Global Partnerships

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change -- COP-15
Copenhagen, Denmark
December 9, 2009

Thank you for that kind introduction, thank you to the staff here at the U.S. Center for organizing and hosting these wonderful events, and thank you to all of you for coming today to participate in this session on global climate partnerships and the role of the United States in establishing and leading those multilateral efforts.

First and foremost, I want to emphasize that the Obama Administration has prioritized its commitment to combat climate change from the start, and that it has backed up ambitious statements with ambitious actions. Since President Obama took office ten and a half months ago, the United States has done more to address climate change than in any other period in our nation’s history. This has taken the form of domestic policies that advance clean energy, climate security, and economic recovery, enhanced partnerships on low carbon growth, and vigorous engagement in the international climate negotiations.

As these actions indicate, the United States intends to play a leading role in the global solutions we will need to address climate change. We are a nation with unparalleled capacity to spur the innovations that the world needs for low carbon growth and climate-sensitive development. Our actions at home and in partnerships abroad are strong today and they are growing to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Over the next several minutes, I will speak about the actions the United States is taking and the partnerships we are forging to earn a leading role in the fight against climate change. I also want to talk a bit about the lessons we have learned about creating effective multilateral partnerships. Comprehensive high-level buy-in, building capacity to measure emissions, and other key cooperative actions can make a big difference in the long-term effectiveness of multilateral partnerships.

In sum, the United States is working hard at home on both mitigation and adaptation efforts, and we are engaging with partners around the world to find solutions to the human impacts of climate change. Towards the end of my remarks I would like to talk specifically about the role women can play in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Strengthened global partnerships are critical to our long-term success in combating climate change, but our efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change must begin at home.

Already, the Obama Administration’s domestic efforts on climate change are unprecedented in our nation’s history. In the last ten and a half months, the United States has taken extraordinary actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change—including setting aside more than 80 billion dollars for the development of clean energy technology and the construction of low-carbon infrastructure in the 2009 stimulus bill, setting more stringent automobile and home appliance efficiency standards to save energy and greenhouse gas emissions, and funding studies and task forces to figure out how we can best adapt to the effects of climate change. I believe there will be an event here at the U.S. Center on December 17th that will focus specifically on the domestic action being taken by the United States to back up our international commitments. I encourage you to come back to hear that talk to learn more.

All told, our domestic actions are not only extensive; they are serious, long-range, and wholly compatible with our goals of creating global partnerships to address climate change worldwide.

These domestic efforts provide the U.S. with a strong foundation to contribute to the international partnerships on clean energy, climate change mitigation, and adaptation that are so critical in our global response to this global challenge.

Our most effective international partnerships share certain characteristics. First, all concerned stakeholders—from the public sector and the private sector, large countries and small countries alike—should participate. Every stakeholder capable of contributing climate-related data and solutions should have a seat at the table. Secondly, there should be a clear governance structure, clear financial backing, and clear political backing for the partnership. There is no substitute for consistent high-level support. Finally, the partnership should be constantly focused on building capacity for its beneficiaries and ensuring that its actions are helping to address climate change in the long run.

This has been an exciting year for partnerships on clean energy and climate. It began with the official founding of the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, in January, which the Obama Administration signed onto as soon as we had our team in place. President Obama has clearly stated his belief that renewable energy is essential to economic prosperity for men, women and children around the world and that a low-carbon energy future is necessary for the environmental health of the planet. We have been actively participating in the formation and development of IRENA to help ensure its long term success. This includes the Agency’s potential to provide capacity building and technical assistance in developing countries, which can spur economic development and sustainable growth that is compatible with our shared climate goals. Indeed, understanding renewable energy in the context of development and climate needs is a key strength of this form of intergovernmental partnership.

Another enormously exciting development this year has been in the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, the MEF, where the Leaders of seventeen major economies agreed to establish a Global Partnership to drive transformational low-carbon, climate-friendly technologies. We are pleased that in the months since this Partnership was established, members from MEF countries have been hard at work developing action plans for a suite of technologies key to the low carbon transition, including wind and solar power, carbon capture, biofuels, and others. The United States has taken co-lead in drafting action plans for both energy efficiency in buildings and energy efficiency in industry—sectors of enormous opportunity for emissions reduction and energy savings in both developed and developing countries. We’re excited that the draft action plans are almost complete, and that MEF partners are preparing to transition from their productive dialog on energy and climate to concrete actions on the deployment of critical clean technologies.

Regional partnerships can also be extraordinarily effective vehicles for cooperation on energy and environment. Recognizing this, President Obama proposed the creation of an Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas at the 2009 Summit of the Americas. This Partnership is intended to help countries learn from each other during their transitions to a clean energy economy, and it will help strengthen security, prosperity, and environmental protection throughout the hemisphere. This cooperative action is critical to climate protection, given that the Western Hemisphere supplies one-fourth of the world’s crude oil, one-third of the world’s natural gas, nearly one-fourth of its coal, and over a third of global electricity, and that it also includes vast expertise in renewable energy and climate change mitigation. In the time since President Obama proposed the Partnership in April, a number of initiatives have already begun, including a Renewable Energy Center in Chile, an Energy Efficiency Center in Peru, and a Brazilian offer to lead an initiative focused on sustainable urban development and energy efficiency for low-income residents. Such efforts speak to the core Partnership issues of renewable energy, energy efficiency, cleaner fossil fuels, infrastructure development, and energy poverty.

Of course, these new clean energy partnerships build on the successes of existing U.S. partnerships on energy and climate. These include the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, a public-private partnership for government and industry leaders from seven of the world’s largest economies (seven economies which, by the way, collectively account for over half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions). Since its founding in 2006, the APP has engaged experts from government, industry, and NGOs across national borders to provide pathbreaking opportunities to develop, commercialize, and deploy cleaner technologies.

The United States also hosts the Methane to Markets, or M2M, Partnership, which is another great example of countries working together for climate benefit. M2M has engaged 27 member governments, nearly 800 private companies, NGOs, and international financial institutions in the effort to reduce global methane emissions and enhance economic growth, strengthen energy security, improve air quality, improve industrial safety, and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Both the Asia Pacific Partnership and Methane to Markets continue to yield strong results while forming the international bridges that are needed to scale-up efforts and accelerate the transition to low carbon economies. This is also true of many other partnerships that I don’t have time to describe in detail, including the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, or REN21, and the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), both of which are catalyzing transformations in the way energy is produced and consumed throughout the world, and both of which receive strong financial support and technical input from the United States.

Partnerships between nations are also critical when it comes to addressing policy instruments to combat climate change. This was never clearer than at this year’s G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, where President Obama spearheaded an unprecedented agreement for all G20 nations to phase out their fossil fuel subsidies and to work with other countries to do the same. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation nations followed the G20 lead at their summit in Singapore, expanding the number of countries committed to these subsidies. According to the International Energy Agency, this measure alone could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent or more by 2050. Those are the kinds of impressive numbers that can be achieved even through voluntary actions when nations act in partnership.

Up to this point I have focused on partnerships that deal with the mitigation side of the climate equation: clean energy, improved efficiency, and capture of waste gases. But international partnerships are at least as important when it comes to climate change adaptation. In a sense the need for partnership on adaptation is even greater, as adapting to climate change is a challenge that inherently cuts across all nations and all scales of activity. And as much as each nation bears its own unique adaptation challenges, there is enormous opportunity to cooperate and exchange learning experiences regionally and globally.

Adaptation is far too diverse a topic for me to address fully today, so let me focus on one set of issues: we know that climate change will influence the water cycle, impacting human livelihoods, food security, economic growth and peace and security. Climate change will exacerbate the challenge of securing water for the hundreds of millions of people who still lack access to drinking water. It will make extreme events, such as storms, floods and droughts, more frequent and severe. Partnerships are a key component of the U.S. strategy for adapting to address these water-related challenges because we know we cannot solve them alone.

We are working with countries in Southeast Asia to develop an interactive data integration, modeling, and visualization system called “Forecast Mekong” to help policy makers, resources mangers, and the public understand and predict likely outcomes from development projects and consequence resulting from climate change. Forecast Mekong will allow users to understand the coupled, cascading effects of projects such as hydropower development, water diversions, and land-use changes as well as impacts of climate change on people and their environment in the Mekong River Basin.

Partnerships in science and education are also vital to our water-related adaptation efforts. In partnership with the World Meteorological Association and national meteorological and hydrological services, we have trained professional scientists from 25 countries in hydrologic forecasting and initiated implementation of a Global Flash Flood Guidance, which is operational in Central America, under development in the Mekong River basin, and planned for future implementation in the Middle East.

The European Union, France, The Netherlands, and the United States have come together to support the efforts of Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians to strengthen regional water expertise, enhance relations between water experts, and create a greater awareness of the limited nature of regional water supplies.

In Africa and Asia, we are disseminating information on water and weather using radio, the Internet and other technologies like cell phones so that rural communities have the information they need for decisions that range from when to plant their crops to what actions they need to take in anticipation of an oncoming flood or other hazard.

The private sector is also an important player in our partnerships. In cooperation with the Coca-Cola Company, we established the Water and Development Alliance. This alliance operates in 22 countries and supports activities to increase access to sustainable and improved sources of water and sanitation services, protect and sustain watersheds, and enhance the productive uses of water. In Latin America and the Caribbean, we partnered with Procter & Gamble to pre-position water purification products to mitigate water-related epidemics following disasters, such as floods and hurricanes. The West Africa Water Initiative combines the efforts and resources of the Hilton Foundation, USAID and more than 10 other partners, to develop and rehabilitate water sources, improve sanitation, mobilize communities and other activities.

Water is also a great example of where creative partnerships and innovative thinking can yield win-win solutions that yield both mitigation and adaptation benefits. Reducing deforestation can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve water quality and reduce flood risks. We can achieve mitigation benefits and improve access to safe drinking water by developing new technologies for water purification that do not rely on fossil fuels, or by reducing the water losses of water utilities. Finding and implementing these kinds of solutions will require us to work together.

Before I conclude, I do want to say a few words about the very important partnerships that have formed to catalyze action by women. Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change. When sea levels rise, or when agriculture falters, or when fresh water becomes more scarce, women—who still disproportionately live on threatened coastal plains, survive off marginal farming land, and depend on threatened water resources—will find themselves on the front lines of the fight against climate change. But women also have enormous potential to devise and implement solutions to address these threats. Women are already finding solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Examples include Bangladeshi women who lead disaster response committees to prepare their communities for flooding, and women in Morocco who cultivate palm trees to produce environmental dividends and sustainable incomes. Around the world women are contributing to the development of more fuel efficient stoves that reduce the use of scarce resources for fuel and the production of carbon-producing emissions. These women have become empowered to make a difference in their own lives, the lives of their communities, and the entire world. The key word here is empowerment.

The international community has begun to recognize the importance of women as change agents, rather than victims. Last March, Liberia and Finland, led by Presidents Johnson-Sirleaf and Halonen, hosted a meeting in Monrovia focused on United Nation Security Council Resolution 1325 and women and climate change. Secretary Clinton supported the event and spoke to the participants via video. Ambassador Verveer spoke at a follow-up side event at the United Nations General Assembly about the need to empower women to combat climate change. On November 18, UNFPA released “The State of the World Population 2009”, which highlights the view that women are necessary agents for change in the fight against climate change, a point of view the U.S. readily shares.

Women’s participation across development sectors, including the health sector, is absolutely essential to maximize opportunities to reduce vulnerability and strengthen livelihoods. UNFPA’s voluntary family planning programs, coupled with their investments in girls' education and women's economic empowerment, can help improve livelihoods and protect the environment.

I will be speaking tomorrow with representatives from the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA), a coalition of 13 UN agencies and 25 NGOs, and other women’s groups engaged in innovative global partnerships pertaining to women and climate change to learn how the U.S. might play an increased role. A senior U.S. official [insert name] will reiterate U.S. government support for the work of the NGO community and governments such as Liberia and Finland during the upcoming GGCA side event at the end of next week. It is our hope that such public statements will demonstrate U.S. commitment to recognizing the important role that women must play in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

In conclusion, let me just say that I cannot stress enough the importance of the partnership concept in addressing climate change. Domestic actions are critical. High-level international agreements are essential. But in between, the United States and other nations must build effective, action-oriented partnerships that bring governments together in a common purpose, that engage the private sector, and that bring the entire range of citizens and stakeholders to the table. Climate change is a global challenge, and to solve it we need a global effort that leverages all of our capacities, working in partnership.

Thank you for your attention.