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Moderator: Good day from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub in Manila. I’m the Hub Director, Zia Syed, and I want to thank you all for joining this briefing. Today, we are very pleased to be joined from Koror, Palau, by Secretary John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate; and Monica Medina, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
We’ll begin today’s call with opening remarks from Secretary Kerry and Assistant Secretary Medina. We will try to get to as many questions as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 30 minutes.
Finally, as a reminder, today’s call is on-the-record. And with that, I will turn it over to Secretary Kerry.
Secretary Kerry: Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be here with Monica Medina, the Assistant Secretary of State, and we’re both really pleased to be closing out the first day of a – formally – two-day gathering, but three days that we will be here for the Our Ocean Conference Palau 2022.
This is the seventh Our Ocean Conference, and one that has been unfortunately twice delayed because of COVID, but there’s a lot of excitement on everybody’s part for being here finally, and a tremendous spirit that has already characterized the first day.
This conference has brought together more than 600 formal delegates representing 80 countries on the planet with major commitments being made to ocean preservation, protection, climate response. Historically, up until today, about 1,400 commitments have been made at the aggregated number of six prior Our Ocean Conferences. This particular conference is eliciting more than 350 individual commitments which are being announced during the course of the day today and tomorrow.
The United States has committed overall more than 100 commitments worth $2.7 billion, including contributions from 13 different departments and agencies. And we are pleased that the EPA, the Department of Energy, NOAA, a whole group – excuse me, more than 400 total commitments at this point in time. And those commitments range from commitments on climate, on fisheries, on sustainable blue economy, on marine protected areas, maritime security, marine pollution principally, and it’s been really exciting to listen to everybody’s public recognition and embrace of the urgency of our acting with respect to the climate crisis, which is also an ocean crisis.
Two things that really stand out. Number one, in Glasgow, the world came together to include oceans for the first time in a very formal way in the readout of that meeting, and it’s very significant because there’s a full recognition here that you can’t deal with the climate crisis without addressing concerns with the ocean; you can’t deal with the ocean crisis without dealing with greenhouse gas emissions that acidify the ocean and are part of the warming, and the reason for 90 percent of the warming on the planet going into the ocean.
So, I think there’s a greater strength to this movement to address the concerns of ocean than we’ve ever seen. And over the next day, tomorrow, there will be plenary sessions and additional breakout sessions and bilateral meetings that will take place with the leaders here at head-of-state level, ministerial level, sub-ministerial level. It’s a terrific gathering.
We’re pleased to be part of it again, to see this, the progress that’s being made, but also to understand something that has been acknowledged by everybody here, which is the degree to which we’re behind the curve to some degree. The IPCC report demands that we act sooner, quicker, faster, bigger than we are, and everybody here is filled with that sense of mission.
Why don’t I turn it over to Monica and then we’ll be happy to take your questions.
Assistant Secretary Medina: Thank you so much, Special Envoy Kerry. It’s really an honor to be here with you and to be a part of this incredible conference that you yourself first conceived of many years ago and have shepherded through the years, and we are really grateful to be here, I think, in this island nation to talk about the health of the ocean and the importance of the ocean to small island developing states.
This is the first time a small island developing state has hosted a conference on our oceans, and Palau is really determined to help highlight the plight of ocean nations right now, particularly with respect to climate change.
We’re really grateful to be here in the region to listen – we’ve had an incredible collection, probably the best attendance of any time in the past, from island nations in this region. So, it’s given us a really great opportunity to hear from them. And this is a particularly important year for oceans. It’s a super year for ocean meetings. We started the year with a big meeting in France that the French Government hosted on ocean conservation. We then went to Nairobi, Kenya, where we held a meeting on ocean plastic pollution, and the world came together to try and get behind a move to have a global agreement much like the Paris Agreement on global plastic pollution and ending plastic pollution. It’s a scourge – we’re drowning in it; we need to be done with it. And the concern about plastic in the ocean drove the desire to have that treaty.
Then, we were in New York at the UN, where an areas beyond natural jurisdiction treaty is also being negotiated. That’s the parts of the ocean that belong to no one that are, as Secretary Kerry alluded to, very much ungoverned. They’re sort of like a wild west. There is not nearly enough governance and rule of law out in the high seas. So, we went from that meeting to the Convention on Biological Diversity, where we’re trying to get our hands around the terrible loss of biodiversity that’s happening, and the ocean is typical of that – huge loss of ocean biodiversity happening because of pollution and climate change and other stressors on the ocean environment. Now we’re here having this wonderful conference again this year. And then beyond that, we go to a UN conference on oceans in June.
So, this is a super year for oceans, and if we can’t get a handle on – and start to change – the things that are hurting our oceans, that are impacting their health this year, we will have lost a tremendous opportunity. And so, I’m just pleased to be here with Secretary Kerry and able to work on bringing health and vitality back to our oceans.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s call.
While we’re waiting for journalists to join the question-and-answer queue, I would like to pass along a question that we received in advance from Aurora Kohn of Pacific Island Times in Guam, which is relevant, I think, to the country you are in. The question was: “What concrete steps has the U.S. taken to address the concerns of island nations regarding the effects of climate change on them?”
Secretary Kerry: Well, President Biden announced at Glasgow a new program called the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience. It’s a $15 billion plan, about $3 billion a year. The President has put that in the budget for this next year, and it represents a major commitment by the United States to follow on the goal that was set in Glasgow to raise the percentage of money going to adaptation to about 40 percent of all the funding of the 100 billion.
So, the United States has really, because of President Biden’s leadership, stepped out in a major way to lay out an agenda for helping the island state nations particularly, because they’re among the most vulnerable, but also countries like Bangladesh. The foreign minister of Bangladesh is here, for instance. They also face particular adaptation/resilience problems.
We are playing a lead role in terms of trying to help the most vulnerable nations in the world to be able to deal with the challenge of the climate crisis where they’re on the front line feeling some of the greatest impacts. And I might add, it has fostered an increased sense of outrage in certain parts of the planet that the places that are very negligible in terms of their contribution to the problem are paying the highest price. So, you can find 48 sub-Saharan African states, for instance, that together, all 48 are equal to 0.55 percent of all the emissions in the world, and then of course you have the 20 biggest economies of the world, of which we are also one – together with China and Russia and India and others – who are responsible for 80 percent of all the emissions.
What we’re doing here, purposefully, is trying to highlight the challenge to island states, small states, emerging economies around the world. And I think it’s been even more effective than most of us thought it might be by coming here to help focus on this challenge. And I think the President is very focused on the United States trying to do its part. For example, we joined today the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance, and have put money on the table to try to help deal with that. The EPA is putting $350 million into grants to improve the recycling capacity and reduce the amount of plastic that is in the ocean. The Department of Energy is putting 25 million aside for research and development for marine energy, including wave energy.
So, all of these things are possible opportunities for some of the island states as we go forward. There’s a difference between the needs of the island states. Some of them have elevation, like Palau does. They’ve got some mountainous and large peaks. And then you have atoll nations who are pretty flat and at sea level, who are at the greatest risk of all.
We’re focused on all of those elements and how to build a sustainable future and protect the culture of these islands. We just had a fascinating panel of indigenous peoples who were talking about the cultural and historical differences between the islands and people on the islands. So, I think this is one of the better conferences that has brought nations together to really frankly and openly and candidly discuss the urgent needs of other people and of the ways in which we can all make a difference.
Monica, you want to add to that?
Assistant Secretary Medina: I think the only other thing to add is that one of the most interesting things is that islands see themselves as not just victims, but as part of the solution in climate, and they are keen to bring forward climate solutions that they’ve innovated – and share that information, and we’re actually really pleased to be participating in something called the [Local2030] Islands Network and helping to support that to allow for communities of practice across islands, from Ireland to Palau, to learn about how to deal with the climate crisis that they’re confronting every day. So, it’s been a great place to learn as well as to hear about the challenges.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Next, if we could go to Teddy Tri Setio from Liputan6.com in Jakarta, Indonesia. Teddy, please go ahead.
Question: Hello, Mr. John Kerry. My name is Teddy from Liputan6.com, Indonesian media. My question is I want to know about the updates about COP26 commitments. How far [inaudible] situation so far? And this year Indonesia is holding presidency of G20, and will COP26 commitment be a focus and priority in G20 summit? Thank you.
Secretary Kerry: What was the first part of the question?
Question: My question is how far the realization of COP26 commitments, and will the COP commitment be a focus and priority in the G20 summit this year.
Secretary Kerry: Yes, the answer is that we’re actually working very closely with key countries to implement the promises that were made in Glasgow. And one of those key countries is Indonesia. I have had many conversations with Minister Luhut. We have had a team in Indonesia recently. Indonesia has made pledges with respect to deforestation restrictions. We’re very anxious to implement what was promised in Glasgow, and we’re very pleased that Indonesia has stepped up in a significant way. President Jokowi and Minister Luhut and others have been very clear about their desire to contribute significantly to our progress. Obviously, deforestation and the palm oil relationship are critical with respect to Indonesia’s ability to live up to its goals.
Indonesia did step up and raise its NDC, and we’re anxious to try to help Indonesia in ways that we can with technology and with finance to be able to take the steps necessary to meet that NDC.
So we view this as a cooperative effort and one where Indonesia has potential to help lead on a global basis.
Assistant Secretary Medina: I would just add that the other thing that’s interesting is that Indonesia and its presidency of the G20 is also stressing oceans as part of the work program on environment, and that’s a great step forward and we think there will be tremendous progress as a result of getting the G20 nations focused on oceans.
Secretary Kerry: And we look forward to working very closely with Indonesia on the G20 efforts. We know that the country and your president are taking it very seriously, and we look forward to a very constructive G20 as a result.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Next if we could go to Philip Heijmans, who is with Bloomberg News in Singapore. Philip, please go ahead.
Question: Hi there, and thank you very much for doing this. I was hoping to follow up on that question on Indonesia, actually. As you know, Indonesia is the world’s biggest thermal coal exporter and one of the largest carbon emitters on Earth. Coal mining companies in Indonesia are likely to post very strong earnings this year amid a rise in coal prices and a supply disruption from the war. Given how deeply entrenched the crossover is between mining and politics, do you have any concerns that this renewed demand could impact the government’s zero-emissions pledge? Thank you.
Secretary Kerry: Well, the answer is yes, of course we have concerns, and we’re concerned on a global basis, not just about Indonesia. Because of Ukraine and because of COVID and the response to COVID, which has produced significant increased demand very significantly, economies everywhere are seeing increased demand for energy. And the most immediate energy that some are turning to is, unfortunately, thermal and/or fossil fuel.
Not every country fits the same set of choices. That’s one thing you have to be very clear about. Every country – I mean, we’re working with South Africa, we’re working with Mexico, we’re working with obviously Indonesia and with India and others, and every country has its own mix of challenges in this. But the bottom line is that almost every country on the planet has the immediate ability to be able to deploy much more renewable, and the race to use this as an excuse to be using coal or gas and oil is really misplaced to a certain degree because there’s a great deal of space for countries to deploy renewables, put that into their grid, and still not face any weakening of their base load requirements.
Our hope is that – and for instance in Europe, the Germans have quadrupled down on the deployment of renewables in order to wean themselves from President Putin’s gas, but also because they recognize the lesson of what has happened in these last months is that you really aren’t secure and you don’t have energy independence unless you’re making your own energy. And for many people, that will be renewable energy.
We’re really hoping to encourage people to proceed very cautiously here and to use this moment to gain the energy independence and to also serve the needs of health and antipollution, cleaning up the air and dealing with the other challenges we face. This is a great opportunity to do that in a thoughtful way.
I’m very hopeful, and I know Monica and President Biden, our entire administration views gas as something that presents its own challenges for methane and its own challenges for increased emissions, unless there is abatement. So, we’re pushing very hard for people to approach in as responsible a way as possible and not to just use it as an excuse to do the things that they were reluctant to give up doing anyway.
Assistant Secretary Medina: I would just add that the spirit of multilateralism has really taken hold in every international meeting that I’ve been in since the disruptions began and the war began, and it’s been palpable. It’s been something that I think none of us really would have wanted, but we’re certainly going to take advantage of this sense of unity on taking on other challenges together.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We don’t have too much time left but we’ll try to get a few more questions in. Next if we could go to Elvis Chang from NTDAPTV in Taiwan.
Question: Okay. My question is that Taiwan officials attend the OOC this year under the name “Taiwan” and in an official capacity. So, both situations is first time, and what’s your opinion of that? And besides, would you have clearance to interact with the Taiwan delegation? Thank you.
Secretary Kerry: It is not unusual; it is a normal policy of the United States that Taiwan has participated on the sidebar, not formally as a delegation, but in the side events as they did in Glasgow and elsewhere and other conferences in the world. There has been no formal speeches that I’m aware of or full participation as a delegation, and they’re here as a guest of President Whipps, and there’s nothing abnormal about the level that their participation is taking in this conference.
Moderator: Thank you. Well, let me ask a question that we received in advance from Ngala Killian Chimton from the Timescape Magazine and In-Depth News in Yaounde, Cameroon. Ngala asked: “Experts say by 2050 there’ll be more plastics in the ocean than there are fish. How can the problem of plastic waste be resolved, given that the ocean seems to be the only destination for billions of plastic items that are being used globally daily?”
Secretary Kerry: Well, that’s a really important question, and the answer is we need a global agreement on plastic and we need to pass that global agreement hopefully this year as rapidly as possible. The levels of plastic in the ocean are a disgrace. Everybody should be deeply concerned about it. We human beings are now involuntarily taking microplastics into our bodies, which our bodies obviously were never meant to consume, and in many cases, there’s potential for cancer and other disease as a result.
So we really need to get serious about this. It dishonors every notion of conservation, of responsibility, of caring for the environment, and I know that everybody on our team is already engaged in discussions in order to advance the plastic efforts. I think, Monica, you went to the plenary.
Assistant Secretary Medina: Yes.
Secretary Kerry: So, you should weigh in on this.
Assistant Secretary Medina: Yes, we are determined to get our arms around this scourge, and this should be the year where we begin to end the scourge of plastic pollution on this planet. We are determined that it be the full lifecycle of plastic, not just how plastic ends up in the ocean, but how we have so much plastic in our lives everywhere that is really the problem, and we’re determined to get at it at the very source, and full lifecycle, not just how to –
[Line drops – brief break]
Assistant Secretary Medina: I’m not sure where you lost us, but I’ll just say that we’re determined to address the full lifecycle of plastics in the agreement. And the amazing thing is that we have the plastic industry working as hard on this as the environmental community, because even they recognize that we have gone too far. When it comes to plastic, we’ve got too much and it has to get out of the system.
Moderator: Thank you so much. We really appreciate the time. That will conclude today’s call. I want to thank Secretary John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and Monica Medina, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and I also want to thank all of you for participating in this briefing and I apologize if we were not able to get to your question today as there were quite a few questions in the question-and-answer queue.
Please stay on the line for information regarding access to an audio recoding of the call. Also, please be aware that a transcript of the call will be posted to our social media platforms and sent out to all of you within a day. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Asia Pacific Media Hub at AsiaPacMedia@state.gov. Thank you.