INTERVIEW: Focusing on water

Suzy El-Geneidy, Thursday 17 Nov 2022

US Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and Special Envoy for Biodiversity and Water Resources Monica P. Medina tells Al-Ahram Weekly how the COP27 meetings are helping to deal with the challenges of climate change

Monica P. Medina
Monica P. Medina


With this year’s UN COP27 Climate Change Conference in its second week, meetings at the venue in Sharm El-Sheikh have also focused on water, US Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and Special Envoy for Biodiversity and Water Resources Monica P. Medina told Al-Ahram Weekly.

How are you finding this year’s COP27?

The COP27 has turned the focus on some issues that are increasingly important to countries like Egypt. The COP leadership this year by Egypt has raised more awareness of the issues, and there are many pavilions and discussions. I think this is one of the brilliant things about the COP meetings: they are not just about the text of the cover statement and hard-working negotiators, but are also about all the other activities that are going on all around.

We are very appreciative of Egypt’s work in hosting the COP27. We know that this is a huge undertaking. I think it has already been a very successful COP.

As US special envoy for biodiversity and water resources, how do you see the COP27 meetings helping to deal with the effects of climate change on oceans and water resources?

There is no solution to climate change without a solution to the ocean crisis. The theme of the COP25 in Madrid some years ago was the “Blue COP”, and this put the world’s oceans firmly on the agenda. I am happy to see this continued at the COP27 here in Egypt and that it was not left behind. We have seen sessions on ways to preserve blue food — in other words food from oceans, rivers, and lakes — and how to construct sustainable blue economies by managing fisheries better and upscaling techniques to build aqua systems.

Concerning water scarcity, I am glad you asked about that as we have new technologies to reuse water that we cannot afford to lose. We have a global water security action plan that we developed last year at the COP26, and the United Nations is planning a special Water Day next year.

How do you view the “loss and damage” item on the COP27 agenda?

I am very appreciative that the COP27 agenda addressed the loss and damage issue. This means that there will be an outcome that addresses this important subject not just this year but in the coming years as well. The US recognises that we must increase our efforts to minimise the effects of loss and damage on peoples associated with the devastating impacts of climate change, and that is why we support it. We are helping to address these problems in solidarity with the vulnerable countries.

The US secretary of state is participating in an event at the current G20 meetings in Bali on the Global Shield Against Climate Risks, an initiative for pre-arranged financial support designed to be quickly deployed in times of climate disasters. The initiative is another way we are working on the loss and damage issue.  

There is a clear imbalance in the funds channelled to adaptation and mitigation efforts, with the former cornering 80 per cent of the funding.

This is a key part of how we pivot from the beginning of implementing the climate agreements. We can’t stop mitigating, of course, because it will only make climate change worse. Mitigation means fewer emissions, so that we don’t increase the planet’s temperature more than the targeted 1.5 degrees Celsius. I think as we see implementation happening more and more and the US committing more and more funds for adaptation, it will be important to talk about early warning systems and the US’ ability to help countries all around the world with such systems to meet various challenges.

Which countries is the US giving early warning systems to?

We are working with countries in Africa and also some Pacific countries, and we are also providing funding to some Latin America countries. There are of course different warning systems, but the one we are using in Latin America is being expanded to Africa. There are certain diseases that increase during certain weather conditions, and we can help forecast and provide data and share the information with the world. This could be used to help other countries and regions to be better prepared for climate events.

Did differences between the US and China affect the negotiations at the COP27?  

The US can fully move now its national contributions to climate challenges are agreed. We are now able to get 100 per cent of the work we wanted to do done, so that we can mitigate our own emissions. Meanwhile, we ask other countries to do the same thing, especially those who have the highest emissions. We know it is important for them to step up and do as much as they can. This will make a difference, so we are working hard for it. It is important for all of us to bring our best and all the tools we have and all the ways that we can to mitigate our emissions, and we call on other high-emission countries to do the same.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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