Administrator Samantha Power at the COP26 Event “Power Up: Factoring Resilience into the Energy Infrastructure Transition”

Speeches Shim

Monday, November 8, 2021

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Sara, for that introduction, and for your leadership at IEA as it evolved this year from producing the Outlook that everybody reads to the Road Map that everybody needs. It is your institution’s analysis that has helped paint a vision of a net-zero 2050 that we all need to take inspiration from. 

I also want to thank Mr. Kishore and the Government of India for hosting this event, and for their leadership in convening the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. 

The United States is proud to be a founding member of this India-led Coalition, and we will continue to be a champion of its efforts to raise private- and public-sector financing for infrastructure that can withstand climate shocks. President Biden has made both public- and private-sector investment in infrastructure a key part of his Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience, PREPARE. But today, we’re speaking about a very particular kind of infrastructure—energy infrastructure—and the need to make sure it can stand up to the climate shocks we will increasingly face.

When talking about energy resilient infrastructure, so much attention is focused on the future. But when describing just how necessary it is, it’s helpful to look to the past. 

In 1955, as the sun was setting on the British Empire, construction began on the Kariba Dam, a massive project in what was then Northern Rhodesia. Nearly 2,000 feet wide, this Dam would provide power to copper mines, and when it was designed, it was intended to be impervious to a one-in-ten-thousand-year flood. 

The designers, though, based their calculations on only three decades of river flow data. That mistake became painfully apparent in 1957, when the site, still under construction, experienced a flood bigger than that one-in-ten-thousand year flood. The waters quickly drowned the construction. Eventually they subsided, and only one crane had been lost, but the planners learned their lesson.

Soon they expanded their plans, but in 1958, the very next rainy season, the waters rose even higher and the Dam was hit by a flood twice as large as the previous one. 

The Kariba Dam was eventually completed, and it provides over 1,800 megawatts to both countries, while holding the world’s largest reservoir at bay. But today a changing climate and low rainfall threatens to shut down the Dam’s power production, with water levels 12 percent of its typical capacity. Vexingly, flooding is still a threat too, as heavy rainfall could refill it, and potentially cause it to collapse. 

Needless to say, we want all the things we build to stand up to climate change—all our buildings and bridges and roads and facilities. 

Yet the infrastructure that powers our lives is decidedly different. When our energy infrastructure functions, it has the ability to propel human productivity and lift people not just out of energy poverty, but extreme poverty. When absent, it chokes economic activity and limits pathways for people, especially women, to earn a living. 

Today, nearly half the population of sub-Saharan Africa still lacks electricity, a shocking concentration when you consider 90 percent of the world’s population has access to electricity. 

So we need new power-generating infrastructure, desperately. But we also need our energy-generating infrastructure to be renewable so it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases and contribute to the further heating of our planet. Many wealthy countries—the United States included—are currently trying to make carbon-dependent infrastructure more efficient. But other countries can build green from the start, tapping into their considerable access to renewable resources like solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal, to drastically increase renewable energy production.

In fact, according to Sara’s roadmap, if the world is to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, then two-thirds of the total energy supply in 2050 must come from renewables. Electricity will also have to be the core of our energy system—electric cars, electric trucks and transport, electric heaters and air pumps. We must become far more reliant on electricity, which means electricity must become far more dependable. 

That’s why we need renewable energy infrastructure to be resilient to a changing climate change. Today, energy disruptions due to natural disasters or poor maintenance cost low- and middle- income countries between $390 and $647 billion dollars every single year. 

So, as the world raises to invest in the clean energy systems of the future, these systems must withstand the impacts of climate change—everything from droughts and floods, gale-force winds, increased temperatures, and sudden freezes.

And according to the Global Commission on Adaptation, the return is more than worth the investment: the benefits of making new infrastructure more climate resilient outweighs the costs by as much as four-to-one. 

Supporting the development of renewable, resilient energy infrastructure will boost economic development, especially for the most marginalized. It will improve energy security and cut down on disruptions. And it will protect both critical infrastructure and our planet. 

To help realize this vision of resilience, USAID has embarked on a $9 million partnership with Miyamoto International, a world-leader in developing disaster- and climate-resilient infrastructure around the world, to support CDRI across its three objectives:

Together, we’re investing in technical support and capacity-building for partner governments and utilities to set policies and adopt standards and certifications for new infrastructure.  Experts will support the development and implementation of new projects in the energy sector to support resilient infrastructure.

We’re also supporting research efforts and helping build a global store of knowledge, documenting and learning from infrastructure failures as well as innovative approaches.

And third, we’re strengthening public- and private-sector engagement to turn climate-resilient infrastructure from a niche focus to a booming civil-engineering sector in countries all around the world. 

These efforts will help the Coalition deliver sustainable green development outcomes for its member nations, increase knowledge transfer, develop global and regional standards for resilient-infrastructure—and ultimately save lives and livelihoods by reducing disaster and climate risks.

As we design the dams and batteries of tomorrow, the solar farms and wind fields, and geothermal plants that will fuel us for generations, we cannot afford to base our predictions on short-sighted data or optimistic outlooks. We have the climate and forecasting data that the Kariba Dam’s original planners lacked, we have technologies that can strengthen our infrastructure in the face of fiercer shocks, and we have decades of experience as we witness resilience successes and failures. 

Together, we can build a future of renewable resilient power that keeps carbon out of our skies while keeping our lights on. That’s the future that the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure is working to deliver, and the United States is committed to realizing it. 

Thank you.

COP 26 Glasgow, Scotland

Last updated: November 08, 2021

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