As the year draws to a close, I wanted to share some personal reflections. We will remember 2021 as the year the United States came roaring back with a “whole of government” approach to tackling the global climate, biodiversity, health and ocean crises. The Biden Administration fulfilled its environmental promises:
- Committing the United States to conserving 30 percent of its lands and waters by 2030 and supporting a global goal to conserve 30 percent of the ocean,
- Increasing U.S. ambition to achieve net zero climate emissions by 2050 or sooner, and
- Vastly increasing U.S funding for climate solutions globally.
Of course, there is so much more to do, and we must keep the promises made this year. But there is no doubt that the United States is leading the world again on protecting our planet.
President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Kerry all played a role. Keeping another promise, President Biden held a global summit on climate change on the 100th day in office, gathering world leaders virtually to elevate their commitments. Secretary Blinken gave his first major foreign policy address on the climate crisis and held numerous meetings and events around the globe to highlight how addressing climate change is now central to U.S. foreign policy. And by the end of the Glasgow climate conference (COP26), Secretary Kerry had pushed many of the major emitters – including The People’s Republic of China (PRC) – to elevate its ambition to keep the global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius in reach and to ensure greater transparency and accountability for all countries to achieve their climate goals.
Nominated on Earth Day, I was confirmed in late September as the first Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs in seven years. Our mission is to provide American leadership, diplomacy and science to conserve and protect the global environment, ocean, health, and space for the prosperity, peace, and security of this and future generations. I hit the ground running!
At COP26, I addressed the special plenary session on “Women’s Day” outlining the U.S. government’s efforts to support women leading on climate change. I announced several new initiatives on gender equity in fighting the climate crisis. And U.S. leadership did not stop there. I launched two other initiatives aimed at assisting small and developing countries to help them prepare for and adapt to climate change, and create a network of island nations to work together to help each other and the whole world deal with and adapt to our changing climate.
I also announced the four initiatives that I intend to make my top priorities in 2022:
- fighting crimes against nature like illegal fishing and wildlife trafficking,
- seeking global solutions to address the onslaught of plastic pollution that spills into our waterways and oceans,
- helping countries across the globe conserve 30 percent of their lands and waters by 2030 to reverse the dramatic loss of nature and biodiversity, and
- addressing zoonotic spillover so that we can reduce the risk of future pandemics.
Each of these in their own way will help protect communities and people. We all depend on a healthy planet and abundant resources for our livelihoods and our lives. We are already working with partners in our government and other governments around the world, as well as the private sector, nonprofits and academia. I intend to visit every region of the world and work to improve the global environment on every continent and in the ocean – and even in space.
The year ahead will be full of opportunities to advance these initiatives and many others – from the 7th Our Ocean Conference, to the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations’ Environment Program and working to launch the negotiations on a global agreement on ocean plastic pollution. American leadership for a healthier planet will bring us to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the UNFCCC’s COP27 in Egypt, and even to greater cooperation with countries large and small through the Artemis Accords for the exploration of space. In 2022 the State Department will continue to work with partners across the U.S. government – from NASA and NOAA and the Environmental Protection Agency, to the Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Interior – to lead on advancing conservation across the globe and beyond.
I can’t wait!
About the Author: Monica Medina is the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the Department of State.