Remarks at Munich Security Conference Special Session

John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

Wolfgang – thank you very, very much. Thank you for the great introduction. Thank you for importantly making sure that climate change is front and center at the Munich Security Conference, which is exactly where it belongs today. Climate change, as we just heard from Jens Stoltenberg, is a security issue – and the fact is – it’s among the most complex security issues we’ve ever faced.

What we do – or don’t do – in the coming months and years will make all the difference. But for millions of people, Wolfgang, they don’t have to look into a distant future to see the impacts of climate change now, they just have to look out the window.

This week, in the state of Texas, we’ve seen unprecedented extreme cold related to climate because the polar vortex penetrates further south because of the weakening of the jet stream related to warming. Last year, the U.S. saw a record thirty named tropical cyclones. Europe is warming even faster than the global average, and the melting Arctic ice has changed geostrategic and military calculations for every country on the planet, from Russia to China and obviously for NATO.

What these extreme weather events translate to on the ground should concern every single one of us.  Climate change is, again as Jens said, it’s a threat multiplier. When tensions are already high somewhere, and resources are increasingly scarce, the embers of conflict just burn brighter. And when farmers can no longer make a living because the weather is so extreme and unpredictable, they become increasingly desperate. Many, according to some studies, hundreds of millions of people, will be forced from their homes, forced from their habitat, from the place they’ve lived a lifetime. And not only can mass migration drive humanitarian crisis, but as Europe knows only too well - as we saw with Turkey’s manipulation of the numbers of people being released and people being pushed out of Syria - if it is not managed well, it can literally begin to undermine countries, homes, peace and stability. And we’ve seen dramatic change in politics in a lot of places because of this.

So, when we talk about the impacts of climate change, we’re talking about security — energy security, economic security, food security, even physical security.

And the question now is pregnantly, what will the world do about it?

Three years ago, scientists warned that if we want to prevent the worst consequences of the climate crisis, we have to limit the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s the magic number by consensus among most scientists. The same group of scientists told us that we had, three years ago, about twelve years. So now three years later, three years wasted – sadly, largely because of our President in the United States - around 2030 is the date in which we have to get the world now on the right path in order to cap the warming at that level of 1.5.

So we are absolutely, clearly, without question, now inside the decisive decade. It is simply not acceptable, Wolfgang, for countries to think they can go to Glasgow – the meeting we will have, the COP, in November – and simply put big numbers out for projections – thirty or forty years from now or longer. It’s what people will do in the next ten years that matter. That‘s what we have to talk about. What are we going to do starting now, going to 2030, for the simple reason, that if we do not sufficiently reduce our emissions – and that is true for the United States as it is true for other major emitting countries like China, India, Russia and Japan, and so forth, and the EU as a whole. If we don’t reduce it, then we simply have not any longer got the possibility of holding the temperature at 1.5 degrees or of having net-zero by 2050.

And unfortunately, today, the day the Untied States formally re-enters the Paris Agreement, today the fact is that only one or two countries are actually meeting what they said they’d do for Paris. And even if we did everything we said we’d do in Paris, the Earth’s temperature would rise about to 3.7 degrees.

So we have to raise ambition. That is why President Biden moved to rejoin the Paris Agreement hours after he was sworn in on day one. It is a process that takes 30 days, that means that as of today we are officially back in again.

But in rejoining, we got to be really honest with each other, we have to be humble, and – most of all – we have to be ambitious.

We have to be honest that as a global community, we’re not close to where we need to be.

We have to be humble, because we know the United States was inexcusably absent for four years.

And most of all, we have to be ambitious – all of us – because we have to get the job done.

In November, when we convene in Glasgow for the UN Climate Conference – COP 26 –  I believe it is our last, best hope to get all of our nations on the right road to keep us at the 1.5 and achieve the net-zero by 2050. We all need to develop not just a number, but a roadmap for how we will actually make the dramatic progress we need to make over the next ten years – and what we will specifically do to get to net-zero by no later than 2050.

We need to be working hand in hand with the private and public sector to provide the finance, which will be critical – finance in the trillions – in order so that countries can do what they have to do.

We are already hard at work on this. We will spend the coming weeks and months working very closely with our European allies – at the Leaders’ Summit that President Biden will host in April, at the gatherings like the G7,  the G20, at CCAMLR, at Our Oceans conference, and in the Arctic Council – anywhere and everywhere we can – leading in to the United Nations meeting in New York in September, and then Glasgow.

Wolfgang, there is simply no faking it at this moment. Failure is really not an option if we expect to pass the Earth on in the shape that it needs to be to future generations. So we all need to determine what success looks like, how to achieve it, and commit ourselves, above all, to get this job done.

Thank you. I’m happy to take a couple of questions.

More from: John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

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GAO maintains that capitalizing on existing relationships to engage these critical stakeholders as HHS refines and implements a supply chain strategy, to include the role of the SNS, will improve a whole-of-government response to, and preparedness for, pandemics. In August 2020, the President issued an Executive Order directing agencies to take steps toward the goal of strengthening domestic drug manufacturing and supply chains. Federal agencies have started implementing the Executive Order, but expressed concerns about their ability to implement some of the provisions. In particular, GAO found that federal agencies do not have complete and accessible information to identify supply chain vulnerabilities and to report the manufacturing supply chains of drugs that were procured by the agency. 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The lack of complete and consistent data limits HHS’s and others’ ability to monitor trends in the burden of the pandemic across states and regions, make informed comparisons between such areas, and assess the impact of public health actions to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Further, incomplete and inconsistent data have limited HHS’s and others’ ability to prioritize the allocation of health resources in specific geographic areas or among certain populations most affected by the pandemic. To improve the federal government’s response to COVID-19 and preparedness for future pandemics, GAO recommends that HHS immediately establish an expert committee comprised of knowledgeable health care professionals from the public and private sectors, academia, and nonprofits or use an existing one to systematically review and inform the alignment of ongoing data collection and reporting standards for key health indicators. HHS partially concurred with this recommendation and agreed that it should establish a dedicated working group or other mechanism with a focus on addressing COVID-19 data collection shortcomings. Drug Manufacturing Inspections FDA is responsible for overseeing the safety and effectiveness of all drugs marketed in the U.S., including those manufactured overseas, and typically conducts more than 1,600 inspections of foreign and domestic drug manufacturing establishments every year. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, since March 2020, FDA has limited domestic and foreign inspections for the safety of its employees. (See figure below.) FDA has used alternative inspection tools to maintain some oversight of drug manufacturing quality while inspections are paused, including inspections conducted by foreign regulators, requesting and reviewing records and other information, and sampling and testing. Although FDA has determined that inspections conducted by certain European regulators are equivalent to an FDA inspection, other tools provide useful information but are not equivalent to an FDA inspection. As a result, FDA could be faced with a backlog of inspections, threatening the agency’s goal to maximize inspections prioritized by its risk-based site selection model each year. GAO recommends that FDA (1) ensure that inspection plans for future fiscal years identify, analyze, and respond to the issues presented by the backlog of inspections that could jeopardize its goal of risk-driven inspections, and (2) fully assess the agency’s alternative inspection tools and consider whether these tools or others could provide the information needed to supplement regular inspection activities or help meet the agency’s drug oversight objectives when inspections are not possible in the future. FDA concurred with both recommendations. Number of FDA-Conducted Domestic and Foreign Drug Manufacturing Establishment Inspections, Fiscal Years 2019–2020, by Month Federal Contracting Federal agencies are using other transaction agreements to respond to the pandemic, which are contracting mechanisms that can enable agencies to negotiate terms and conditions specific to a project. GAO found that HHS misreports its other transaction agreements related to COVID-19 as procurement contracts, including other transaction agreements with about $1.5 billion obligated for Operation Warp Speed and other medical countermeasures. HHS’s approach is inconsistent with federal acquisition regulations and limits the public’s insight into the agency’s contract spending. To ensure consistent tracking and transparency of federal contracting activity related to the pandemic, GAO recommends that HHS accurately report data in the federal procurement database system and provide information that would allow the public to distinguish between spending on other transaction agreements and procurement contracts. HHS concurred with this recommendation. Oversight of Worker Safety and Health GAO identified concerns about federal oversight of worker safety and health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has adapted its enforcement methods for COVID-19 to help protect agency employees from the virus and address resource constraints, such as by permitting remote inspections in place of on-site inspections of workplaces. However, gaps in OSHA’s oversight and tracking of its adapted enforcement methods prevent the agency from assessing the effectiveness of its enforcement methods during the pandemic, ensuring that its adapted enforcement methods do not miss violations, and ensuring that employers are addressing certain identified violations. To improve its oversight, GAO recommends that OSHA (1) develop a plan, with time frames, to implement the agency’s oversight processes for COVID-19-adapted enforcement methods, and (2) ensure that its data system includes comprehensive information on use of these enforcement methods to inform these processes. The agency neither agreed nor disagreed with these recommendations. Additionally, OSHA’s data do not include comprehensive information on workplace exposure to COVID-19. For example, OSHA does not receive employer reports of all work-related hospitalizations related to COVID-19, as disease symptoms do not appear within the required reporting time frames. Employers may also face challenges determining whether COVID-19 hospitalizations or fatalities are work-related because of COVID-19’s incubation period and the difficulties in tracking the source of exposure. GAO recommends that OSHA determine what additional datamay be neededfrom employers or other sources to better target the agency’s COVID-19 enforcement efforts. The agency neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Assistance for Fishery Participants The CARES Act appropriated $300 million in March 2020 to the Department of Commerce (Commerce) to assist eligible tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants affected by COVID-19, which may include direct relief payments. After administrative fees were assessed, $298 million of the $300 million appropriated was obligated for fishery participants.Widespread restaurant closures in the spring of 2020 led to a decrease in demand for seafood, adversely affecting the fisheries industry. As of December 4, 2020, all funds had been obligated and only about 18 percent ($53.9 million) of the CARES Act funding obligated for fishery participants had been disbursed, which is inconsistent with Office of Management and Budget guidance on the importance of agencies distributing CARES Act funds in an expedient manner. Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials said they expect that the vast majority of funds will be disbursed to fisheries participants by early 2021. However, the agency does not have the needed information centralized to help ensure that funds are being disbursed expeditiously and efficiently. GAO recommends that NOAA develop a mechanism to track the progress of states, tribes, and territories in meeting established timelines to disburse funds in an expedited and efficient manner. NOAA concurred with this recommendation. Program Integrity GAO continues to identify areas to improve program integrity and reduce the risk of improper payments for programs funded by the COVID-19 relief laws now that federal agencies have obligated a total of $1.9 trillion and expended $1.7 trillion of the $2.7 trillion appropriated for response and recovery efforts as of November 30, 2020. Federal relief programs remain vulnerable to significant risk of fraudulent activities because of the need to quickly provide funds and other assistance to those affected by COVID-19 and its economic effects. In this report, GAO identifies concerns about overpayments and potential fraud in the unemployment insurance (UI) system, specifically in the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provides UI benefits to individuals not otherwise eligible for these benefits, such as self-employed and certain gig economy workers. As of January 11, 2021, states that had submitted data to DOL reported more than $1.1 billion in PUA overpayments from March through December 2020. While DOL requires states to report data on PUA overpayments, as of the beginning of 2021, the agency was not tracking the amount of overpayments recovered, limiting insight into the effectiveness of states’ efforts to recoup federal funds. To better track the recovery of federal funds, GAO recommends that DOL collect data from states on the amount of PUA overpayments recovered. DOL concurred with this recommendation, and has taken the first step toward implementing it by issuing new guidance and updated instructions for states to report PUA overpayment recovery data. GAO also remains concerned about SBA’s management of internal controls and fraud risks in the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program. COVID-19 relief laws made qualifying small businesses and nonprofit organizations adversely affected by COVID-19 eligible for financial assistance from the EIDL program. Some approval requirements were also relaxed, such as requiring each applicant to demonstrate that it could not obtain credit elsewhere, through December 31, 2021. As of December 31, 2020, SBA officials said they had approved about 3.7 million applications for loans related to COVID-19, totaling about $200 billion. SBA rapidly processed loans and advances to millions of small businesses affected by COVID-19. GAO’s analysis of SBA data shows that the agency approved EIDL loans and advances for potentially ineligible businesses. For example, SBA approved at least 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million to potentially ineligible businesses in industries that SBA policies state were ineligible for the EIDL program, such as insurance and real estate development, as of September 30, 2020. GAO recommends that SBA develop and implement portfolio-level data analytics across EIDL loans and advances made in response to COVID-19 as a means to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. As of January 15, 2021, the U.S. had about 23 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 387,000 reported deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of November 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of November 30, 2020, of the $2.7 trillion appropriated by these four laws, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.9 trillion and expended $1.7 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds, as reported by federal agencies. In December 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, provided additional federal assistance for the ongoing response and recovery. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials and stakeholders. GAO completed its audit work on January 15, 2021. GAO is making 13 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
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