Administrator Samantha Power on MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports

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Friday, November 11, 2022


ANDREA MITCHELL: Joining me now from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, is USAID Administrator, former UN Ambassador, Samantha Power – with the President at the Global Climate Summit. Thank you so much Ambassador Power for being with us. President Biden coming to the Climate Summit after the U.S. and other industrialized nations were criticized by the rest of the world for causing climate change. The President outlining what the U.S. is doing. Are you concerned that if Republicans take control of Congress, this could be the last piece of climate change for this administration?

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Well, first let me say, Andrea, that when the President came to COP last year – to the Climate Summit last year – he was able to talk about America coming back, coming back to the Paris Treaty, coming back to efforts to dramatically curb emissions when there had been so much rollback of the regulations that had been put in place in the Obama years. This year, he’s coming having secured a $368 billion investment in combating climate change. And you can just – it doesn’t get old, here at a climate summit – you can hear almost a gasp, again, as people grapple with what that means. Because it matters, not only in terms of the United States lowering emissions and meeting its Paris targets that have been set, which we know, over time, we need to make more ambitious and to accelerate. But by doing – by making that substantial investment domestically – it’s going to bring prices down everywhere. And that’s going to mean more solar, more wind, more access to renewables at a cheaper price, in places that are also contributing significantly to emissions.

And then, on the adaptation side, obviously, climate change is upon us. I traveled recently – just in the last couple months – both to Somalia, which is experienced it’s fifth straight failed rainy season, which is absolutely unprecedented in recorded history, and Pakistan, a third of which ended up under water because of unprecedented flooding, melting glaciers combined with, again, monsoon rains the likes of which no one has ever seen before. 

So, part of what President Biden committed to this year, as well, is increasing our funding for so-called adaptations, helping countries adapt to the climate emergencies that are here already, even as we accelerate our efforts to bring down emissions. 

MS. MITCHELL: You’ve been really the road warrior for this administration. I’ve been tracking your travel – Ukraine, repeatedly, you just came from Lebanon, focusing on the food supply and the issue of Putin reportedly backing off the grain deal, to export grain from the Black Sea, through that blockage. There is so much at stake but the war in Ukraine has increased pressure on Western Europe to continue to rely on fossil fuel – there’s a lot of criticism of that the U.S. is even going to have to rely on fossil fuels longer than it would want to because of the war. How do you see this all evolving? 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I think, in the short term, obviously countries are grappling with significant energy insecurity. Countries are worried about how they are going to get through the winter, they are worried about these exorbitant prices for fuel, and the prices being charged by Putin, and not only by Putin, as supply is deliberately diminished on the global market, thereby driving up the prices. But what I saw, just even speak to Lebanon – not a country we necessarily think of in this context, but because fuel prices are so high and electricity is so scarce and rationed in a country where nothing like that was even conceivable before the current economic crisis there. We now see an appetite for solar that had never existed before. And because more solar is being made in more places, the prices are coming down – so you're actually going to see more and more communities, as well as the private sector, as well as governments, in a sense voting with their feet. And this higher price, in the short term, for fuel, and as you say, even the short term reliance or return to carbon, in a way that is damaging, no doubt, for the environment. But nobody is comfortable with that dependence. Indeed, I think that has just deepened and broadened the constituency from moving away from dependence on someone like Putin.  

MS. MITCHELL: You were recently in Ukraine, as well, where Ukrainian troops today according to President Zelenskyy have entered Kherson, a critical point – the Russian army has retreated from that stronghold. Putin has decided to not show up even at the G20 where he’d have to face world leaders, where he’s really isolated in the world community, in multilateral organizations – increasingly. He’s got a veto in the UN Security Council, you know this better than anyone as a former ambassador. But he’s really lost ground in the General Assembly and the UN, writ large, hasn’t he?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Absolutely. And I think the weaponizing of food has played a major role as well as the fact that, of course, every member state of the United Nations has an interest in raising their voice against unprovoked aggression and brutality of this kind. Because every country in the United Nations thinks, “what if someone did that to me, how would that feel?”  

They have an interest in international law and territorial integrity being preserved. They also have an interest in bringing food prices down and just about everything Putin has done has driven food prices, fuel prices, and fertilizer prices up. So, that’s not winning him any friends on the global stage. But also, what his forces are experiencing on the battlefield – that is not the kind of battlefield performance that Putin would wish to bring to an international summit. The fact that the Russian forces have lost the battle of Kyiv, the battle of Kharkiv, now the battle of Kherson – that’s not exactly not instilling in the Russian people the kind of pride that Putin has boasted that he would be the one to restore for the Russian Federation. So this has been a difficult time. But I will say, Andrea, what we do know from all territory that has been liberated in Ukraine is that there are these joyous scenes, and they are incredibly moving. I think one could spend all day just looking at kids and grandmothers coming out and greeting those soldiers seeing not only the Ukrainian flag go up, but the European Union flag go up in downtown Kherson. At the same time, we know that as Russian forces withdraw, we learn more and more about the harm that has been perpetrated during the occupation. And so, we, at USAID and the U.S. government, are working with our partners on the ground to document the war crimes that we know are now going to be uncovered, as the Ukrainians reestablish their presence there. 

MS. MITCHELL: As you started your career, writing so movingly in Bosnia about genocide. Do you really believe that there will be accountability for the horrors of Ukraine?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, what I can say is that the Ukrainians have done all kinds of things so far that nobody believed possible. Experts everywhere, including those very close to Putin, who thought that they would be able to win this very, very quickly. I can also draw from my own experience – as you mentioned in Bosnia – where nobody thought that there would be accountability for the war crimes there, or that Slobodan Milošević , Ratko Mladić, these guys would end up behind bars. Life is long, document the evidence, establish the forensic proof, and continue – in the case of the United States, to support humanitarian security, economic efforts, and war crimes documentation on the ground, and things can turn pretty quickly.

MS. MITCHELL: Samantha Power we're looking also at live pictures, victorious pictures of liberation of Kherson. And I just want to say it is so moving, despite the carpet bombing, in spite all the horrors of what they've experienced – and you have been such a standard there for the resilience of these people and people around the world as you travel, globally, the last two years. We've been watching, thank you very much. Thank you for what you're doing. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Andrea. Thank you.

Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

Last updated: November 16, 2022

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