SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, again, thank you. Thank you all. And it’s very wonderful to be here today. It’s always wonderful to be outside or almost outside. But let me just start by, Mr. Minister, thanking you for your partnership today and in the important months ahead. And Madame Mayor, to you as well.
I think there’s a very powerful thing represented right here, which is a country at a national level showing remarkable leadership on climate and on preserving our planet, and a city doing the same thing. And the two together – the leadership of cities, municipalities, urban areas, and national leadership shown by President Duque – that’s a very powerful combination. And I think it’s going to be on evidence at COP26 when Team Colombia is very much present. So I thank you so much for that.
And I really do want to thank President Duque for his leadership, for his vision, congratulate him as well for receiving the International Conservation Award this year from the International Conservation Caucus Foundation – further evidence of the very good work that he and Colombia are doing.
And then finally, thank you again to everyone here, including our terrific speakers, for everything that you showed me, you showed the colleagues traveling with us, for all that you’re each doing to help build a sustainable future.
Places like this Botanical Garden remind us of the extraordinary natural beauty of our world. And again, in an extraordinary country like Colombia – but where, nonetheless, I think 75 percent of the population is in urban settings – it’s so important to connect those of us living in urban environments to rural environments, but especially to the natural habitat that we share and that we all have a responsibility to preserve.
This is a gift to our people; it’s a gift to the world. It’s a gift that’s been given to us by previous generations, and we have a responsibility to care for it and to pass it on. And again, Colombia’s leaders and citizens take this responsibility seriously. We see this in the new environmental crimes law, Mr. Minister, in the recent decision to strengthen and to show remarkable leadership with the goals that Colombia set going into COP26, in Colombia’s leadership in the Renewable Energy for Latin America and the Caribbean initiative. In these and so many other ways, Colombia is helping to show the way.
We also know that the climate crisis is a national security issue. It’s about the safety and well-being of our people. It’s about building a global economy that is genuinely inclusive and sustainable. And it’s about equity. We know that communities and countries who are most negatively impacted by the climate crisis are rarely those who did the most to cause it.
One of the reasons that I wanted to come here today is because the United States is deeply committed to rising to the challenge of the climate crisis, and we want to do so in partnership with Colombia. There’s one area in particular that stands out – the minister mentioned – and that is conserving the Amazon and other important ecosystems. As you know, deforestation is a key contributor to the climate crisis because the Amazon and other forests are carbon sinks, absorbing a massive amount of carbon dioxide, while at the same time deforestation itself produces more CO2 emissions. Deforestation in Colombia increased by about 8 percent last year, most of it in the Amazon. And in fact, about 75 percent of Colombia’s climate emissions come from deforestation and unsustainable agricultural production practices like clearing land to expand beef and dairy production.
By conserving Colombia’s forests, promoting more sustainable agriculture, we can make major strides in dealing with the climate crisis as well. In the coming days we’re going to expand these efforts as we work to develop a new regional partnership specifically focused on addressing commodity-driven deforestation in the Amazon. Together we’ll help provide actionable information to companies so that they can reduce their reliance on deforestation. We’ll give much-needed financial assistance to help manage protected areas and indigenous territories, and we’ll help scale up low-carbon agricultural practices to farmers throughout the Amazon.
This new regional partnership will help prevent up to 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere while capturing another 52,000 metric tons of carbon, and we estimate it will save – save – more than 45,000 hectares of forest.
We know these programs can work. Take, just for example, the Amazon Alive partnership which we recently launched. We’re working with the Colombian Government to tackle environmental and conservation crimes and protect areas that are important for biodiversity. Or take the Paramos and Forests program, another collaboration between Colombia and the United States. Through that program we’re working with 19 Afro-Colombian indigenous communities to protect 500,000 hectares of Colombian forest, and that collaboration has already significantly reduced deforestation. It’s generated about 6.2 million tons of carbon offsets.
And it’s done – and this is critical and we heard this as well – while supporting local business, local community leaders, in their economic endeavors, including a couple that we just heard about. (Inaudible) experiences prove that we do not have to choose between conserving the environment and earning a living; we can do both. And that’s what tackling the climate crisis is all about, and that’s what it will take – partnership between governments, private sectors, civil society activists working together in new ways with a shared focus on and commitment to protect our climate and to preserve a better future for our children.
Again, I’m very honored that the United States is able to be a partner in this. I’m especially grateful for the work of our colleagues at the U.S. Agency for International Development who are doing remarkable work every single day to make this partnership real. So I thank you. I’m grateful to our Colombian colleagues. We have a partnership. We’re building it, we’re strengthening it, and I think it will be to the benefit of all of our citizens. Thank you very much.