Monica Medina: US is a big emitter but determined to be climate change leader

Monica Medina

Monica Medina, US Assistant Secretary for Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. 

Photo credit: Pauline Ongaji | Nation Media Group

As the 27th UN Climate Change Conference continues in the Egyptian city of Sharm El Sheikh comes into its final stretch, one of the biggest agenda for Africa and the rest of the developing world was climate financing, as well as pushing the developed world to honour the Paris Agreement on emissions.

But the Climate change Performance index 2022 report released a few days ago shows that it is not getting any better for the biggest emitters. One of the countries is the US.

We spoke to Monica Medina, United States (US) Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs on various issues surrounding emissions and her country’s commitment to climate financing.

First of all, what are the US priorities when it comes to reducing green gas emissions?

Our climate priorities fall into three main buckets, keeping 1.5 degrees warming within reach, catalyzing adaptation efforts and elevating nature-based solutions.

We know we're a big emitter, and we know we've historically been a big emitter. That is why we are determined to be a climate change leader going forward, we have doubled down on all our commitments to make sure that we take our emissions down, and that we help all the countries in need going forward as they deal with the climate crisis.

We know we have a responsibility to lower our emissions, which is why we're really thrilled to be able to say that with the new funding that we've received, we can meet our very ambitious NDC of that we had set last year.

We have also taken crucial steps to meeting our NDCs. We've made some progress since COP26. For instance, the bio the infrastructure bill from last year and now the Inflation Reduction Act have given us the tools we need to meet our NDC which is very ambitious, our nationally developed contribution was a very ambitious contribution and we now know that we will be able to make that. We know that the challenges the whole world faces are great, but we believe that our ability to meet those challenges is even greater.

We're also trying to do everything that we can to make the Paris agreement and the Glasgow pact last year, live up to their words. So, while we work to limit warming, we're also helping people and communities adapt to adverse climate impacts.

The United States is equally committed to protecting biodiversity and nature. And this is also a critical moment in time for our efforts to reverse the dramatic loss in biodiversity.

We know that conserving and restoring and sustainably managing ecosystems is an essential part of our climate toolkit.

So, in one of his first executive orders President Biden committed to conserving at least 30 percent of the US land and waters by 2030, which is known as the 30 by 30 commitment. The 30 by 30 is an excellent example of nature-based solutions.

Also, last year in Glasgow, President Bidden launched our signature adaptation initiative. It's called prepare, which is a plan for adaptation and resilience around the world.

It's a whole of government and even a wholesome society effort to mobilize our government and government agencies and people within the US to accelerate adaptation action.

Our goal is to help half a billion people to adapt to climate change over this coming decade, and to manage the impacts of the climate crisis this decade. We are working with the UN Secretary General and other partners to bring climate information and those early warning systems, climate data and forecasts that people can use to change their lives to do the things they need to do to be climate ready.

The biggest subject in this COP has been climate financing, and especially funding adaptation. What is the US commitment here?

I'm pleased to say that the US doubled down on our multi-year commitment to the adaptation fund. We went from $50 million to $100 million, and we're increasing our investments in things like early warning systems all around the world and African lead capacity building programs.

Also, the US has doubled its pledge to the adaptation fund to $100 million. We've also announced over $150 million in new support to accelerate that preparation program across Africa alone.

Other than that, we are integrating and mainstreaming climate adaptation abroad in the broader decision making and supporting climate communities that are hit the hardest. That means taking efforts forward to climate proof their infrastructure, their water systems, their health, and their food security.

Loss and damage has been a key priority for negotiators from developed countries which suffer the most from the effects of climate change. How is the US committed to this?

We understand that there's this gap between the finances and the communities that need it, and we're trying to bridge that every day.

We also already have lots of funding that's coming into communities all around the world through our USAID funds that work on programs that help communities in the frontlines already.

We've already committed hundreds of millions of dollars to these efforts in Africa and the other parts of the developing world. Also, we’ve increased our funding to the Global Environment Facility GEF.

But on this subject, we are also asking ourselves about how we can avoid loss and damage? How can we do our best to manage loss and damage to mitigate it? How can we address what's there? And that's why you see us stepping up all our efforts on implementation and adaptation. We believe that there are things that we can do to help on issues like early warning systems.

We know that every dollar that we spend on mitigation and adaptation and an early warning system, saves us six or seven on the back end. And that doesn't even count the lives that are saved. We've seen the benefits of early warning systems we put in place more than a decade ago, an early warning system for tsunamis, in Indonesia and across the Pacific, and now we've seen the benefits of that over and over again. And we'd like to be able to do that all over the world.

One key agenda African negotiators have been pushing for is for the loss and damage finance, and for it to come with conditions. What is the US stand on this?

It depends on the program what, but of course, we want oversight. We want to make sure that the money gets to communities, and that it's effective on the ground.

What I'm really hoping to see is our ability to actually be that bridge to get financing from these great big global pools into real communities where people need it so desperately.

The indigenous communities have been on the frontline here to voice their issues as biodiversity custodians of their communities. As a country that also has indigenous communities, what is the US doing to ensure that this group of people is fully involved in this whole process?

We have launched the climate, gender equity fund, and indigenous peoples finance access facility and new exchanges to empower youth across the world to be leaders on resilience and clean energy.

This year, the administration is also placing a strong emphasis on engaging our own indigenous communities and tribal nations in the US to better understand their priorities and challenges.

The indigenous peoples finance access facility will enable the continued climate stewardship by indigenous peoples and local communities, improving their access to climate finance. This three-year $2 million program implemented by indigenous people and Conservation International, will provide training tools and workshops to build long term capacity to get them access to capital.

This story was produced as part of the 2022 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.