In a conversation with The Quint USAID's chief, Samantha Power speaks about climate crisis and the need for climate finance. She comments on the climate plans of the US, US President Joe Biden facing heat from the the US Congress, the need for increasing green funds, paying losses and damages to developing countries and more.
Power has been a journalist, professor and a Pulitzer-winning author. From 2013 to 2017, she served in the Obama-Biden Administration as the 28th US Permanent Representative to the United Nations. During her time at the UN, Power played a key role in rallying the countries to ratify the Paris climate agreement among among other important initiatives.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
On US Increasing Its Contribution to Climate Finance
Addressing domestic politics on climate change, administrator Power says, "US President Biden has made unprecedented requests of Congress in order to dramatically increase climate finance. We will see a major increase in our global climate finance in this coming year, more climate finance than ever before has been appropriated."
"But there's still a big gap between what President Biden wants to do and where our Congress is."
When asked about the impact of climate change, she adds, "Honestly, climate change is making its presence felt in every one of our communities."
It is what is "afflicting farmers, what is afflicting the United Kingdom with temperatures of 40 degrees, what is afflicting the people of New Delhi who've managed in the last six months to experience both the hottest week, the coldest week and the wettest week in any recorded history."
Calling out the climate critics in the US, she says "the fact that it (climate change) is with us that it is ubiquitous, that the effects are just being felt right now, in some sense, sooner than some scientists even predicted, I think really makes it untenable for political opposition of the kind that has afflicted this agenda in the United States."
More Resources Need More Money
On how the US will support developing countries, she says, "the challenge, of course, is that more resources, mean more money. And that means taking money out of something else, or taking on more debt."
"And that's where people's priors and whether they believe that debt spending is bad for the economy or good for the economy, or whether they want to trust science or not, and I'm, I'm sad that there's even a debate about that, kind of come in. And that's where we've been blocked."
"But even if sometimes they don't call it climate change programming, we might have more success as USAID in running food security resilience programming, or infrastructure resilience, or disaster response, or even the humanitarian assistance budget this year in many ways is about helping people.
It is climate change assistance, but it's not called that."
On Paying Loss and Damages to Developing Countries
Administrator Power says, "We're invested in adaptation finance, and that is the approach we understand. We have heard very loudly, of course, from developing countries who feel like wait, this is unfair.
You all emitted in these ways, and we're the ones paying the price for that."
"I definitely am conscious as a US official of all of the history, and that is why the US wants to be a leader in funding the Green Climate Fund."
Adding to the US commitment to climate finance, she adds, "I do think you're going to see increased investments every year. President Biden has committed to something called the Prepare initiative, which is an adaptation initiative, that should be up to $3 billion a year."
"Again, there's a gap between that and what we know the world needs. But that's where the World Bank and other large multilateral development banks and others can also chip in."
On Just Transition
She says, "One of the reasons that we have struggled domestically in the United States to move in an even more aggressive way toward net zero, because I think President Biden wants to get there sooner, and none of us can afford some of these longer timelines that we're all on, but it may not be framed as just transition in the United States, but it's a feeling that there will be winners, and there will be people left behind for sure."
"So just as we are grappling with domestically, we have to find a way to transition people who are making their livelihoods in the coal industry, to actually find jobs in clean energy."
During the transition period there need to be social safety nets, that too often had been lacking, when people make abrupt transitions. That said, we don't have time, really, to spare as we develop these kinds of buffers, so as to ensure that we can simultaneously grow green jobs, and look out for people who are not only transitioning because of the the move to renewables but we have to have just transition and adaptation as well.
On US's Emission Reduction Plans
Talking about how US commitment to climate change took a hit under President Trump, Power says, "Even though President Trump, President Biden's predecessor, moved away from the Paris Agreement, of course, famously questioned the science of climate change. Mayors and companies and states, including California which is an emitter larger than many countries, is also now an emissions reducer on an accelerated timeline more than most countries."
"What we need to do is make up for lost time. But more than that, remember that Paris was always meant to be the floor, we were always meant to meet those obligations and then extend the ambition, once we hit done."
So the private sector recognizes that and that's why even large American car companies are all transitioning in some fashion to renewables, electric cars, and so forth.
But, we need all of our societies to come together. And in order for that to happen we have to reconcile our economic objectives, looking out, particularly for people who are living at or beneath the poverty line with these climate objectives, but bearing in mind that climate change is going to destroy so many livelihoods.
So the case for emissions reduction is an economic case, it is a case about justice as well, and trying to protect as many livelihoods as we can.