On April 22, 1970, millions of people across the United States rallied together to demand action in support of a healthier environment. The dedication of those advocates sparked a national movement that endures today in the laws protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, the natural wonders we visit, and the wildlife we love.
A year ago, I was nominated to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. I will proudly remember 2021 as the year the United States came roaring back with a whole-of-government approach to tackle the climate, health, biodiversity, and ocean crises confronting us globally. In just one year, U.S. leadership has catalyzed significant successes to protect the ocean, restore biodiversity, end plastic pollution, and to provide vaccines and lifesaving treatments to beat COVID-19.
This year, on Earth Day, we resolve to build on the progress made over the past half-century and reaffirm our commitment to take actions that will ensure a clean and healthy Earth for future generations. The Biden-Harris Administration has resolved to follow a new path and renew our relationship with nature – a path that restores our planet.
As one of my first priorities as assistant secretary, we began addressing on the human-made crisis of plastic pollution on a global scale. Plastics pollute our air, soil, and water, with adverse impacts on the environment and human health. The public demands solutions, and so do we. In February, at the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, the international community came together to build a better world for generations to come by adopting a resolution to launch negotiations on a global agreement to end plastic pollution. The United States played a pivotal role in generating the ambition and consensus to finalize that resolution—one that initiates real and meaningful progress to reduce plastic pollution around the world.
We kept the momentum going by bringing leaders from around the world to Palau for the 7th Our Ocean Conference (OOC). At OOC, the United States made over 100 commitments to protect the ocean, from creating two new marine sanctuaries and protecting fish populations, to decarbonizing the shipping sector and promoting offshore renewable energy deployment. We launched an Ocean Conservation Pledge, inviting other nations to join us to conserve, protect, and restore at least 30 percent of ocean waters under their jurisdictions by 2030. We joined the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People in support of the global goal to conserve and protect 30 of the world’s ocean. And we committed $200 million for marine debris assessment, prevention, mitigation, and removal over the next five years. In total, at the Our Ocean Conference, countries and the private sector made 410 new commitments worth $16.35 billion to protect the ocean globally.
These are just a few examples of our recent efforts, but this Administration has already done much more to protect our planet. After a whole-of-government push and successful COP26, the world is more on track to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach, allowing us the chance to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis. We’ve mobilized a more effective international response to the COVID-19 pandemic – we’ve worked with our partners bilaterally and regionally to build global health security capacity and through the Secretary’s Global Action Plan on COVID-19, we’ve focused on getting shots in arms, bolstering supply chain resilience, and strengthening the global health security architecture. And because the health of people is inextricable linked to the health of the planet, we’ve engaged in robust diplomatic efforts to promote a One Health approach at the nexus of animal-human-environmental health. Last week, at the OOC, I was pleased to announce the expansion of a U.S. supported program that leverages climate and other data to predict risk for dengue and other vector-borne diseases in Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
And we are working to take care of precious natural resources on Earth and even beyond. For example, the U.S. assumed the chair of the International Coral Reef Initiative for the United States, as we seek to strengthen coral reef resilience in the face of climate change. And we’ve welcomed more countries to the Artemis Accords to ensure that activity in outer space remains safe and benefits all of humanity. We’re not just back on the global stage – we’re seeking every path, every seaway, and every avenue to foster a healthier planet for us all.
And we are not done. Earth Day is an opportunity to raise awareness of the many environmental challenges we face, to highlight our efforts to improve sustainability in our own operations, and to give back to our communities through better environmental stewardship. As we reflect on the progress we have made, we recognize that there is more to do. The United States will continue to lead global efforts to protect our planet and redouble our efforts, but we cannot do it alone. We must work together. This Earth Day, let’s not shy from the challenges in front of us, but find greater strength through the partners and solutions around us. On this Earth Day, let’s work together – countries, organizations, and individuals to change the world together. We can all resolve to make every day a better one for our planet.