Moderator: Following COP26, it’s clearer than ever that multilateral efforts will be needed to successfully solve the climate crisis, and that the U.S. must lead that charge. How are you and/or our current administration thinking about this (from Executive branch to DOD)?”
Assistant Secretary Monica Medina: Thank you, Nancy. Good afternoon, colleagues and friends.
First off, I am thrilled to be with you today at this event put on by “We Don’t Have Time,” and to be a part of this organization’s launch here in the United States.
For me, seeing your organization’s work highlighting the climate crisis strikes a chord. It reminds me of the years I worked at Our Daily Planet, helping people stay informed and engaged, and making these issues feel more connected to their own lives.
Your work advances our collective efforts to combat the climate crisis, and it couldn’t be more important than it is right now.
Now to your question. The Administration believes that we need to follow the science, plain and simple.
Scientists have made clear that this is the decisive decade for action if we are to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.
We have the opportunity to, in fact, we must, come together to solve this global challenge.
I am thrilled to be here representing the Biden-Harris Administration. We know the United States has not been at the table as much as we might have been in recent years. Let me assure you: the United States IS BACK.
On his first day in office, President Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement, restored U.S. leadership on the world stage, and reestablished our position to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad.
He convened the first-ever Leaders Summit on Climate that affirmed the need for unprecedented global cooperation and ambition and convened a U.S.-led Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.
Congress passed President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, which will expand access to clean drinking water, and make unprecedented investments in clean energy. This deal is a critical step towards reaching our goal of a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
And at COP26 in Glasgow last month, over 190 countries concluded negotiations on a text that includes a global commitment to tackle the climate crisis and keep the goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach.
Leaders from across the world collectively raised their ambitions, and the United States was at the forefront of this effort.
Now that America is back at the table, we can and will make progress on this issue.
That said, countries need to implement their pledges and commitments to keep the goal of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach.
Moderator: The current administration supports science-based policymaking, which is a significant turn from the previous administration. How do you feel about how we are progressing U.S. policy in line with the climate science the UN has described as a #codered for humanity?
What are some of the efforts underway that you can share with us across science, government, and security communities that make you hopeful that we can get this crisis under control?
Assistant Secretary Medina: What we do at home is critical to combatting the climate crisis, but the United States can’t do this alone.
Our share of greenhouse gas emissions is around 11 percent of the world’s total. This is significant, but we can’t do this without other countries.
That is why our work at COP26 in Glasgow was so important.
I was proud to join a stellar U.S. delegation that included a dozen Cabinet and agency heads and was led by my good friend and our Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry.
We announced a slew of new initiatives, commitments, and coalitions, that will help implement our climate goals. So let me tell you about a few of them.
We released the U.S. Long-Term Strategy to outline how we’ll get to a net-zero economy by 2050.
The United States and European Union announced that over 100 countries covering nearly half of global methane emissions and almost 70 percent of global GDP signed the Global Methane Pledge. This pledge aims to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030.
The U.S. announced our first-ever contribution to the Adaptation Fund which at COP26 received $356 million in new support from contributing national and regional governments.
Twenty-five countries, including the United States, and five financial institutions, pledged to end new international finance for unabated fossil fuel energy by the end of 2022.
The United States released the Plan to Conserve Global Forests, our first whole-of-government effort to preserve critical ecosystems which serve as vital carbon sinks.
We launched the First Movers Coalition with more than 30 founding members including some of the largest companies in the world. This coalition works across a wide range of industries to make commitments to bring to market zero-carbon technologies in hard-to-abate sectors like industry and heavy transportation.
Along with partners Salesforce, General Electric, and LinkedIn, we launched the Climate Entrepreneurs for Economic Development (CEED) initiative at COP. This initiative aims to contribute to economic empowerment in developing countries by enlisting private sector partners to help nurture entrepreneurship by delivering innovative climate solutions and driving green growth globally.
And we, alongside the UK, EU, France, and Germany announced a partnership with South Africa to chart a course from coal to clean energy through the creation of new jobs and opportunities for South African coal communities.
These are serious, significant commitments. But they are not enough.
More work remains following Glasgow to get where the science tells us we need to be, and the United States will continue to push for more progress at home and abroad in this decisive decade for climate action.
Moderator: How do you think about the climate crisis in your current position, especially as a science, geopolitical, and security challenge? What role does the State Dept. play in relation to our domestic effort to reach our country’s climate goals?
In your extensive career across international relations and the environment, what have you found works best to overcome challenges (e.g. public resistance, political expediency) to successfully further science-based policies?
Assistant Secretary Medina: As I mentioned, the United States is back at the table, and the State Department has led efforts to work with the international community and raise our collective ambition.
COP26 is a great example of this work in action.
Ninety percent of the world’s GDP now has net zero commitments and 154 countries put forward new climate action plans to cut emissions.
That is significant, but we all know implementation is key.
The atmosphere doesn’t care about plans or pledges.
We intend to tackle the climate crisis with all the tools, assets, and commitment we can muster. And we will do it based on science.
At its core, the Paris Agreement brings about a virtuous cycle where countries face positive competition to bring ambitious pledges to the table.
We will continue to ask countries to raise their ambitions, but we also need to ensure they are implementing existing commitments.
The United States and my department are certainly important drivers in this regard.
But civil society, the private sector, philanthropies, and others can be real catalysts as well.
“We Don’t Have Time” is a case in point.
Its ability to keep governments, businesses, and others on task is key to our success.
While we engage leaders with the urgency this moment requires, we rely on organizations like this to keep us on task, to educate the public, and to pressure the world to be more ambitious.
We talk a lot about a whole-of-government approach, but we all know a whole-of-society approach is stronger and more enduring.
Together, I think we are in fact closer than we have ever been before to avoiding climate chaos and securing clear air, safer water, and a healthier planet.