• Digital press briefing with Dr. Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate at the U.S. Department of State.  Dr. Pershing to discuss his Africa trip, the Biden Administration’s Climate Policy, and how the U.S. is working with African countries to address climate change.

Listen or download the audio file here

Moderator:  Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants from across the continent and thank all of you for taking part in this discussion.  Today, we are very pleased to be joined by Dr. Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate at the U.S. Department of State.  Dr. Pershing will discuss his current Africa trip, the Biden Administration’s climate policy, and how the U.S. is working with African countries to address climate change.  Dr. Pershing is speaking to us from South Africa. 

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from the Deputy Special Envoy; then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have allotted.  At any time during the briefing if you would like to ask a question live, please indicate that by clicking on the “raise hand” button, then typing your name, media outlet, and location into the “questions and answers” tab.  

Alternatively, you can type your full question directly into the Q&A for me to read to our speaker.  Again, please include your name, media outlet, and location when you do so.  For those listening in French, you may type your questions in French in the Q&A.  If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress and follow us on twitter @AfricaMediaHub.

As a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Dr. Jonathan Pershing for his opening remarks.

Dr. Pershing:  So thank you very much, Marissa.  Hello, everyone.  Bonjour a tous.  It’s very nice to see all of you and hear all of your voices here on the line.  It’s actually a great pleasure for me to be back in Africa.  It feels that this last year and a half where the travel has been so difficult has meant that the personal relationships that are so important have been very difficult to maintain, and a chance to be back on the continent and to be engaging with people has been really a great, great pleasure as well as, I think, an important opportunity.  

I wanted to start with a few general remarks about where we are on the climate change agenda.  I think many of you may be aware that the Biden administration has made this a central priority.  We are working aggressively both domestically and with our partners internationally to try to address this critical threat.  Why do we see it being so important?  Because almost every part of our economy will be affected and all of our people will be impacted if we don’t move the right way.  What does that look like?

Well, if we don’t avoid a significant rise in global average temperatures, we’re to see a continued rise in sea levels that will flood our coastal cities.  We will see consequences of both increased drought – which we’re seeing already across the African continent but it’s not limited; we see it across the United States – and simultaneously increasingly severe individual weather events.  Those lead to enormous flooding as well as erosion.  I had a chance earlier this morning to talk to the ministers from Kenya, and they explicitly spoke about those kinds of damages and the soil erosion and the consequences to local communities.  

At the same time, we’re seeing an increase in disease vectors.  Malaria, which used to be confined to certain latitudes, is now getting broader and wider.  The zoonotic diseases are traveling more widely, and we can expect more of them.  

These kinds of damages don’t limit themselves to one country.  We can’t say, “I’ve got a problem and nobody else does,” but neither will any country be immune.  You don’t have to be a landlocked country or an island country or a coastal country.  We are all in this together.  And that brings me to why I have come to Africa.

It’s the fastest-growing continent.  It’s a continent that in many ways represents the future.  What it chooses to do could either leapfrog the past or follow the previous historical trajectory.  Africa’s had an occasion to do both.  On things like telecoms, it leapfrogged the past.  It did not choose wires; it chose a wireless model and now it has among the highest penetration of mobile telephony of any part of the world.  It didn’t build towers and lines.  It could do the same thing on power; it could do the same thing on transport; it could do the same thing for industrial activity.  It doesn’t need to move in the direction of the West, which was high-carbon-intensity.  It could move directly beyond that to the newest technologies.

And people often worry that it might be more expensive, but in fact the opposite is true.  Among the lowest prices anywhere for renewable power are countries in Africa, building on capacity that we didn’t even have a decade ago.  This is a remarkably fortunate moment to be investing in your infrastructure.  I was in Namibia and my conversations there talked about what could become the world’s largest solar project, on the border between Namibia and Botswana.  If we think about what that price will be, it is lower than almost any other electricity cost in any other country in the world.  This isn’t a burden; this is an opportunity.  And we look at a country like South Africa, which has got a substantial unemployment problem – how do they develop, how do they move beyond that?  Well, one of the ways is to look at alternative technologies, to look at this economy of the future, to think about everything from a hydrogen structure to an automotive structure for electric vehicles to a renewable energy structure where you can employ literally thousands and thousands of people as the economy shifts.

Every country that I’ve had a chance to speak with, every representative is looking for that development paradigm.  And the future could be quite bright.  We could have the critical minerals that Africa has in abundance servicing that global demand.  That is countries like Kenya, it’s countries like Namibia.  We have forest opportunities in countries like the Congo, both of the Congos, in Brazzaville and Kinshasa – real windows of opportunity.  We have extraordinary capacity around ports and fishing choices – that could be all of our coastal nations.  This is an opportunity that is continent-wide.  And that brings me to why the U.S. is playing.

We see this from both perspectives.  We see the opportunity for ourselves to engage on the continent to solve the global problem.  We care.  It matters to our citizens.  But we also see it as an opportunity to partner with an important, nay, a critical growing region.  And we are actively looking to be that partner.  Many of my conversations with my counterparts in countries with whom I have been speaking have explicitly been focused on how we do that better.  My visits in Africa are in no small measure a listening tour, a question of eliciting from our partners:  What do they need?  What would they prioritize?  How can we develop next steps that are serving the needs, the requirements, and the opportunities that they identify?  

We see a chance in that partnership for growth on both sides.  It’s not a one-way street.  We see real learning in the ideas that are coming on questions like reforestation in the central zones of the tropics, but also in the arid zones that play out in the U.S.  We see real windows in terms of mineral resources that we can use as part of a global marketplace, and we see a people-to-people exchange that will enrich both our countries and the continent.

So with that, let me turn to questions that you have.  I think there’s a real set of things we can engage in, and I look forward to our discussion.  Marissa, back to you.

Moderator:  Thank you, Deputy Special Envoy Pershing.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.  For those asking questions, please indicate if you would like to ask a question and then type your name, location, and affiliation into the Q&A tab.  We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing:  Dr. Pershing’s current Africa trip, the Biden administration’s climate policy, and how the U.S. is working with African countries to address climate change.  

And with that, our first question, we’ll go to a question sent in to us from Mr. Paul Burkhardt of Bloomberg, South Africa.  “Could you provide an update on any progress on talks with South Africa about decommissioning coal ahead of COP26?”

Dr. Pershing:  So thank you very much.  Great question.  I came first to South Africa in my tour here on the continent.  I’ve been joined in my meetings here by a delegation that’s not just American.  We are traveling with a group of people, had a set of meetings collectively – colleagues from the United Kingdom, from France, from Germany, as well as from the European Union.  So this is a joint effort to work with the South African Government to think about its next steps.

We’ve had a set of excellent discussions.  We’ve met with ministers.  We’ve met with officials in various other ministries.  We’ve met with the trade unions, a significant part of the conversation here.  We’ve met with business leaders.  We’ve also met with civil society.  We’ve really tried to have a very broad lens as we look at the agenda of the Just Energy Transition here in South Africa.

There’s an ambitious effort here in the country to develop the South African program of next steps.  It’s called in the jargon of the climate negotiations a nationally determined contribution, or an NDC.  There’s an extraordinarily ambitious goal that’s been set by the South African Government, and after an extended process of engagement and conversation among multiple constituencies, they’re seeking to decarbonize the economy by the middle of the century.  That’s exactly where we need to go, and that kind of a decision with the process that South Africa has taken is extraordinary.  

They look at this as an economy-wide requirement for a green transition.  They’re considering also the inclusion of hydrogen as an opportunity for the future that could replace fossil fuels, green hydrogen produced from solar energy, as well as zero-emissions vehicles – primarily electric cars.  These are also real opportunities we’ve had.  

As we seek to decarbonize and as we look at the coal agenda, these are the kinds of discussions that we believe and our colleagues believe will be part of the alternative.  You can’t design something unless you have a successor.  You can’t shut things down unless you’ve got a mechanism to move forward.  The mechanism here is a combination of alternative technologies, of renewable supply, of a better transmission grid, and those are the conversations we’ve been having.  

We’re hoping that that will continue and ahead of the COP, the big Conference of the Parties coming up in Glasgow, we can continue collectively to support the ambition as South Africa moves forward.  Thanks.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we will go live to Simon Ateba of Today News Africa out of the U.S.  Mr. Ateba, please unmute and ask your question.

Question:  Yes, thank you for doing this, Dr. Pershing, and thank you for taking my question.  This is Simon Ateba with Today News Africa in Washington, D.C., where it is 4 o’clock in the morning, so apologies if I sound a bit sleepy.  I was just wondering if you have a sense in your conversation with leaders and ordinary people in Africa that they are feeling – they are already feeling the impact of climate change, and whether they also see the opportunities in terms of jobs, better life, and saving the planet there.  And maybe finally, if – since the President’s agenda is currently under threat in Congress, if you believe that will have a significant impact if all the funds that he wants passed are not passed in the bill that is being currently discussed.  Thank you.

Dr. Pershing:  So thank you so much for that question.  I’m only really at the start of my trip, so I can’t speak to countries I haven’t yet been to.  But let me give you a sense in the meetings I’ve had about the kinds of discussions that we’ve been engaged in.  It is a priority always for me to talk to as many constituencies as I can.  I don’t believe that any one perspective is sufficient.  You really want the collective one.  

So in the context of South Africa, I had extended discussions and our team did not only with the government, which is of course the central actor, but with unions, with civil society, with the business community, with the finance community.  In South Africa in particular, I’ve been struck by the common view that we’ve heard from everyone.  We didn’t hear outlying voices that said this isn’t an issue.  We heard everyone agree it was a critical thing that had to be done in the country, and they argued more broadly in the continent.  

When I was in Namibia, I had an extended conversation with a group of civil society representatives that our embassy helped bring together so that we could meet with them.  We were in Windhoek, in the capital, but some of the people traveled from outside of the city.  We talked to people really focused on rural communities, which is a huge part of the African experience and the dynamics here in the continent.  What I heard again was a uniform recognition of the urgency of the problem and the reality that it was already affecting people.  

Namibia was interesting:  They talked to me about the fact that the summers have gotten hotter.  It doesn’t sound like very much when you talk about a few degrees.  You say it went from 42 to 43 or 44 degrees.  Forty-four is an unbelievably hot temperature when you think about that as a huge consequence.  You can’t comfortably be working in that temperature; it’d be fatal if you are in any sense frail, and that’s now a summer average.  And at the other end, I talked to people this morning in Kenya and we talked about the pastoral farm community and the explicit problems they were having as the erosion because of these heavy, heavy rains have washed away pastorage, and the consequences between those heavy rains – we’re having drought and they’re looking at the deaths of thousands and thousands of the animals on whom their very livelihood depends.  

So yes, what I’m hearing is the impacts are severe, they’re already being seen, and there’s an increasing awareness that unless we do more, we have a huge problem.  

Only very briefly on the last question, around Congress:  Yes, absolutely, we believe it’s a critical bill.  We are pressing Congress to move forward.  We are optimistic they will move forward.  I have myself had a number of conversations with both members and committee staff on the Hill.  I very sincerely believe that we will move with significant resources to combat this threat of climate change.  

Moderator:  Thank you.  Our next question, we’re going to the Q&A, to Mr. Jeffrey Barbee of the National Geographic.  His question is:  “What are your thoughts on the current oil and gas rush in Southern Africa by companies from the Global North?  What can be done by regulators in the U.S. to help stop this kind of climate-dangerous investment by companies based in or raising money in the U.S.?”

Dr. Pershing:  So thank you very much.  I think the way I have thought about this problem is very much one of risk.  And there are all sorts of risks here.  There’s the risk in particular that climate change will make an operation more difficult, and as a company looks at those kinds of physical risks, it’s going to have to assess whether the product is worthwhile.  So in some cases, in oil development or gas development, the fact that climate is getting more severe and sea levels are rising could threaten terminals, could threaten operations.  But there’s another risk, and that’s a risk of regulatory action and a risk of financial action, and I believe that’s getting more and more explicit.  We are seeing around the world as countries develop and implement policies on climate there’s an increasing implicit or, in some cases, explicit price on carbon.  

So if you’re a company looking to make an investment in oil and gas, you have to ask yourself:  Is the world moving in a way that will open that door to being a commercial and an opportunistic investment, or am I going to be left with a stranded asset?  I believe increasingly we are seeing the banks around the world making the latter choice.  They are saying, “We’ll lend you money but it comes at a higher cost.”  And in some cases they’re saying, “We will no longer lend you money because that is a risk that we, as a financial investor, do not believe we should take.”  And we’re seeing that in all places.  This is not just an American market discussion; this is a European market discussion.  We’ve seen a conversation from the Chinese made most recently by the president of China at the UN General Assembly that they would halt investment in overseas coal, something China’s been investing in for a long time, and I would not bet very strongly on a fossil fuel future if I were an investor.

Regulatorily, those are the kinds of things that I see.  At the other end, I see the African community making its choices.  It’s going to be looking at where it can invest next and what the solution is going forward.  I had a conversation with a minister of Gabon shortly before I came.  He came through Washington and met – I was in the meeting with Secretary Kerry, the Special Presidential Envoy, and we talked about the work in Gabon around energy investment.  And they are looking to move even there away from oil and gas and into an alternative future-leaning view that is zero-carbon.  They are looking at what other opportunities they might have.  And to me, this is a country that has grown in part because of its oil and gas investments.  The fact that it is looking at alternatives speaks volumes to where we are headed.  I think that’s exactly the kind of calculus that many, many countries in Africa are taking forward.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll stay in the Q&A and go to the Congo.  Question from David Mukendi of  I’m going to mix this question.  His question is:  “What aspect of the fight against climate change in Congo is the U.S. participating in?”  And I’m just going to add a question to that, too, about the President’s meeting with Tshisekedi during the UN General Assembly.  Can you talk a little bit about the importance of Congo in the fight for climate change and how the U.S. and Congo are working together?

Dr. Pershing:  So thank you so much for that.  I’m extremely excited about my visit to the Congo region.  I’ve only once had a chance to go and it’s now almost 20 years ago.  So I’m really excited to get a chance to come back, and our embassy and the government there has really set up a wonderful schedule for us.  So I’m really looking forward to it.  

There are a number of key things that I think one wants to look at and I’m looking forward to talking about when I come.  The first and most obvious one is the Congo Basin itself.  There are very, very few parts of our global world that actually are so salient, so important for the climate change solution.  It is the – one of the largest and it’s one of the most intact forest regions in the world.  It serves to capture carbon at a level that is, frankly, no other part of the world does at that scale.  The forest there has in many cases got a biodiversity that is extraordinary and the world can’t afford to lose.  And at the same time, it’s a region that’s growing quickly.  It’s a region that needs an economic development plan.  It’s a region where the president, President Tshisekedi, has really been looking at how he can marry this global desire – and let’s be clear, a national desire – to maintain that forest land but at the same time take the economic benefit from it.  

So what we’ll talk about are both of those agendas.  What is it that we do to avoid deforestation?  Are there payments for what are called ecosystem services?  In this case, a service provided to the planet by the Congo Basin when you keep it as the trees intact instead of cutting them down and shipping them off for cardboard.  How do we maintain an economic value to the communities that live in these places so we’re not saying it’s an extractive industry and someone else gets the benefit, but we can take advantage of an economic growth paradigm in which I no longer just cut the tree and send it across, I cut many fewer trees and have a much higher value-added product?  I make furniture; I send that.  That’s got a whole set of jobs attached to it – very powerful.  I look at ways that I can get payments from other countries, from companies that want to sustain and protect the forest and are prepared to pay for that.  

We’ve been working with a project called Project LEAF.  It’s an exercise that’s been put together by a series of companies around the world, some major players – Amazon’s been quite active in this; we’re getting Unilever quite active in this.  And what they’re saying is:  We believe that our consumers, our customers for our products want us to be green, and one of the ways we can do that is to protect the forests, and we will pay for forest protection around the world to do that because our consumers are demanding it.  Now you have a really interesting economic paradigm, a model in which you can keep your land, you can do intercropping, you can work on sustainable processes within those communities, and not have to cut it down because you might have another revenue stream which is not about the tree being cut and shipped out; it’s about a local development process.

One last thing.  It is very clear that the Congo and the basin is rich in more than trees.  It is a wealth of mineral resources that the world is going to need as we grow a future sustainable economy: lithium, cobalt, a series of precious minerals and rare earths that are critical to how we think about a sustainable green future.  We want to pull these out.  We want to do it sustainably and responsibly.  We want to develop the right programs for the workforce and the community.  But we’ll also be talking about that when we go to the Congo region.  

Moderator:  Thank you.  Our next question goes to South African journalist from the Daily Maverick, Onke Ngcuka.  His question is:  “U.S. President Joe Biden recently doubled the U.S. climate pledge to developing countries.  How will the country ensure pledges are met, as this has been a growing problem with developing nations?  And will any of this financial commitment be targeted to South Africa, South Africa’s transition as that is a climate adaption and mitigation strategy?”

Dr. Pershing:  Thanks very much for that question.  I think it’s critical that we have this discussion, and I think it’s really been important in all of my dialogues and in every country I’ve talked with here on the continent.  It’s very clear that the majority of African nations contribute very, very modestly in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions but are going to bear a disproportionate share of the impacts.  If you have a conversation with the Egyptians, which I did a little bit earlier this year, what you end up with is a very clear sense that as the headwaters of the Nile are constrained, the water capacity in cities from Alexandria to Cairo is diminished.  As I talked to colleagues in Gabon which are worried about coastal erosion, that’s a dominant concern not just there but in places like Mombasa, in Kenya, and in Cape Town, in South Africa.  

How do we manage those impacts in places that don’t have a lot of resources?  The global community has decided that it’s going to be putting some resources from the wealthy nations into those poorer countries.  We made a commitment to try to mobilize $100 billion per year.  We’re not quite there.  We came up a bit short.  The most recent analysis, which is about two years old because that’s when the data has been available, from 2019, says we’re at about 80 billion.  It’s pretty good but not enough.  

President Biden looked at that and he said we, the United States, need to step up.  And on April – at the Leaders Summit that he hosted on Earth Day, he doubled the pledge not from the Trump administration, but from the Obama administration, where we’d actually put serious money on the table.  He doubled that in April.  And then we spent the next six months working on trying to figure out where we were and what needed to be done, and he doubled it again at the UN General Assembly announcement that he made in New York.  And he did that because he perceives the urgency of getting those resources to the community.  They’ll be split.  It’s not an even number.  It doesn’t say half here and half there, or 52 percent to this, or – it says we’re going to really scale up.  

In the first pledge he committed to moving by a factor of three, tripling our adaptation finance.  In the second pledge he doubled that.  So we’re now at sixfold increase in our adaptation support.  We’re going to be providing these resources through multiple channels.  We’ll work with the World Bank.  We’ll work with something called the carbon – Climate Investment Funds.  We’ll work with a new facility on adaptation that’s under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  We’ll work with various U.S. bilateral programs, our Agency for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Development Finance Corporation, the DFC.  We’ve got a series of partners and the entire government is now engaged on the U.S. side on thinking about how do we do this as well as we possibly can.

Part of my listening tour here in Africa will be to learn more about what priorities are for people here.  Is it water?  Is it water perhaps in some places but not in other places?  Clearly, in a place like Botswana, water is a huge problem.  Namibia is one of the driest places in the world.  But in other places water is not the problem; the problem is food security.  That was a discussion I had in Kenya.  Part of the problem in other places is going to be about access to supplies of critical minerals and how do we get those out, because that’s part of an economic growth dimension.  Or in other places still, how do I bring technical expertise to manage the transition to renewable power.  We will look at all of those and put them into the mix, and we’ll come back with a set of reasonable and clear programs and we will work with our partners in-country and in the multilateral institutions, but also with other donor countries, to maximize the capacity that our money and our collective resources can have to solve this problem.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question goes to Terence Creamer of Creamer Media in South Africa.  His question in the Q&A is:  “What are your thoughts on the ability of South Africa to raise concessional finance from developed countries for such a transaction – the transition transaction?”

Dr. Pershing:  So thank you very much.  There are multiple sorts of finance, and for people who don’t get themselves immersed in the finance discussion, concessional finance comes in many flavors.  One flavor is it’s a straight grant and resources are provided with no strings and you do what you’re going to do with it and that moves forward.  Not expected to be paid back.  A second form is you’re expected to pay it back – it is a loan, but it’s a loan at a rate that is much less than the market rate.  That’s a form of concessionality as well, and it makes possible the borrowing of funds to take certain actions that you otherwise couldn’t afford.  

In the context of South Africa, I think both will be needed and we will talk to our South African colleagues and partners about both.  This is a country that’s a middle-income country, so it often doesn’t have access to some of the concessional loans of the World Bank and other multilateral institutions.  But that does not mean there’s not need here.  It doesn’t mean that there’s not a demand for capacity-building that isn’t really accessible on commercial terms.  And so yes, we believe that it’s part of what the donors will be seeking to do to help raise concessional finance for the South African transition. 

Moderator:  Thank you, as we get some more questions coming in from some francophone journalists.  Just a question about the five countries that the – that President Biden invited to the climate summit in April.  So South Africa, DRC, Kenya, Gabon, Nigeria were the countries that were invited out of the 40.  Why those countries and what role do they play in helping to move Africa forward in the area of climate change? 

Dr. Pershing:  So one of the exciting things about coming to Africa is there’s so much diversity.  If you travel even from one country to another, and they could be bordering nations, you have radical changes in how people think about their world and their ecosystems and their climate.  So we had a constraint in that first meeting in that we just didn’t have that many seats.  We wanted to make it small enough that there could be a conversation instead of having it just be a big audience for presentations, and that meant a limited size.  But we knew we had to bring the voice of this continent to the table. 

So we were looking at how do we get diversity in the mix.  We looked at some of the big players.  We want those G20 players.  South Africa is part of the G20 discussion.  They then felt like a legitimate clear voice.  Interestingly, while it’s actually got a huge economy and the largest population, Nigeria is not in the G20.  But the idea of having an African conversation and not engaging the Nigerians didn’t make sense, so clearly you want to bring that very large voice to the table.  And there’s some very interesting work going on there both in thinking about what’s happening on adaptation in the north, how they’re thinking about managing significant constraints around their oil and gas production which has had both economic benefits but huge damages, and a transition could be an opportunity for them, and at the same time they can minimize the emissions from the methane coming out of the flaring from those oil and gas activities.  So huge windows for Nigeria.

Kenya becomes clearly a different voice.  It’s a voice that speaks to a pastoral society, not uncommon in much of the continent.  It’s a voice that speaks to an adaptation need for a parched landscape, a semiarid country that is also a leader.  Kenya has put out some of the most ambitious strategies of any country in the world.  It’s got a very interesting green bond effort that it’s tried to mount to work on adaptation.  That’s a voice we want to hear from.  That’s a really important voice moving forward.  

The DRC we’ve spoken about a bit before.  It is the largest holder of tropical forest in the continent, and it’s one of the major, major opportunities.  If we lose that, we almost certainly lose the battle for climate.  And with a new president, with President Tshisekedi, there’s been a huge effort that he has been putting together demonstrating real leadership to move us forward on this agenda.  

So what we really tried to do is bring a diversity of perspectives within these limited constraints.  Thanks.

Moderator:  Excellent.  And as we wrap up, just one question from the Comoros.  So can you talk a little bit about small island states?  They don’t usually have a real voice when it comes to larger countries talking about climate change.  Mr. Ahmed Bacar of ORTN, Comoros, says:  “What is the American policy to support the Comoros, and of course other small island states, in protecting the environment?  Specifically, are there American programs to support the Comoros in the fight for environmental protection?”

Dr. Pershing:  So thank you very much.  I’m so glad we’re having a chance to speak about this often underrepresented perspective.  There are actually many small island states.  It’s a constituency in the United Nations.  In the climate change arena, it is often the moral conscience of our community, and it’s for very good reason.  I think I started off my comments by talking about the damages and the impacts of climate.  Well, for some countries it’s a real problem, and for other countries it’s actually existential.  

If you see a country – and the Comoros is only one example, but it doesn’t have the benefit of moving inland.  There isn’t an inland to move to.  As those seas rise – and they will rise with climate – you’re going to swamp the industrial capacity, you’re going to remove for many of these countries even the very country itself.  That isn’t something that you can easily manage.  And so this voice has been the voice that’s made urgency, ambition, aggressive action a priority.  

And at the other end, it’s also a voice that’s worried about adaptation.  How do you cope with things like sea-level rise?  How do you cope when your water table is infiltrated by saltwater?  Because that’s what happens when the sea comes in.  It doesn’t just come in on the surface, it comes in seeping underground and turns your fresh drinking water brackish and you cannot drink it anymore.  What do we do with that?  

The United States has had a series of programs for small islands.  The U.S. Department of Energy has been working on things like distributed generation – small-scale solar panels that can provide for local alternatives to these communities instead of relying on liquid fuels like oil for diesel generation, because that could be an opportunity where they don’t have to build power plants and can be more self-sufficient.  We’re working on water issues.  We are working on coastal protection questions to try to advance that agenda.  And then perhaps most importantly, we’re trying to lift up that voice to make explicit the urgency of the problem, and we rely on that community to help amplify that message.  If we can’t slow climate change, if we can’t get the large emitters of whom there really are only about 20 or so in the world responsible for 80 percent of global emissions, if we can’t get those 20 to move, we will not succeed.  

We’ve had a set of meetings with the ambassadors from the small island states.  Secretary Kerry has done some.  I have done some.  We do them at the United Nations where many of them have representation.  We’ve spoken to their climate envoys.  We are having bilateral meetings with many of them on the phone when we’ve been able to do so, or in person in New York, or now – right now this week there’s meetings in Italy preparing for the climate negotiations in Glasgow, and I think it’s been very, very constructive.  

So in the context of the Comoros, I think you’re absolutely right to raise it.  We’re happy to continue our work with you.  We’ve got missions in country that can be your right partners, and I think you speak for a constituency which is incredibly important as part of this larger conversation.

Moderator:  Thank you so much.  That is all the time that we have today.  Thank you so much, Deputy Special Envoy Pershing.  Do you have any final words, final remarks? 

Dr. Pershing:  Just one last comment.  I very much appreciate everyone’s taking the time, including those who had to get up at 4:00 in the morning to do this.  I really appreciate the time.  

One of the things that I’ve observed in my conversations here on the continent, and not just in this trip but in previous trips, is how important you are as a constituency to get the word out.  Many people are aware in general terms of the kinds of agendas that the world is trying to work on, but I don’t think that many people are aware of the opportunities that are provided.  And you’re in the position to help disseminate that information.  People don’t know the transitions that are coming, and you’re in a position to help them understand that transition.  It’s a little scary when all you see is a downside of a change and not the upside of what’s coming next.

And I’m quite optimistic about where this is headed.  I see real potential for this continent to become a beacon.  There are so many countries here at the leading edge of delivering change.  I look at the discussions in South Africa.  I look at Kenya.  I look at Gabon.  I look at the discussions I’ve been having around my conversations, and I just see enthusiasm and new development and investment windows and a community of nations that really could be at the forefront, and I think that you in the press have a chance to really make that message explicit.  

So anyway, thank you for taking time.  I’m happy to follow up as we move forward on this dialogue.  Thanks very much, Marissa.

Moderator:  Thank you.  That concludes today’s briefing.  I would like to thank Dr. Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate at the U.S. Department of State, for speaking to us today and thank all of you journalists for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at Africa –  Thank you. 


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U.S. Department of State

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