Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, thank you. Good afternoon, everyone, and a big thank you, Hayde, to you for keeping us moving, and I will try to stay on your good side. (Laughter.) But it’s an honor to be joined at this table by so many leaders, so many colleagues – among other, President Tshisekedi – it’s very good to be with you – President Ramkalawan, President Hichilema, President Buhari, President Obiang, President Bongo Ondimba – thank you, thank you, thank you for your partnership, for your partnership to help preserve our planet.
We’re also joined today by members of Congress, members of the Biden Cabinet – I think Congressman Meeks is about to join us if he’s not already here – we have representatives from multilateral organizations, philanthropies, private sector leaders, activists, academics, youth leaders. To each and every one of you, welcome.
The diversity of this group is heartening – a statement not merely of how we’re all affected by the climate crisis, but how committed we all are to working together to address it.
Last month many of us were in Egypt for COP27. An African COP was a recognition that, as the urgency of the climate crisis grows, our focus must increasingly be on Africa.
As we know, 17 of the world’s 20 most climate vulnerable countries are on the African continent.
Four straight years of drought in the Horn of Africa have left more than 18 million people facing severe hunger.
Communities across the continent are feeling the impact of a changing climate. Severe storms have battered southern Africa; surging temperatures kindle wildfires in northern Africa; rising seas threaten lives and livelihoods on island nations, while extreme weather events in central Africa worsen already-dire food crises and fuel tensions that feed and fuel violent conflict.
We know that African nations have contributed relatively little to this crisis but are disproportionally harmed by it. It’s both unfair and unrealistic to ask them to turn their backs on economic development and opportunity in the name of a clean energy transition, to ask them in effect to forego what many of us have done in the past in developing our countries and our economies.
And so we believe that the best way – indeed, the just way – to address the climate crisis in Africa is to work together.
Earlier this year, in South Africa, I had an opportunity to set out President Biden’s new Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s based on a simple idea: we can’t achieve any of our shared priorities – tackle any of our biggest challenges – unless we do it together as equal partners.
That’s true of every major issue we face today, and it’s particularly true of climate change. So here’s how we’re addressing this crisis together.
First, we are partnering to conserve ecosystems. Africa is home to some of the world’s most precious ecosystems, which are critical for combating climate change. This summer I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, where forests absorb more carbon than is emitted by the entire continent of Africa. The Congo Basin is also a place of tremendous biodiversity, a lifeforce for agriculture across the region.
To support the sustainable management of the Congo Basin rainforest, we’ve invested over $600 million in the Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment, which brings together the U.S. Government and African and U.S. NGOs.
And we’re building new coalitions between African governments, the private sector, civil society to protect other vital ecosystems across the continent.
Oceans are also a key part of this fight. That’s why we’ve launched the Ocean Conservation Pledge to encourage countries to commit to protect at least 30 percent of their ocean waters by the year 2030.
Second, we’re partnering to make commitments and communities more resilient in the face of climate change. The President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience is working with national governments to help more than half a billion people in developing countries manage the impacts of climate change. This and other initiatives to support climate-resilient agriculture are increasingly critical as Russia’s war of aggression compounds the impact on food security.
At COP, the President also announced a doubling of our pledged contributions to the Adaptation Fund, which has deployed nearly $1 billion to help over 36 million people in the most vulnerable communities around the world. And we committed to begin discussions on loss and damage funding arrangements to support low- and middle-income countries.
Third, we’re partnering to advance a just transition to a clean energy economy that both saves our planet and fosters inclusive economic opportunity.
Africa will be at the center of the clean energy transition. Its renewable energy potential is second to none. It’s home to roughly a third of all critical minerals, essential to the technology that will power the clean energy economy, like batteries for renewable energy storage and wind turbines. But with nearly half of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population lacking reliable access to electricity and the population set to grow to more than two billion people by 2050, how that transition is made will be decisive in shaping our future climate.
The United States will work closely with African countries as they determine how best to meet their specific energy needs – understanding that, for many, the clean energy transition will be a transition to consistent, reliable energy in the first place. We’ll do so through programs like Power Africa, which has mobilized the public and private sectors to deliver cleaner, more reliable electricity to over 165 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa who previously didn’t have access. We’re proud to announce a new investment of $290 million in that program.
Too often, those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of these changes have been denied a seat at the decision-making table. We’re committed to changing that, including through the new Accelerating Women’s Empowerment in Energy project, which is making sure that women have a say in how their countries move forward on clean energy.
All of these efforts recognize that combating the climate crisis, like so many other challenges we face, was actually championed by Africans in the first place. Indeed, in Africa, we see not only the stakes of this crisis, but also the solutions. Gabon has led the way in conserving its forest resources, which now absorb 140 million tons of CO2 every year. That’s the equivalent of taking 30 million cars off the road.
The Seychelles has pioneered the world’s first sovereign blue bond to marshal public and private investment for sustainable marine and fisheries projects. It’s on the way to conserving 30 percent of its ocean waters – that’s an area the size of Zimbabwe – by 2030.
Zambia is harnessing the power of its wetlands and forests to mitigate climate impacts, benefiting tens of thousands of people vulnerable to both floods and to droughts.
Nigeria has set bold targets and robust regulations for methane reductions – the first country in Africa to do so – which could reduce air pollutants by a third and avert tens of thousands of deaths.
Equatorial Guinea just raised its commitment to cut emissions by 35 percent by 2030. And the DRC has hosted the pre-COP27 meetings in Kinshahsa. It’s teaming up with the United States on a broad scope of these issues through our Sustainable Development Solutions Working Group.
Today, and throughout this summit over the course of this week, I look forward to hearing from this group on how we can most effectively deepen our partnership to the benefit of all of our people, and indeed to the benefit of people around the world. And I look forward to continuing this conversation in the months and also the years to come. This is an enduring project for all of us, but I think we also all feel the fierce urgency of now. And that determination is reflected in so much of the work that is being done and is being represented in this room.
With that, it is a pleasure and honor to turn the floor over to President Tshisekedi to offer some remarks. Mr. President, the floor is now yours.