Baltic Sea States. A joint clean-up project for the largest river in Lithuania. Nemunas river delta, which separates Kaliningrad from Lithuania, is being planned with the authorities of that region of Russia Federation. I am sure that it is such processes which may not be very prominent against the background of 'big' politics that will constitute one of the strongest foundations for the future of our region.

In conclusion, let me once again thank you for the award presented to me in such solemn surroundings. I hope that my remarks may evoke a response in your hearts and perhaps provide a stimulus for further discussion. Protection of the environment is a complex task which requires collective and immediate effort. It is also our legal and moral duty which we must discharge with full responsibility.

Thank you.

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