May 16, 2023
Good afternoon, Senior Advisor on Climate Change Ruwan Wijewardena, Deputy Assistant Secretary Akhter, and climate action champions! I’m thrilled to welcome you all to beautiful Sri Lanka as it hosts this regional forum. All of you bring such diverse experiences and expertise – from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. It is such a pleasure to join you all today and feel the energy of the room. I know you all had a great visit to the mangroves nearby and learning from each other the diverse challenges we face from climate change. We truly are in a room full of champions, and I could not be more pleased that the United States is supporting your incredible work.
I‘m also very glad to have a senior visitor from Washington join us today. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Afreen Akhter is here to learn firsthand what this group is accomplishing and to share with you some insight on how the Biden Administration in Washington has prioritized the issue of climate change.
Without question, climate change is one of the most pressing global issues of our time, particularly for an island nation. On top of all the other challenges Sri Lanka has faced recently, climate is adding to the burden. Severe drought. Floods. Agricultural and transportation challenges leading to food shortages. Thankfully, organizations, like the Climate Action Champions Network, are working hard to offer regional solutions to what is a global problem.
Sri Lanka is increasing its resilience to climate change. Public-private partnerships are a critical component to solving climate challenges, and CACN is a great example. I commend Sri Lanka’s leadership and desire to guide the nation through the climate crisis, develop tangible climate-related projects, and better inform local and national policy. By investing in infrastructure and technology, Sri Lanka has been able to reduce the impact of climate-related disasters on its people and the environment. I’d like to applaud Sri Lanka for signing the Global Methane Pledge and the Ocean Conservation Pledge, as well as for submitting ambitious goals in their Nationally Determined Contributions: 70% electricity from renewables by 2030; net zero carbon by 2050. Achieving these goals will go a long way towards the global effort to minimize our collective impact on the environment.
The government has implemented policies that promote sustainable water management, such as rainwater harvesting systems in vulnerable communities, which USAID is helping with, conservation of wetlands, and improved irrigation systems.
These changes enable Sri Lanka to become more resilient to climate change and better prepared for future challenges.
The partnership between the U.S. Government and Sri Lanka is an example of international cooperation helping countries address climate-related issues. Through this partnership, both sides are working together to create a more sustainable future for everyone involved. Partnership is a key aspect of this effort. This year makes the 75th anniversary of partnership and diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Sri Lanka. I know not all of you are from Sri Lanka, but I hope you can join me in celebrating that anniversary and appreciating the depth and breadth of that partnership.
Among other programs, CACN is an example of how the U.S. Government works in partnership with Sri Lanka to make positive changes in the country’s environment. We are working together to create sustainable solutions that will make lasting positive impact for today, and for tomorrow.
I wanted to highlight for you two such efforts that focus on oceans plastics. USAID’s Oceans Plastics Reductions Project will have its official launch ceremony later this year. The project will increase participation in solid waste management and reduction programs, preventing thousands of tons of plastic from leaking into the environment.
USAID’s Clean Cities Blue Oceans project is a five-year, flagship global initiative to target ocean plastics at their source in cities and towns. This project is piloting solutions to stop the flow of plastic pollution to inland and coastal waters through work in Colombo, Galle, and Jaffna.
We’re also active in other areas, including addressing climate impacts. Our combined efforts focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental pollutants. We work on renewable energy initiatives, most prominently through USAID’s $19 million Sri Lanka Energy Program, and on improved air quality monitoring systems.
In water-related areas, we have partnered to improve water quality, provide greater access to clean water sources, and increase awareness of climate-related risks.
I know that I’m preaching to the choir here, but climate change is a critically important global issue that requires the attention of all of us. As a mom, I’m also acutely aware that young people have a unique perspective on this issue and important role to play in helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.
And I can’t think of a better example of putting incredibly smart and innovative people to the task than CACN. You all are pushing local solutions and driving change. And that is what the world needs. So, thank you. Some people think they can’t make a difference as an individual on something so daunting as climate change. But you can, and you are, making a difference, each of you. Keep up the amazing work and keep being champions. As you return to your countries and cities, pay it forward and make others aware of your efforts. Expand this sisterhood and brotherhood beyond this room. The United States is happy to be a partner with you in all your efforts. Thank you!