Administrator Samantha Power with The Quint’s Sadhika Tiwari IIT-Delhi Sports Field

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Wednesday, July 27, 2022

USAID's Chief Samantha Power speaks to The Quint's Sadhika Tiwari in an exclusive interview on the climate crisis and the need for climate finance. She comments on the climate plans of the US, Biden facing heat from the congress, the need for increasing green funds, paying loss and damages and more.

SADHIKA TIWARI: Thank you so much for speaking with us.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Of course, I'm glad to be here. This is kids, girls, playing one of the most popular sports in the world, the beloved sport here in India, doing it well, standing up for each other, learning how to show solidarity and have each other's backs, and getting empowered in the process. So, what's not to love?

SADHIKA TIWARI: And the t-shirts say USAID? So, could you tell us a little about that?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, this is a program that we support in order to strengthen girls' empowerment and sport is a big piece of it, which is a huge part of my story back in my life as an immigrant in America. So, I wanted to come out and see it up close, to see how these girls are reacting to getting to come together, getting support to do so, and having some organized sport.

SADHIKA TIWARI: Lovely. So, can I steal you from that over here?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: You can steal me.

SADHIKA TIWARI: So, one most important question that is very relevant right now in the sort of global politics of climate change, especially for developing countries, is climate finance, especially for countries like India, and you played a critical role in the Paris Agreement also. So, how do you feel about that? Do you think the U.S. needs to increase the sort of pledge or allocation for climate finance, especially to countries like India?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: The short answer is yes, I do. And so does President Biden, and he 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. And we have politics.

SADHIKA TIWARI: And how do you handle, and he's also facing a lot of heat from the Congress. So, how do you think that you can solve it?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, honestly, climate change is making its presence felt in every one of our communities. I mean, I was just talking to my son who was coming off a tennis court and it was 100 degrees on the tennis court, and the coaches made people sit out. That's a kind of uphill version, or a mild version of what is afflicting farmers, what is afflicting the United Kingdom, the temperatures of 40 degrees, what is afflicting the people of New Delhi who've managed in the last six months, as I understand it, to experience both the hottest week, the coldest week, and the wettest week in any recorded history. And, I'm just back from Somalia and Kenya and it’s life or death stuff just as it is here and in the states even that people are dying of heatstroke and [inaudible]. So this fact that it is with us, that it is ubiquitous, that the effects are just being felt right now, in some sense sooner than some scientists were predicting. I think really makes it untenable for political opposition of the kind that has afflicted this agenda in the United States. Now the challenge of course, is that more resources means more money. And that means taking money out of something else or taking on more debt. And so, 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 sad that there's even a debate about that - kind of come in. And that's where again, we've been blocked. But what you do see is, even if sometimes they don't call it climate change programming, we might have more success as USAID in running food security, resilience programming.


ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Or infrastructure resilience or disaster response. Even the humanitarian assistance budget this year, in many ways, is about helping people. It's climate change assistance. But it's not called that.

SADHIKA TIWARI: Well, precisely. So, that actually also takes me to my next question of sorts. India is one of the fifth most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world. And we've been seeing these extreme weather events with greater frequency now increasingly. So, a northeastern state of Assam saw the worst floods in 122 years. And increasingly, we're gonna see more and more of these events because it's also what the IPCC tells us. So, in a situation like that, where we're seeing unprecedented sort of loss of life and livelihoods, how important do you think in terms of loss and damages to a country like India and other developing countries?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well again, we're invested in adaptation finance. And that is the approach we understand, how and have heard very loudly, of course, from developing countries, you feel like, “Wait, this isn't fair. You all admitted in these ways and we're the ones paying the price, for.” I felt that way as a U.S. official just being in Somalia and seeing the fourth straight season of drought, three million livestock already have died in Somalia, just in this drought alone. And that devastates, eviscerates livelihoods for pastoralists.

So again, I definitely am conscious as a U.S. official of all of the history and that is why the U.S. wants to be a leader in funding the Green Climate Fund, wants to be a leader with India in private sector investment to cap at least the warming, we know beyond what it's already, the damage it's already causing. And we really want to be able to be a leader in adaptation. And I do think, again, you're going to see increased investments every year. President Biden has committed to something called the PREPARE initiative, [inaudible] other large multilateral development banks and others can also chip in.

One thing we've seen, If I may, is that the private sector is really voting with its feet on climate mitigation. I see it, of course, here in India, with a number of companies that are involved in renewables. We're not seeing the private sector show as much interest in adaptation. I think they view it as kind of almost charity, but it might not be charity, right? There are ways for insurance companies to also build into their business model these kinds of investments where we can see public and private partnership helping countries adapt. Same in the farming industry, there's profit to be made in the agricultural sector. If you get crops - drought-resistant seeds, and heat resistant seeds to farmers, if they are using fertilizer in a more directed and efficient way, they are going to have higher yields and people are gonna make more money. And so, it really is going to need to be public sector and private sector together. And I think we haven't made as much progress in that domain as I think we need.

SADHIKA TIWARI: Right. Absolutely. And I also think that we don't have much time left. So, I'm just going to quickly ask you my last question. India's Net Zero target is 2070. For the U.S. it's 2050. And in India, we're also trying to sort of move away from traditional sources of energy like coal to now a lot of other things. And in the future, the biggest challenge that we see as a country is going to be that of just transition. So, how do you think that USAID can sort of assist India and the global community, can come together to ensure that this transition is not as unfair to a large part of the community?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, 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. None of us can afford some of these longer timelines that we're all on, but it's sort of - it may not be framed as just transitioning to the United States, but it's a feeling that there will be winners and there will be people left behind for sure. And so, just as we are grappling with domestically, we have to find a way to transition people who are making their livelihoods, for example in the coal industry, to actually find jobs in clean energy. During the transition period, there needs to be social safety nets of a kind that too often have 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 jobs, green jobs, and look out for people who are not only transitioning because of the move to renewables, that's where everybody's focusing, just transition is in that area. But we have to have just transitioned and adapted as well. To be supporting, for example, those pastoralists in Somalia and in Kenya who no longer have a livelihood because they lost all their livestock. They have no chance to restock. So, that's where USAID is trying to step in and can they move into agro pastoral industries, can they begin to farm small plots, as they adjust transitions that in many ways go back millennia? I mean, this is, and so there's educational dimensions to this, in terms of vocational training, but there's also the education of the children of the pastoralists who now, maybe moving into urban areas because they can no longer again, sustain their previous…

SADHIKA TIWARI: …we have a lot of that in India.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: …I'm sure you do. And so, this is a global phenomenon. It's why the need for adaptation resources and the need for the private sector and foundation and corporate social responsibility, investments in adaptation need to progress at the kind of accelerated speed that we have seen in trying to transition away from carbon.

SADHIKA TIWARI: So then in the Biden Administration now, will we see aggressive emission reduction plans in the U.S?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I think you are seeing that, I mean, seeing for example, executive orders in that direction. I also would note, again, that even though President Trump, President Biden's predecessor, moved away from the Paris Agreement and of course famously questioned the science of climate change, mayors and companies and states, including California, which is an emitter larger than many countries, and also now is an emissions reducer on an accelerated timeline, more than most countries, they proceeded full speed ahead. And so 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, or once we had done so. The private sector recognizes that, and that's why even large American car companies are all transitioning in some fashion to renewables, to electric cars and so forth. But we need all of our societies to come together and in order for that to happen, I think you're absolutely right that 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 gonna destroy so many livelihoods, so the case for emissions reduction is an economic case. It is a case actually about justice as well and trying to protect as many livelihoods as we can.

SADHIKA TIWARI: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

SADHIKA TIWARI: I hope as a global community, we are able to mitigate and adapt and sort of meet these climate goals.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, thank you. The more that the press focuses on this, I think the more that holds officials accountable. That's your job, and it's an incredibly important one.

SADHIKA TIWARI: Thank you so much. I knew that you did some amazing work at the UN sort of just rallying these countries to ratify the best. So, that's - thank you so much.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yes. Now we just need to implement and move beyond.




New Delhi, India

Last updated: August 02, 2022

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