Administrator Samantha Power at COP26 Event “Adapting to Thrive: U.S. Action on Global Climate”

Speeches Shim

Monday, November 8, 2021

COP 26
Glasgow, UK

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you everybody. I don’t know about you, but I think Gillian has to stop with the “newly minted.” Once you’ve survived COP, you’re no longer newly minted, you’re a wizened veteran of USAID and of government.

I’m very excited for this panel.

I want to thank Assistant Secretary Medina for her leadership and long-demonstrated expertise on climate, as well as Administrator Spinrad whose scientific understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere rivals that of anyone in the world. So to be able to bring that expertise to bear, that’s just awesome—and now we have a chance to do that and bring it to countries that are really eager for the kind of partnership that NOAA is going to bring to bear.

This conference—this day, this event—is about action. About what action the U.S. government is going to take to help nations with fewer resources adapt to the climate-induced havoc we all face.

Before we talk about today, I want to talk about 2011—ten years ago.

In 2011, two very different regions of the world experienced two of the most severe droughts in their history.

One was the United States, centered in Texas. In May of 2011, Texas experienced its worst period of drought since 1895. It broke a heat record previously set during the dust bowl—for 40 days, the temperature in Dallas was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Millions of acres of planted seeds baked in the soil, never receiving enough rain to sprout. The drought led to Texas’ worst wildfire season in history, and caused over $7 billion in lost crops and livestock. Ultimately ten people perished in the wildfires, four of them firefighters battling the blazes.

At around the same time, halfway around the world, in East Africa, the other punishing drought began to take shape. The rainy season from April to June saw 30 percent less precipitation than average, leading to widespread crop failure across Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti. The prices of food staples spiked nearly 70 percent, impacting nearly 12 million people in the region. Food insecurity was so bad, a famine was declared—the first in East Africa in 30 years. Over 900,000 people fled their homes in Somalia and sought refuge in neighboring countries and made the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya the largest in the world. In the end, 260,000 people were estimated to have died—half of them children.

Two massive droughts, both historic in their impact and devastating in their scale, both happening at the same point in human history—one killed ten, and the other, in a much less developed part of the world, killed more than a quarter-of-a-million people. One caused significant economic hardship; the other caused mass displacement and a toll of human misery not witnessed in a generation.

Developing countries urgently need investments and know-how. They need sophisticated early warning systems that can reach at-risk populations with warnings of impending threats. They need infrastructure that can withstand floods and freezes, and still deliver power or serve to transport goods and people. They need weather data and climate-resilient seeds to help their farmers plan their growing seasons and prepare for the increased likelihood of droughts and pests. And they need social-safety nets and insurance mechanisms that can protect families and help them bounce back when they lose crops and livestock.

They need many of the things that developed countries have spent centuries developing for themselves—and they need them now.

Yet despite this need, adaptation has long been neglected and underfunded, by both public and private sectors. A report last year said adaptation funding needs to increase between five-to-ten-fold to meet needs in developing countries. And the latest available data shows, of the estimated $30 billion spent on climate adaptation in 2018, only about $500 million—less than two percent—came from the private sector.

If the concern about investing in adaptation is cost, the world is being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Every dollar invested in adaptation can yield anywhere between $2-to-$10 of benefits, and save up to $4 of necessary humanitarian assistance down the line.

So the United States and other wealthy nations with a long history of carbon pollution have to come forward to our partner nations around the world. And that’s exactly what President Biden’s new emergency plan, PREPARE, seeks to do. As a major contributor to climate change, the United States seeks to be the major force for coping with its consequences.

I want to be clear: USAID has been doing climate adaptation work for years. Indeed, I have heard USAID described as the world’s leading climate adaptation Agency. Why? Because our programming in the health, agriculture, governance, conflict, innovation, and gender domains have all sought to support our partners as they adapt to the worsening climate crisis.

Through our Feed the Future program, we have been working with farmers to enhance their resilience to drought for more than a decade. Through the technical assistance provided by our USAID missions around the world to governments, we have been working with countries on their Nationally Determined Contributions and National Action Plans, which have significant adaptation components and often require significant policy reform. And of course, as the world’s largest humanitarian donor, we have been providing emergency assistance in response to climate-related disasters—$160 million worth of such assistance in 2021 alone—while also helping countries “build back better” after climate shocks so they are less damaging the next time around.

Now, though, with the support of our allies in Congress, the U.S. will provide dedicated adaptation financing—$3 billion annually by 2024 as part of the new PREPARE initiative.

PREPARE aims to do three simple things:

One, give people information that can save their lives and their livelihoods.

Two, plan for—and mitigate the effects of—the climate impacts we know are coming.

And three, attract public and private sector money for those plans and help execute them to make them sustainable and real.

First, on information, because we know that just 24-hour’s notice of an impending storm and heatwave can cut the cost of damages by 30 percent, we’re going to work with our partners at NOAA to help countries strengthen and expand early warning systems so they can reach populations in need. We plan to train local climate forecasters to predict climate hazards and impacts, strengthen existing warning systems to make them more responsive, and expand climate observations by creating automated weather stations around the world.

Second, on planning and programming, the U.S. will contribute $21.8 million toward disaster-risk financing to help insure people from climate-related losses in Africa. Today, 95 percent of all losses faced by people living in developing nations are uninsured against climate impacts. We want people to sleep easier knowing that if they lose their crops in a flood, or their home to a mega-storm, that they will be financially covered. A major disaster is heartbreaking enough; it shouldn’t plunge people into poverty as well.

So we’re going to work with private companies, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and partner governments to improve disaster risk coverage in Africa—something we’ve done successfully in other regions. Our own research shows that this kind of risk insurance can cut rural poverty in half.

While insurance products can help people deal with shocks, the threat of climate change is not just from extreme events.

Lower-level climate variation—untimely rains, changing growing seasons, more active pests, or prolonged heat stress—can be absolutely deadly to agriculture. So we’re investing in CGIAR, one of the world’s leading agriculture research institutions, and one USAID founded, to develop pest - and drought - resistant seeds so that farmers can adapt and even thrive amidst a changing environment.

In partnership with CGIAR and small holder farmers, we’re also going to help 200 million people raise agricultural productivity in South Asian and Sub-Saharan Africa by 25 percent before the end of the decade.

Finally, we’re going to put up public money to unlock private sector investment for adaptation in a major way. To start, we’re committed to mobilizing $1 billion for resilient water infrastructure that can stand up to climate impacts by the end of this decade. If pipes burst during a storm, contaminated flood waters can ruin drinking water and spread disease. So we’re going to work with utility companies in developing countries to strengthen their water infrastructure, upgrade their services, and bring in revenue to draw in investors.

And I’m pleased to announce today that we’re also launching the Green Recovery Investment Platform, or GRIP. By investing $250 million of public money, this Platform will seek to raise $2.5 billion of private finance for mitigation and adaptation in the next six years. The program will incentivize companies to invest in opportunities like refrigerated food storage and transportation in countries throughout the world.

In total, our work to implement PREPARE will allow USAID to help half-a-billion people improve their resilience and adapt to the effects of climate change by 2030.

Now, I want to be clear, even if we take all of these steps—even if we establish early warning systems, strengthen infrastructure, invest in agricultural productivity, insure the world and unlock private financing—people will suffer the effects of the growing climate crisis.

In my own country, communities are being battered by climate shocks—low-income communities especially. They are losing their homes, seeing their communities turn into ghost towns after sustained flooding and forest fires, and many can’t afford insurance, if there is any, to cover them at all.

But adaptation is not about preventing all climate impacts, it is about giving communities their best shot to cope with them. That’s what we all deserve, no matter where we’re born.

President Biden and USAID are taking essential steps to put resources in the hands of people hit hardest by the climate crisis. But while the U.S. is stepping up to the plate to meet its adaptation obligations, we need an entire team of bilateral and multilateral partners by our side.

We need other donor governments to meet their commitments to adaptation in the way that many have prioritized mitigation. We need climate funds to prioritize investments in early warning systems and agricultural resilience in the way they have prioritized investments in clean energy.

And we need the private sector—not just to invest more than that two percent—but to innovate. To develop new insurance schemes that can pool risk across regions and protect poor farmers and ranchers from catastrophic losses. To use public weather and climate data to make smart bets about what land to cultivate and what crops to grow. And to look for ways not just to lower energy costs or purchase offsets for their emissions when there are no other opportunities to mitigate them, but to invest in making their own supply chains, and the workers who contribute to them, more resilient.

Together, we can all do more to strengthen the armour of people in harm’s way.

Thank you.

Last updated: November 16, 2022

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