I joined the State Department a year ago as Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Along with so many colleagues across the Biden-Harris Administration, we have returned the United States to its leadership role to conserve nature and forge a more sustainable and prosperous future for people and communities across the globe.
We are entering a critically important stretch of international engagement on climate change, biodiversity, the ocean, plastic pollution, and more. Indeed, the decisions we make and the actions we take in these next six months will shape the future health of the planet for generations. Consider just some of what we are working on today:
- This week President Biden welcomed Pacific Islands leaders to Washington for a two-day summit to further strengthen this important bond and advance conservation, sustainable ocean development, and ocean security as well as to counter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, address food and water security, climate resilience, and much more.
- In late October, we will be in Hobart, Australia, for the meeting of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources – also known as CCAMLR – which is considering proposals to establish additional marine protected areas in this fragile part of the world. If the world is to reach the goal of conserving or protecting at least 30 percent of the global ocean, Antarctic Marine Protected Areas are essential.
- In early November, the world will gather in Egypt for COP27 as we continue to take the actions necessary to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees, and we bring a deeper focus on adapting to climate change for all communities and nations that are already feeling its devastating impacts.
- In mid-November, Panama hosts the 19th conference of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, where we will work to ensure we shut down trade of illegal ivory, pangolin scales, and timber.
- In late November, negotiations will begin in Uruguay on the first-ever global agreement to combat plastic pollution and drive innovation to transform plastic waste into a circular economy.
- In December, we will be in Montreal for what we hope will be the final session of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s negotiation of a Global Biodiversity Framework for the coming decade, including the goal to conserve or protect at least 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030.
- Next year, we will be back at the United Nations in New York to complete negotiations on an agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of the high seas, a vast expanse of ocean that covers half the planet.
- In early March, the world will gather in Panama City for the 8th Our Ocean Conference to drive further commitments by countries and the private sector to end marine pollution, combat IUU fishing, establish marine protected areas, and more.
- In late-March, the United Nations will host a global water summit in New York City to galvanize global political support for better conservation and cross-border collaboration to ensure everyone has access to this essential resource.
If we fail to meet this moment, we know that we will see more pollution, rising temperatures, more flooding and increased sea levels, increased loss of biodiversity, greater environmental injustice, and greater insecurity and strife.
But there is another way – a path ahead that leads to a better future where we live sustainably – in which we have a positive relationship with nature.
Under President Biden’s leadership on climate, nature, and pollution, the United States has chosen that better path. And we do so with considerable momentum behind us. Starting on his first day in office, when President Biden reentered the United States into the Paris Agreement, to the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, we can and will meet our climate goals.
There are solutions to the other challenges all around us too, and the United States government is working to ensure we act on all of them.
- We joined the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy and are strengthening our partnerships with Pacific Islands.
- Along with Canada and the United Kingdom, we launched an action alliance to combat IUU fishing — a global problem that harms fishermen and the ocean alike. President Biden signed a National Security Memorandum that further tackles this problem.
- Earlier this year the global community took an important step towards ending subsidies that support harmful fishing practices.
- The 7th Our Ocean Conference generated more than $16 billion in new commitments to create protected areas, promote sustainable fishing, reduce pollution, decarbonize the shipping industry, and more.
- An historic resolution at the United Nations Environment Assembly launched a two-year negotiation process to end the scourge of plastic pollution that chokes our streets, rivers, and beaches.
- And just a few weeks ago the U.S. Senate ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. We’ve now joined 137 other countries in agreeing to phase down global production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons, super polluting chemicals that are hundreds to thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Global implementation of this treaty should avoid as much as half a degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century — a tremendous step in tackling the climate crisis.
This illustrative list of accomplishments demonstrates the United States’ return to the global stage as a leader in fighting climate change, reducing pollution, and making strides towards leaving our children and grandchildren a healthier planet than the one we have today.
And as we do so, we also see Indigenous leaders and communities at the forefront of conservation. Several Indigenous-led ocean conservation initiatives are underway from Georgia to California, Alaska to Hawaii, and as far away as the Northern Marianas. This mirrors the growing importance of and respect for Indigenous conservation and knowledge around the globe to conserve and sustainably manage the natural world.
A clean and healthy environment is not a luxury, and we cannot take it for granted – it is important to the health, wellbeing, and security of all people and worth fighting for. That is why the United States was proud to vote in favor of a United Nations Resolution supporting a right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.
The question now is — will we continue to meet this moment? Will we move from ambition to action? Will we seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move down a more sustainable path that values and conserves nature?
I believe we will. And the United States can and will continue to step up — to elevate our goals and our actions to ensure a better world for our children and grandchildren.