COP 26 Event, Glasgow, United Kingdom, November 8, 2021
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-