Keynote by Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto at East-West Sustainability Summit
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
ALOHA, everyone! I would like to begin by thanking the East-West Center and the China Global Philanthropy Institute for the opportunity to address you today. As the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, I engage on a very diverse and complex set of issues…refugees and migration, global health, trade and development, human rights, peace and security, to name just a few…but there aren’t many topics more important than resiliency – building strong, resilient communities around the world – particularly at a time when we’re trying to turn the vision and unprecedented global commitments of the last year into real progress on the ground. I think it’s fair to say that recent international agreements like the Sustainable Development Goals, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and the Paris Agreement – others have mentioned them as well – these agreements have put us on a more sustainable path.
I have found that these agreements provide an important framework for enhanced global partnerships that strive for inclusive economic growth and improved health and well-being for all, while importantly, protecting the environment and demanding more responsible stewardship of our planet. But as we work to transform these instruments into concrete action for the benefit of future generations, we need to ask ourselves – what role are we going to play? And I wholeheartedly agree with a common theme I heard here yesterday, over and over…that we all have to work together…not just because the threats and challenges before us are so urgent, but simply because none of us can do this alone.
As some of you know, I was born and raised right here in the beautiful State of Hawaii. And when I reflect on my childhood, I realize how fortunate I was to grow up surrounded by a true “melting pot” of cultures. I learned at an early age the value of building relationships – that our diversity defines us rather than divides us. This understanding has shaped who I am today, and without a doubt, it has enhanced my work in Geneva.
Geneva – the operational hub of multilateral diplomacy – provides the foundation for our work, which is built on the need to bridge cultures, to develop a network of both traditional and non-traditional partners, as we address the world’s most significant social, economic, and environmental challenges. And that’s what I want to talk about today – how the United States is working in concert with the international community in Geneva – through multi-stakeholder partnerships – to enhance resiliency and foster sustainable development around the world.
This is part of a broader effort by the U.S. government to not just respond after crises happen, but to focus on helping communities build resilience…to be in a position to avoid crises. Because, if we are to tackle these pressing challenges, as President Obama said at last month’s White House Summit on Global Development, “we have to be hard-headed and big-hearted at the same time.” And the United States is intent on leveraging new sources of funding – committing and mobilizing more than $100 billion from the private sector and other partners like you to promote development, enhance resilience, and save lives.
I would like to give you a few examples of what these partnerships look like in practice – multi-stakeholder partnerships that have literally transformed the way we do business. I’ll focus on combating climate change, protecting the environment, and fostering sustainable solutions. That’s why we’re all here in Hawaii for this Summit and for this week’s World Conservation Congress – mindful that in our interconnected world, our approach to resiliency must be comprehensive if we, the international community, are to achieve the ambitious global goals we’ve set for ourselves.
Forests Are Essential to Our Future: Tropical Forest Alliance 2020
I’ll start with deforestation. As you all know, forests are on the front lines of climate change, and in many countries, tropical forest loss is the single largest source of climate pollution. It is estimated that more than fifty thousand square miles of forest are lost each year to unsustainable logging, slash and burn subsistence farming, and clear-cutting for commercial agriculture. This has to be stopped, as forests are absolutely essential to our future and critical for building resilience. Consider that three-fourths of our freshwater comes from forested catchments. And around the world, more than 1 billion people depend on forests for sustenance or livelihood activities. In this context, improving the management of tropical forests can alleviate poverty and curb global climate pollution, while protecting biodiversity and natural landscapes.
That is exactly the goal of Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a global public-private partnership launched by the U.S. government four years ago, whose secretariat is hosted at the World Economic Forum in Geneva. The Alliance includes dozens of public- and private-sector partners committed to tackling deforestation – stakeholders like UNDP, Conservation International, Nestle, and Unilever. Their goal is to eliminate deforestation by producers of palm oil and other key commodities like soy, paper and pulp, and beef.
This multi-stakeholder partnership is a disruptive market force, re-imagining the relationship between agribusiness and forests. In some countries, partners are helping retailers and manufacturers work with commodity traders to source sustainably-produced soy. Although it’s often difficult to put land use regulations in place that encourage this type of investing, and to ensure businesses have the technical capacities to meet such sustainability standards, this is the only way forward to make real progress.
Group on Earth Observations: Bringing Space-Based Science Down to Earth
Let me now turn to the field of science and technology, where millions of satellite images and other Earth observation data from around the world are being integrated into a single, comprehensive system to help us better understand how environmental factors affect human life. The Group on Earth Observations (GEO), headquartered in Geneva, is a collaborative alliance of nearly 100 nations and nearly 100 international scientific and technical partner organizations who utilize this coordinated data for more informed decision-making – addressing critical issues in agriculture, biodiversity, climate change, disaster planning energy, health, water and weather for the benefit of society as a whole.
This is a game-changer for people around the world: Imagine satellite mapping to give farmers in Kenya enough time to prepare for frost…imagine near real-time fire alerts sent via SMS to inform forest managers in Nepal of fires burning in their districts…imagine satellite imagery that allows fishermen in El Salvador to avoid waters made unsafe by outbreaks of microalgae. This is precisely what SERVIR is doing, a joint initiative of NASA and USAID. SERVIR was developed in coordination with the Group on Earth Observations, and as NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated recently, the whole point of this global, collaborative network is to “bring space-based science down to Earth for real time, real world uses that are changing people’s lives…” And that’s how Geneva – with its unique combination of diplomats, policy makers, specialists, business leaders, research institutes, and civil society – helps amplify the impact of initiatives such as these.
Leaving No One Behind: GECCO
And finally, one area of particular importance to me is promoting gender equality, and much of my work in Geneva has centered around the empowerment of women and girls. Women can be powerful agents of change, but their contributions are seldom fully harnessed. Which is why I’m especially excited that USAID and IUCN joined forces in 2014 to launch GECCO – the Gender Equality for Climate Change Opportunities initiative.
Now, I don’t think I need to convince anyone here that women play a critical role in their communities. The historic Paris Agreement itself builds on the understanding that women can do a tremendous amount to combat climate change – calling for actions by all parties to be gender-responsive. At the same time, many stakeholders are expressing increased interest in leveraging the untapped potential of women’s leadership and entrepreneurship in the context of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
However, many of these same institutions often lack the strategy and the know-how to carry this out. What GECCO does is bridge this gap by providing an array of options for national, regional and global activities that advance women’s empowerment and gender equality. GECCO helps countries and regions establish climate change gender action plans; provides knowledge and technical capacity; and addresses knowledge gaps on the linkages between gender and climate change mitigation in the energy sector – all resulting in increased sustainability and better development outcomes.
So I hope this has given you a sense of what we’re trying to do in Geneva through multi-stakeholder partnerships…a model for engagement that I’m 100% committed to…because it’s not always easy…but it works. And after participating in this Summit, I’m inspired by the knowledge, passion and commitment in this room…the focus on sustainable philanthropy, innovation, and market-based solutions. After working in the private sector for years…it’s great to see the narrative there changing…priorities shifting…giving me hope for our future.
This Summit presents a wonderful opportunity to leverage the relationships, the partnerships, the friendships formed here this week…with other hard-headed and big-hearted leaders. I urge you – as Nainoa Thompson suggested in his beautiful remarks yesterday — push each other to set the course and show each other the way. And if you do, I’m confident it will make all of us more effective, more resilient – and better prepared for the complex challenges before us.