MR PATEL: Hey, everybody, I’m going to jump in real quick and just lay out some ground rules.  This is Vedant Patel.  Thanks so much for joining us today on this preview call to preview Special Envoy for Biodiversity and Water Resources Monica Medina’s travel to COP15, where she will head the U.S. delegation.  We will do this call on the record, embargoed until the call’s conclusion.  We of course will have some time for questions at the end.  But with that, I’m going to turn it over to Special Envoy Medina to kick us off.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA:  Thank you, Vedant.  I really appreciate everyone being on the call today.

So the world is facing a biodiversity crisis, and nature is under threat all across the globe.  More than one million species are at risk of extinction, many within decades, and more than ever before.  This drop in biodiversity endangers all life on our planet, including our own.  COP15 in Montreal presents an important opportunity to bend the curve on biodiversity loss.  We must seize this moment to create an international framework that can begin to reverse and restore this unprecedented loss of biodiversity globally and protect nature for generations to come.

The U.S. delegation is seeking a strong and ambitious global biodiversity framework that will conserve or protect at least 30 percent of global lands and waters and 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030.  Science has clearly spoken.  That goal, known as 30 by 30, is absolutely essential to support ecosystem health and viability, and arrest the catastrophic decline in nature worldwide.

I want to emphasize that 30 by 30 must be both a global target and an effort made by individual nations.  Every country must do its part by committing to conserve or protect at least 30 percent of its own national lands and waters.  The United States is already demonstrating our commitment to conserving biodiversity.  One of President Biden’s first executive orders was the “America the Beautiful” Initiative, a commitment to conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.  We believe 30 by 30 must start at home, involving all of society, including indigenous peoples, local communities, and young people – and we are putting it into practice right now.

I’m looking forward to joining the COP in Montreal for the high-level sessions this week.  We already have an interagency team on the ground as part of efforts to secure a strong, positive outcome.  COP15 is nature’s moment.  We now have the opportunity to conserve and protect nature for this and future generations.  And with courage and initiative, we need to seize this moment.

So with that, thank you very much and I’m happy to take questions.

OPERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen on the phone lines, if you do wish to ask a question today, please press 1 followed by the 0 – please press 1 followed by the 0.  You can take yourself out of the queue by simply pressing the 1, 0 command again.  And we’ll begin today with a question from Issam Ahmad representing AFP.  Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you for doing this call, and thank you, Envoy Medina.  Just a – maybe a couple of questions, if I may.  The first is:  With the U.S. not being a signatory to the CBD, how does that impact your voice at the table?  And are you aware of if the administration had plans to take that matter back to Congress in – at any point in the near term?

And the second thing was:  I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about U.S. leadership on indigenous stewardship because obviously, I think, that’s something that has grown markedly under this administration with regards to cooperative management of national parks.  And if you could perhaps talk about why that’s key and why that’s a major plank of policy.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA:  Thank you.  Those are great questions.  Let me start with the first one.  Though the U.S. is not a member of CBD, we believe that we can have a very positive impact on the negotiations.  We’re working closely with our allies, governments that see these issues the way we do.  And we hope to help them resolve differences – close down some of the open text and just use our expertise.  And we’re bringing a broad group of interagency experts, so we want to use our expertise to help narrow and close the deal on the 30 by 30 framework.  And, of course, I hope someday that the U.S. will become a member of the CBD, and I think that would be a great step, but right now we’re just focused on getting this deal over the finish line.

And when it comes to indigenous communities, we know that they are the best stewards out there when it comes to conserving lands and waters.  And we have a lot we can learn from them, and that’s why the Biden administration has been very much engaged in bringing in indigenous communities and engaging them in the 30 by 30 framework discussion and in our own “America the Beautiful” Initiative.  And I think you’ve seen that over and over again.  We just a couple of weeks ago had a Tribal Leaders Summit at the White House, where this was very much a topic of conversation.  We know that there’s so much that we can do when we work with indigenous communities and we learn from their traditional knowledge about conservation.

So, we are very excited about all the work we’re doing to bring them to the table.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR PATEL:  Thanks so much.  Let’s go to the next question from Natasha Gilbert of Nature magazine.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you very much.  One of the key issues at the conference is going to be overfunding, how nations will be able to afford to protect 30 percent of their land and sea by 2030.  Will the U.S. contribute additional new funds to help other nations around the world to achieve that goal?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA:  Thanks for the question, and it is an important one.  We think that all sources of funding need to come to the table when it comes to biodiversity, and we have already made strong commitments.  We believe that the things that we’re doing with respect to forests and trees and addressing climate change also have a significant benefit for biodiversity.  We also recognize the funding gap, and it’s a big one.  And I hope that if we achieve this 30 by 30 framework that gives us more impetus to try and do more fundraising, if you will, to bring more funding to this effort.

I also think it’s important for us to recognize the costs that we already are imposing on society by using nature and not accounting for its benefits.  So, we’re also working in the U.S. Government on a very ambitious project that looks at accounting for nature and trying to understand how to better incorporate or – how to better internalize the costs of nature loss that we see happening all the time with development.  So there are lots of ways that we can bring more resources to this challenge, and we in the U.S. Government are looking for many avenues to address that funding gap.

MR PATEL:  Thanks so much.  Operator, could you repeat our instructions to ask questions again?

OPERATOR:  Absolutely.  If you would like to ask a question today, please press 1 followed by the 0.  You’ll hear an acknowledgment you’ve been placed in queue.  You can take yourself out of the queue by simply pressing the 1, 0 command again – 1, 0 for questions.  Thank you.

MR PATEL:  Let’s next go to the line of Rosiland Jordan with Al Jazeera English.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks so much for doing the call.  I wanted to ask Monica if she could spell out what some of the largest challenges are here in the U.S. to achieving these biodiversity goals, and how the U.S. is able to justify its work at a global forum such as COP15.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA:  Well, I think that we see this work as important for everyone across the globe.  We understand that without a healthy environment our economy and other economies around the world won’t be able to actually be successful in the long run.

There are 821 million people in Asia and Africa that face food insecurity, and we know that 40 percent of the global population lacks access to clean and safe drinking water.  And while those may not be domestic problems per se, they do impact us in that they make the world more insecure.  They cause migrations to happen.  They drive up instability in those locations that then impacts our own security here at home and everywhere.  Things like illegal fishing drive our inability to feed people all around the world, and that’s of real importance to the U.S. Government.

On top of that, I think we do have a lot that we can show for all our conservation work at home.  We do spend a tremendous amount of our funding on conservation for national parks – that’s something that’s a point of pride for the U.S. – and we have protected almost 27 percent of our ocean waters.  So I think we are working very hard to meet that goal at home as well as wanting to help other countries meet that very ambitious 30 by 30 target.

MR PATEL:  Thanks so much.  Let’s next go to the line of Dino Grandoni with The Washington Post.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for arranging this call.  I wanted to ask about the role of fresh water when it comes to the 30 by 30 goal and what the U.S. is asking for with that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA:  I think we are very concerned about water security in general.  We, the U.S. Government, have been working hard to increase our understanding of water security issues and to be able to play an important role globally on water security.  We know, here at home, we’ve faced tremendous water shortages in places like the Colorado River system; and that has an international or cross-border impact, and the Mississippi River, which is unprecedented.

So, we understand that fresh water is a key part of a healthy environment and that’s why we’re excited about the UN’s water conference next year in New York City, and why we have developed our own Global Water Strategy here in the State Department and why the White House has developed a Global Water Action Plan that I would refer you to on the White House website.  We see water as a key issue in environmental health and in global security.

MR PATEL:  Let’s next go to the line of Emanuele Bompan with La Repubblica.

QUESTION:  Hello, hi, can you hear me?  Yeah, on (inaudible) I have two question.  The first one is:  What is the position of U.S. on digital sequence information?  And the second one is:  What is the U.S. position on the so-called harmful subsidies, given the – there’s one target to slash at least $500 billion on these harmful subsidies.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA:  So I’m so sorry, I didn’t hear the first you question broke up.  Could you restate the first one?

QUESTION:  Yeah, sorry.  Yeah.  What is the position of U.S. on digital sequence information, which one of the – is one of the elements in the negotiations at COP?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA:  Okay, got it.  Thank you.  Okay.  So the U.S. is working hard on finding the right balance in this negotiation and others on genetic information and the use of genetic resources.  There’s also a negotiation around that in the ocean.  And we think that’s an important issue for this COP to address, because many of the most important breakthroughs in medicine or in, say, clean energy or who knows could be coming from things that we find in nature.  So we understand the significance of biodiversity for our future economic and health in general.

When it comes to subsidies, I think we’ve been very pleased that the WTO this year decided to eliminate harmful fishing subsidies.  And we think that there’s more work to be done in this regard and it needs a careful look, because we also want to make sure that we can feed people around the world at a time of great food insecurity.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR PATEL:  Let’s next go to the line of Julie Reimer with German Radio.

QUESTION:  Yes, hello.  Thank you very much for the briefing.  Could you define, please, to me a little bit more where the United States are able to influence the international situation on biodiversity?  I mean, there is the global – the GEF, global environmental fund, who probably plays a role.  Are there other fundings where you, let’s say, influence – can take influence?  Also, you didn’t sign the CBD.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA:  Yes, thank you for that question.  I think the U.S. has a good role, an important role to play in various different mechanisms or fora.  We did replenish the Global Environment Facility this year.  The U.S. contribution was bigger than it had ever been.  We’re very excited about that, very pleased about that.  We think it’s important to think about these issues, and try and achieve triple wins – wins for biodiversity loss, wins for climate, and wins, in fact, for ending something called zoonotic spillover, which is what causes diseases like COVID-19 to potentially be tremendously harmful across the globe.  So, we’re looking to conserve the most important parts of the planet – the places where we can get those kinds of triple wins – and to do so using the funds that are out there already like the Global Environment Facility, like the Green Climate Fund, like working with our own – the World Bank and the DFC for leveraging as much as we can, in terms of private and mixed public-private funding to benefit nature.  And the DFC – sorry – is the Development Finance Corporation.  Sorry to use the acronym.

MR PATEL:  Next let’s go to the line of Lindsey Botts with PR magazine.

OPERATOR:  Ms. Botts, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Oh, sorry.  I had a question about the number of delegates that would be attending the convention.  Do we know how many of the delegates are going to be joining Assistant Secretary Medina at the convention?  And then what will their advisory role be?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA:  I’ll have to get back to you on the exact number, but I can tell you we have a really good cross section of agencies, including our Interior Department and our Commerce Department, which is actually bringing someone from the business side of the house – not just NOAA, which typically handles oceans and environmental issues within the Department of Commerce.  We have folks coming from the Executive Branch.  The White House, even, will be there in attendance;  the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  So we’re trying to bring our A team to this COP so that we can help however we are needed to fill in and be a constructive force, even though we’re not sitting right at the table, the negotiating table.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR PATEL:  All right, thanks so much for joining today, everybody, for this preview call for the delegation’s visit to COP15.  As a reminder, this call was on the record and embargoed until the call’s conclusion, which will be concluding shortly.  Thanks again and we’ll be talking to you all again very soon.

U.S. Department of State

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