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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Forum on Global Partnership for Sustainable Development at the Subnational Level

Reta Jo Lewis
Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs 
United Nations Headquarters
New York City
October 1, 2012


Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.  I would like to thank the United Nations Institute for Training and Research for providing us with the opportunity to co-host this panel on Global Partnership for Sustainable Development at the Subnational Level. Especially, I want to thank the dedicated staff and delegates from the United Nations here today.

Thank you to all of our panelists and speakers today:

o Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland, California

o Yvonne Lodico, Head, UNITAR New York Office

o Andrew M. Manshel, Executive Vice President, Greater Jamaica Development Corporation

o John Pastor, Director of International Trade and Development for the State of Delaware

o Tom Peterson, President and CEO, the Center for Climate Strategies


The U.S. Department of State is collaborating with state and local leaders and their counterparts abroad to meet its foreign policy objectives through the Office of the Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs (S/SRGIA).


Today, I not only want to speak with you about the importance of engaging state and local leaders to solve some of today’s toughest global issues, but as well about the role of the SRGIA in furthering sustainability at the subnational level.

In the two and a half years since the inception of S/SRGIA, we have traveled around the world participating in public forums and joining the discussion at the annual UN climate change negotiations, as well as Rio+20 this past June.  I accepted Secretary Clinton’s invitation in 2010 to serve as the first Special Representative in this new office.

In furtherance of Secretary Clinton’s vision of 21st century diplomacy, our office amplifies a multitude of U.S. foreign policy priorities by providing leadership in building relationships and conducting outreach to local leaders around the world to address challenges such as trade, investment and economic development, sustainability, energy, urbanization, and education.


I believe we have the ability to build a sustainable future. We have the tools and the understanding, and we have the necessary commitment to global cooperation and collaboration.  We know that any discussion of sustainability must encompass the critical role of states and cities.

Perhaps it is a bias based on my current position, but I always say that the state and local level is where cool things happen first – especially on the sustainability front. We see so much leadership from state and local governments, and we continue to rely on you to help chart the course for meaningful progress.

We believe that sustainability is not just a topic for national governments and international organizations, but is also, and maybe even more so, an issue for government at all levels, as well as for the private sector and civil society.

U.S. subnational leaders want to work with their counterparts abroad, with the private sector, investors, and clean technology experts to achieve global sustainability.

Cities across the United States are implementing sustainable development programs. Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; San Francisco, California; Chicago, Illinois; and New York City are notable examples of cities that have developed successful policies and initiatives around buildings, transportation, food, energy, waste and toxic reductions to make their cities greener and more sustainable places for their citizens to live.


S/SRGIA has remained dedicated to attending the United Nations climate conferences (also known as the “COP” or “Conference of Parties”) to promote the U.S. commitment to working around the world to continue efforts to build strong, effective, science-based approaches to address climate change.

At COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico in 2010, I participated in panel discussions which specifically addressed the climate change issue as it relates to state governments. Throughout the conference my office sat on three panels with U.S. state officials to discuss subnational solutions.

The next year at COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, the U.S. Center brought together experts from around the world to engage in open and inclusive dialogue on issues surrounding sustainability and climate change.  At the U.S. Center in Durban, S/SRGIA contributed to a whole-of-government approach to engagements by bringing together multiple U.S. agencies under one roof to showcase what the United States is doing on sustainability.


To prepare for the June 2012 Rio +20 Conference, I participated and led discussions in several countries which focused on deepening partnerships between state and local government, promoting public-private partnerships and highlighting the role of these organizations in moving sustainability forward on a global scale.

As early as November 2010, I participated in the Governor’s Global Climate Summit 3 (GGCS3) at the University of California-Davis. The GGCS3 fostered compelling climate conversations and broadened partnerships with local leaders.

In advance of the United Nations’ Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) which took place in Rio de Janeiro in June, I participated in the R20 Regions of Climate Action annual meeting in Geneva Switzerland in March of this year to highlight the important role that regional governments play in creating a sustainable global future.

Immediately preceding Rio, I participated in events at the ICLEI World Congress 2012 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, focusing on local governments charting the way forward with their partners for a more sustainable and prosperous future

RIO +20

At Rio+20 I represented the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a new global partnership for rapidly scaling up reductions of short-lived climate pollutants like methane, black carbon, and HFCs.

At the conference, we announced a groundbreaking partnership between cities, countries, our Coalition, the World Bank, the Global Methane Initiative, and CCI/C-40 to join together to reduce climate pollutants from solid waste, the third largest source of man-made methane worldwide.

A fundamental message that the United States brought to Rio is the importance of good governance if we are to achieve a sustainable future. We need governance at all levels to be open and transparent, with robust channels for public participation, to better engage citizens and build new networks across all sectors of our societies.

In the U.S. submission to the Rio outcome document, we highlighted the importance of urbanization in the context of a Built Environment. We noted that cities, as major consumers of resources, are also centers for job creation, making them the front line of a green economy. Opportunities abound to modernize service delivery.

This includes: deploying green technologies and services; prioritizing green infrastructure and buildings; protecting and restoring green spaces; creating more housing opportunities; reducing emissions, seeking greater efficiency in resource use and waste processing; and making more sustainable urban system and land use decisions.


As state and local officials live and operate at the front lines of sustainable development, the regular reinforcement of the role of local governments in discussions such as Rio+20 give the United States an opportunity to talk about sustainability where ”the rubber meets the road” – in the cities and counties of the United States where local U.S. officials are forced to innovate and implement sustainable development solutions ahead of national government.

That is why I am so pleased that our four panelists, who represent cities, states and civil society, were able to join us today to share best practices.

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