NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Good morning, and welcome to this New York Foreign Press Center briefing with the U.S. Agency for International Development during the UN General Assembly’s 2022 High-Level Week. I am honored to welcome Ms. Gillian Caldwell, USAID’s Chief Climate Officer and Deputy Assistant Administrator.
Ms. Caldwell will discuss the recently released action plan for the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience, or PREPARE.
My name is Ryan Matheny, and I’ll be your moderator for today’s briefing. This briefing is on the record, and it’s being livestreamed and recorded. We will post a transcript and video of this event later today on our website, which is fpc.state.gov. If you haven’t already done so, we ask that you make sure your Zoom profile reflects your full name and the media outlet you represent, please. We also invite you to turn on your camera should you wish.
Ms. Caldwell will give opening remarks, and then we will have a period of Q&A which I will moderate.
At this point, Deputy Assistant Administrator Caldwell, the floor is yours.
MS CALDWELL: Thank you so much for having me, and thank you all for your time today. Needless to say, we are facing a global crisis of really unprecedented proportions. The recent IPCC report called the climate crisis a “code red for humanity.” And you need look no further than the devastating floods in Pakistan which have left nearly one-third of the country underwater, or to the Horn of Africa, where 20 million people are now facing starvation, to know that we are not adapting swiftly enough and we are not reducing our carbon emissions swiftly enough to tackle the scope and scale of this crisis.
And that’s why President Biden launched the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience, known as PREPARE, at the COP in Glasgow last year. And in fact, just more recently, which is the reason we’re hosting today’s conference, the White House released an action plan that really details what a whole-of-government response looks like when it comes to the climate crisis, and especially the adaptation and resilience challenges.
So there’s three core dimensions to PREPARE. The first is climate information services, and this is so important. The UN secretary-general has called for early warning for all. If you look at the continent of Africa, for example, 60 percent of the population is missing early warnings. And these early warnings can save lives and livelihoods. I mean, we’re talking about flood warnings, drought warnings, information which can inform when you harvest and how you harvest, and information which can literally save your lives if an extreme weather event such as a hurricane is headed your way.
So early warning systems are a critical thrust and emphasis for USAID in this PREPARE initiative. We have several related programs. SERVIR is one; that’s a joint initiative of USAID and leading geospatial organizations, and that works really at a regional level to get people the information they need, drawing on all the satellite systems and other technology we have. We also have FEWSNET, which is a longstanding early warning system supported for many years focused on famine. But we’re looking to extend our early warning systems to include vectoral spread of diseases, pandemic preparedness. And that’s so important because, of course, we can expect increasing numbers of pandemics given zoonotic transfer, right. When animals flee their habitats because of deforestation, which is a primary driver of the climate crisis, we will see animals coming into contact with human beings and spreading disease, which human beings are not well prepared to withstand, as the COVID-19 epidemic has demonstrated.
So that’s the first priority under PREPARE. The second is really building the capacity to mainstream adaptation into policies, programs, and budgets. So USAID has a footprint in 80 countries around the world, we have a presence in 100 countries, and we are really working to support our host countries all around the world to integrate adaptation and resilience best practice into their programs and budgets.
And finally, finance. We have got to unlock finance to tackle the climate crisis. As we’re all so aware, it’s not where it needs to be. The IPCC estimates we’re going to need $5 trillion a year to cover the mitigation and adaptation demands combined. And of course, the international community is struggling to and hoping to this year finally deliver on the promise made at Paris of 100 billion for developed – for developing countries.
Needless to say, public coffers – the government of the world are not going to be able to do it alone. We need public-private partnership to be able to address the scope and scale of this challenge, and that’s why under USAID’s new climate strategy we have an ambitious goal to catalyze $150 billion by 2030 in public and private finance. We also have goals to reduce carbon emissions by 6 billion metric tons, and to do so in large part by preserving and protecting the lungs of the planet: 100 million hectares of carbon-critical landscape around the world.
So I’m pleased to be with you today and happy to take whatever questions I can field.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ms. Caldwell. It’s now time for the Q&A portion of this event. We would like to remind you that in order to be called on, we ask that you please identify yourself by renaming yourself with your full name and media outlet name in the Zoom. If you’d like to ask a question, you can raise your digital hand to be called on, or you can type the question in the chat function and I will read it out for you. When called upon, please unmute yourself, and if you’d like, turn your camera on and ask your question.
And with that, I see we have our first question from Pearl Matibe from South Africa. Pearl, if you would like to unmute yourself, identify yourself with your full name and media outlet, and proceed with your question.
QUESTION: Pearl Matibe, Power FM, South Africa. Administrator Caldwell, thank you so much for your availability today and for what you shared. My key question given the new PREPARE plan is just recently, African countries, as I’m sure you’re well aware, had their own climate summit and there was significant criticism from the African chairperson, Senegalese President Macky Sall, that Western countries did not attend and that they did not play their role in personally attending that conference. Yet the United States and its allies want them to work with them on this climate change, but they did – they did not show up.
So how then can there be this expectation from the African countries when the Western countries themselves failed to show at the Africa’s summit? Do you have any responses to how these leaders reacted to this no-show? Thank you, Ms. Caldwell.
MS CALDWELL: I mean, I can understand the reaction. I also know from inside the U.S. Government that we are literally running from pillar to post to try to attend as many relevant convenings as possible and to demonstrate our commitment and our solidarity not just with the African continent but with so many other countries facing substantial – substantial challenges when it comes to the crisis.
I can’t speak specifically as to why the U.S. was unable to attend that, but I certainly wouldn’t want it to be read as a lack of commitment to partnership with Africa. The continent is facing the most devastating consequences of the climate crisis. Africans have contributed less to the climate crisis than almost any countries in the world, and they warrant and deserve the support of the United States and many other countries around the world.
QUESTION: Ms. Caldwell, I’d appreciate if you could get some – maybe ask other officers and maybe get back to me about why that was. It certainly was significant to have the leader of the entire region make this complaint, so I’d appreciate some feedback about that. Thanks.
MS CALDWELL: Yeah, I’m happy – the State Department will absolutely revert to you on that, as they would have coordinated our delegation. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Pearl, and thank you, Ms. Caldwell. While we wait for another question, I would like to ask you regarding the PREPARE, the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience, what is the role of the private sector in these plans?
MS CALDWELL: As well as I’ve said, we’re just not going to get where we need to go in terms of the scope and scale of investment required to tackle the climate crisis without genuine partnership with the private sector. And governments like USAID have an important role to play in providing the concessional finance, the first loss guarantee, that early stage capital that will help reduce the perceived and actual risk for investors.
I just met yesterday, for example, with the New York City Comptroller’s Office and the executive director of one of their pension funds. New York City has more than $250 billion under management in its pension funds and is actively looking for climate change related investments to meet its commitment to be investing $30 billion in climate related investments in the coming years.
So we are going to be looking to connect them with the kinds of investors, high-quality investment management firms, who can really identify important opportunities for mitigation and adaptation. And I will say one of the biggest challenges we face and the reason we are really urging companies to step up to the plate is that adaptation is so underfunded. Less than 2 percent of all climate finance goes to support adaptation-related needs, and there are many investable opportunities when it comes to adaptation. I mean, we need drought-resistant seeds. We need irrigation. There are insurance products that are going to be necessary to guard against crop failure. So there are lots of investable opportunities, and we’ll be doing our best to match the private sector with those opportunities.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. I don’t see any hands raised at this point, so I will plant one more question in the interim. Regarding the plan, how do you see – how will the United States work to make sure that funding for PREPARE reaches the local communities who really need that support?
MS CALDWELL: Yes, this question of localization is critically important. At Glasgow, at the COP in Glasgow last year, I announced the U.S. Government’s commitment to the principles of locally based adaptation, which is really focused on ensuring that local communities are helping shape and design and implement the programs that they most need, whether it relates to adaptation or mitigation. And Administrator Samantha Power, who heads USAID, has really placed a significant emphasis on localization, so we have a goal to ensure that much more of our support reaches local communities in the coming years, not the larger international NGOs that may have a presence in country. We’re talking about local and regional entities that are indigenous to those terrains. And also that up to 50 percent of those projects are actually governed and designed by local leadership. So this is going to be a heavy emphasis in the years to come to ensure increased local support through our aid from the U.S. Government.
MODERATOR: Thank you. To the journalists attending, are there any further questions?
If not, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Ms. Caldwell for participating in this briefing with the Foreign Press Center today. I know you have a very busy schedule here in this very busy week in New York. We appreciate you taking the time to share it with us here at the Foreign Press Center and with our journalist members. Thank you so much, and have a good day.
MS CALDWELL: Thanks for joining us. Good day.