Assistant Secretary Medina briefed reporters on the US environmental priorities and its meetings during the week of the United Nations General Assembly. This may interest you : U.S. men’s basketball players downplayed Cuba in World Cup qualifier. She will also discuss US policies in the coming months including the fight against plastic pollution and climate crime, the fight against climate change, and reversing the loss of biodiversity.
NEW YORK DAILY JOURNALISTS, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
ANNOUNCER: Hello, and welcome to the briefing of the Center for Foreign Affairs with the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Global Science at the Department of State. Our keynote speaker today is Assistant Secretary Monica Medina, who serves as the office’s assistant secretary. My name is Daphne Stavropoulos and I will be your moderator.
Before we start with the summary, let’s go over some tricks. This briefing is on the record. It will be written and given to the participants after its completion. Access to this summary constitutes your consent to be recorded. We will post the video and text on our website as soon as possible. If the zoom session fails or disconnects, please log in again and dial using the phone number provided in the registration link.
So let’s get started. I would like to welcome the introduction of our featured informant today, Monica Medina. She served as the assistant secretary of Oceans and Earth Environment and Science, and was confirmed for that position and came to the office on September 28, 2021.
She was previously an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She is a senior fellow at the Stephenson Coast Guard Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and co-publisher of Our Daily Planet, an e-newsletter on conservation and the environment.
I am happy to welcome her. She will make some speeches and provide information on the US’s environmental priorities and meetings during the week of the United Nations General Assembly. She will also discuss US policies in the coming months, including the fight against plastic pollution and climate crime, the fight against climate change, and reversing the loss of biodiversity.
After her opening remarks, I’ll come back and open the floor for questions. And with that, it’s fun to turn down to her. Thank you for joining us.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Monica Medina, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Environmental Affairs and International Science, and I’m pleased to share more information with you today about our top priorities for America’s environment and conservation.
Our message is simple: It’s time for all countries to stand up to show nature, to the world, to our children and grandchildren and their future. Yesterday, America rose up and we opened our world to a momentous, historic moment. We are pleased that the United States Senate has voted to approve the Kigali Amendments to the Montreal Protocol. We have now joined 137 other countries in agreeing to reduce water production and use of hydrofluorocarbons in the world, major polluting chemicals that are a hundred thousand times stronger than carbon dioxide. The implementation of this agreement in the world should avoid global warming of half a centigrade by the end of this century, which is a significant step forward in dealing with the climate problem.
This is an important example of the United States returning to the world stage as a leader in the fight against climate change, reducing pollution, and making efforts to leave our children and grandchildren a healthier world than the one we have in today. And this great decision is supported not only by the US Government but by all American businessmen. He supports the Kigali amendment because it is good for American business, good for American competitiveness, and good for the environment and the world.
This week at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, we focused on adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change, and supporting the global goal of conserving at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and water by 2030, and unite the world to reduce. rising pollution levels. We have addressed these issues in various ways. The North and South Atlantic communities agree that the challenge of a sustainable open Atlantic is best addressed together. I joined Secretary Blinken and several other Atlantic Coast governments to explore cooperation on environmental, economic and maritime security issues.
I also joined the American Science Council to discuss how to achieve goals and take action to end global plastic pollution, focusing on the full lifecycle of plastics.
And I was also involved in the launch of the Global Ambition Partnership, calling for a global agreement to end plastic pollution. I am involved in launching plastic data and reporting initiatives to help companies understand and share their plastic footprint.
I have also joined non-governmental organizations, the Association of Small Island Nations, governments – the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, and other leaders from around the world to present ways to tackle plastic pollution that can be promoted as solution. These policy approaches can be considered as part of the international, legally binding tool to tackle plastic pollution that we are currently working on.
I spoke at a session with the Green Climate Fund to highlight a new generation of co-investment platforms aimed at bringing together public and private sources of finance to promote climate investment across sectors .
At the beginning of this year, the United States participated in a major partnership for nature and people in support of the goal to preserve or protect at least 30 percent of the ocean’s oceans. And this week, I joined many of my fellow ministers in a meeting to call on all countries to stand up for biodiversity at the Conference of the Parties on Biodiversity, which will take place in Montreal in December of this year.
I met with Pacific Island leaders who are part of the Local2030 Island Network to promote island priorities and leadership. This partnership was first announced last year in Glasgow at COP26 with the launch of 9 million US dollars with a focus on implementation and action on clean energy and climate resilience.
And finally, in order to achieve our most important and urgent priorities, the United States has consistently advocated for strong, multi-stakeholder action, including from civil society and environmentalists. The threat to environmentalists working to combat the climate crisis or address pollution is serious and serious. The United States wants to ensure that the space for environmentalists to act, speak and give their voice to these important issues is preserved and expanded.
As you can tell, it’s been a busy week here in New York, but these next few months will shape the future health of the planet for generations to come. I am so inspired by the efforts being made here at home in the United States and around the world to move from aspiration to action. We stand at a crossroads when it comes to protecting our planet, facing the climate crisis and the pollution crisis and the climate crisis in general.
We know climate change is a problem and its effects are being felt everywhere, including through extreme weather like what we’ve seen in Japan, Alaska, and of course here in the United States in Puerto Rico. It causes ocean acidification and land loss due to sea level rise. It causes food shortages in the world due to extreme heat or lack of water or floods. Then there are the consequences of losing nature and wildlife. As we speak, discussions are ongoing to manage and protect the ocean, restore biodiversity, address pollution and begin hard work to implement the Paris climate agreement. It’s a busy time.
Just consider what’s to come in the next few months. Next week, President Biden will welcome the leaders of the Pacific Islands to Washington for a two-day meeting to further strengthen this important relationship with conservation, sustainable development, regional cooperation, and the creation of food, weather resistance, etc.
At the end of October, we will be in Hobart, Australia, for a meeting of the Convention on the Protection of Atlantic Oceans – Sorry – Antarctic Marine Living Resources, also known as CCAMLR, which is considering proposals to establish additional Marine Protected Areas . in this fragile part of the world. If the world wants to achieve the goal of protecting at least 30 percent of the world’s oceans, then Arctic Marine Protected Areas are important.
At the beginning of November, of course, the world will gather in Egypt for COP27 as we continue to take the necessary steps to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius. At the end of November, the first international agreement to fight plastic pollution will be negotiated in Montevideo, Uruguay.
And in December, we will be in Montreal for the final meeting of the Convention on Biodiversity to discuss the next decade, including the goal of conserving or protecting at least 30 percent of the world’s land and oceans by 2030.
And early next year, we’ll be back in New York to finalize a treaty proposal for the conservation and use of the high seas, the great expanse of ocean that covers half the world.
And this is not the whole list, but you can see why the next few months represent such an important time. If we fail to meet this deadline, we know that we will see more pollution, more warming, more flooding and rising seas, more biodiversity loss, greater environmental injustice, and global insecurity and conflict.
But there is another way – the next way that leads to a better future where we live sustainably, in which we have a good relationship with nature. Under President Biden’s leadership on climate, climate, biodiversity, and pollution, we are choosing that better path. On his first day in office, President Biden rejoined the United States in the Paris Agreement. And with the recent implementation of the Inflation Act and other initiatives planned and underway, we can and will achieve our climate goals. There are solutions to other challenges around us and the US government is trying to make sure that we work with them to provide a wide range of stakeholders that will help us.
We have joined the High Commission for the Sustainable Ocean Economy and are strengthening our partnership with the Pacific Islands. Together with Canada and the UK, we have launched a partnership to fight illegal, unregulated, and overfishing – a global problem that harms fishermen and the ocean. President Biden signed a security agreement that further addresses this problem.
Earlier this year, the international community took an important step to end subsidies that promote harmful fishing practices around the world, and at our seventh Ocean Summit we raised more than $16 billion in new commitments to create protected areas, promote sustainable fishing, and reduce overfishing. pollution, destruction of the shipping industry, and more. A historic resolution at the United Nations Environment Assembly launched a two-year plan to end the pollution that is choking our roads, rivers, lakes, and coasts. The list goes on and on.
Across the United States and the world, we see leaders and indigenous communities at the forefront of conservation. Many indigenous marine conservation programs are underway from Georgia to California, Alaska to Hawaii, all the way to the Northern Marianas. This shows the growing importance and respect for indigenous conservation and the knowledge of the indigenous peoples of the world to preserve and sustain the natural world.
A clean and healthy place is not a luxury. It is essential to the health, well-being, and safety of all people. That is why the United States is proud to vote for the United Nations resolution that supports the right to clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The question now is: Are we going to continue this? Can we continue to meet this time? Shall we move from desire to action? Will we use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to push for a more sustainable approach that respects and protects the environment?
I truly believe that we will, and that the United States has stepped up at this critical time. The world needs us, and we are ready now and in the future to do our part.
Thank you very much for being with us today. And with that, I’m happy to take your questions.
ANNOUNCER: Well, thank you very much for these opening remarks. To ask a question, please hold up your sleeve and wait for me to call you. When called, mute yourself and as a courtesy to our brief, please play both your video and your audio.
And the first question will go to Pearl Matibe. Pearl, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks so much for having you today. Pearl Matibe, Power FM, South Africa. I can’t upload my video; I’m in a different conference – a little conflict here with the General Conference.
So to ask my question, I want to give some context. Africa is home to the second largest forest, and it is bordered by at least – a number of oceans, water bodies. And if you look at, for example, South Africa, for example, South Africa alone has about 3,000 kilometers of coastline. Namibia, about 1,500. Mozambique, about 2,400 – actually more than 2,400 km of sea. So when you talk about conservation, I want to find out how you talk about the political and economic framework of conservation policy? Because governments cannot effectively reduce what the world needs without the interests of big companies.
So in the supply chain, where and how do you feed the interests of big companies into what is causing harm to the world? Because they still want to eat their profits. You have great research here in Mozambique. But anyway, how do you bring these African countries together? You can see now in the DRC there is this question, which Secretary Blinken has already addressed when he went to Africa on his visit, about how the president has already auctioned the blocks of this forest.
So the political and economic question; How will you achieve what you want to achieve? How do you start working with it? Gratitude.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: Thank you very much for that question. It is very good. I think there are two main points to be made here. First, we know that the environment and the economy work closely together. And I think the focus that we hope to bring to the African continent, to the COP, COP27, is one on the coordination and sustainability of climate solutions. We know that these countries want to be countries with solutions, and we want to help them.
We also know that they are somewhat dependent on food resources. We need to — we know we need to help them with water supply and drinking water supplies, as well as hurricane resilience on their borders. We know we need to help them protect their food in the ocean from IUU fishing. And we hope to do all this in different ways – through the things we do in the environment, and we will inform many of those in the COP and beyond, and in the environment. among some of the new alliances that we are creating, such as the Atlantic cooperation, which we will start discussing with the Atlantic countries, including many African countries. Namibia, Ghana, Senegal I believe only a few.
So we are working hard to make this alert. As you mentioned, the Secretary of State was in Africa recently and this was an important visit where we announced the new Africa policy to the State Department, to the US Government.
I will also look at – I would also like you to look at the work we are doing in the field of plastic pollution, which I know is a huge problem on the African continent and where African countries have stood up and taken the lead – African countries like Rwanda. which has been a leader in the plastic discussion so far, and Kenya has a domestic law that has helped other countries to eliminate plastic pollution from their borders.
Therefore, in this special discussion, we are working closely with businesses, governments, non-governmental organizations, state and local governments, and communities to try to find a comprehensive solution to the problem of pollution. plastic, which has a life cycle. plastic treatment. And we’re getting a lot of good investment through innovation from these companies, but also through their commitment just to stand with us in the negotiations so that we can create a global agreement that has a higher level of pollution elimination plastic. We hope that we can reach an agreement where we will eliminate plastic pollution by 2040 all over the world.
So I hope this is a way forward that will help us see that we can work across industry, government, and non-governmental organizations, community organizations to bring real solutions to the people who live there.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you very much. It looks like Pearl has a following, if we can go back to Pearl. Pearl, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Daphne. So thank you for your response to that. If I can just touch on the point you mentioned about plastics, are you developing a contradiction for critics who might criticize the West today that – on plastics? Yes, we agree that plastics are the issue, but there can be this colonial mentality from a hundred years ago that an idea was brought to the continent that the issue of plastics came from somewhere and now, obviously, it is a problem . I’m just wondering, are you ready to hear back from those naysayers?
Then I want to ask about the number of elephants in the continent. So you know that at the moment – I don’t know what the normal population is, but it’s probably over 400,000 – I don’t know if it’s about half a million – elephants on the continent, big countries in it. of – in southern Africa, or Botswana and Zimbabwe, of course, which now – probably had a lot of elephants. What’s the discussion, the important discussion there is now about how – I don’t know – I’m not an environmentalist, but about how humans and non-humans – in other words, animals – can join in conservation efforts and how do you speak those countries? So you are worried about elephant population? Gratitude.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: Of course. Okay, so let’s start with plastic. Plastic – I understand this may seem like a no-brainer, but plastic pollution is a recent phenomenon. And in many countries, water bottles are required to obtain drinking water. We need to correct that; We need to change that by improving water systems in countries around the world. And we need, everywhere, to improve our recycling rates, and this is a problem all over the world. And I think there has been a lot of progress in countries like Rwanda and Kenya that have taken serious steps, so it is possible for governments to do the same, and we in America are looking at what they are doing to see how we can improve ours. the system.
Therefore, I think this is an issue that the world should work together. We are all addicted to plastic, one way or another, and we need to break this addictive pattern. And I think we can, given the global consensus on the need to do it. So I’m optimistic. And I think innovation will come from all over the world, so there will be solutions all over the world. There is no one size fits all here, and we will need the best of all, and we will draw the best of all to solve this problem.
Now, many elephants. It’s interesting, I have – I was in a meeting yesterday with the minister of the environment, actually, of Gabon. He also added that they see the number of elephants increasing in Gabon because the trade in elephants is actually decreasing. After China stopped consuming elephants, ivory, and cut off their ivory trade, he saw a decrease in ivory poaching, which meant an increase in elephants. It is not for us to tell a country how to manage its population, but I think you have come across an important issue, which is the management of conflict or the interaction between people and the environment.
And we see that this can be a big problem in the future. Zoonotic spillover is a big issue, so we need to make sure that we are dealing with the overpopulation of animals and the human abuse of these communities. And I think places like Conservation on – CBD, Biological Diversity, COP is one place where we can have some of these important conversations about conservation, about animals and people and how we can save that 30 percent that we really need. to keep the world healthy, according to all scientists.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you very much. Next week President Biden and his administration are hosting Pacific Island leaders in Washington. What do you hope to achieve next week, and why is America’s relationship with the Pacific Island countries so important?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: Thank you for that question. I am very happy. I am very much looking forward to this meeting next week in Washington with the leaders of the Pacific Islands because, first of all, the United States itself is a Pacific nation, and these island countries have long been our friends and partners in the region. And we look forward to deepening this partnership now. These island nations have been at the forefront of the climate crisis. We know that they are struggling to cope with the COVID crisis. So it is an important time for the United States to expand our activities in the Pacific and to develop our relationship with these important countries. Thanks.
ANNOUNCER: We are out of time. I want to respect your schedule, Assistant Secretary Medina. Thank you for joining us. Thanks to the journalists who joined and watched live and on our YouTube channel.
Today’s briefing is on the record. We will post a copy on our website at the end of this briefing as soon as it becomes available. Thank you very much and have a nice day.