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Ambassador on how U.S. will respond to climate change differently following COP26

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This past summer was the hottest on record in the U.S. ever. It's one measure of how quickly and dramatically the planet is already being affected by climate change. World leaders are in Glasgow, Scotland, trying to agree on a plan to address a warming planet. President Biden is there, and today he announced an annual $3 billion Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience. It's aimed at supporting developing countries and communities that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Samantha Power will be one of the U.S. officials leading that effort. She is administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Ambassador Power, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SAMANTHA POWER: Good to be with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: The name of this plan, Adaptation and Resilience, shows that the money is not going to reverse or stop climate change, but to deal with its impacts. And some Americans will ask why their tax dollars should help people in other countries deal with the impacts of climate change when there are already expensive climate-related disasters hitting the U.S. How do you answer that skepticism?

POWER: Well, for starters, Ari, to be clear, we are still also determined in parallel to take steps, ambitious steps, and get other countries to take ambitious steps to transition to clean energy so that we meet the 1.5-degree Celsius target.

SHAPIRO: Right. This is both and, not either or.

POWER: Correct. Just want to make that clear because we are not simply resigned to an endlessly warming planet. We absolutely have to do both. But we also know, as you said, that these effects are with us. They're already walloping North American cities, American cities, subways, droughts, floods, everything that we've seen, more extreme weather events. And you can imagine what the effects are in developing countries that have nowhere near the infrastructure or the insurance schemes or the resilience to...

SHAPIRO: So explain why the U.S. should be funding those developing countries' efforts to adapt.

POWER: Well, I think the word that President Biden used was obligation. We have been a very substantial emitter. Many of these effects are the product of emissions by large countries like us, China, India, the European Union. And we want to help those countries meet those needs. In so doing, we also, of course, are looking out for consumers of American products. You know, these are markets that matter for American farmers, matter for American manufacturers. So I think it is a both-and circumstance. I think these investments, ultimately in making the world more prosperous and more resilient, that's going to end up good for the American people as well.

SHAPIRO: Your organization, USAID, is known for providing food, medicine, shelter to people in vulnerable situations. Do you expect this to substantially change the kind of work that USAID does?

POWER: Well, I've heard President Biden say that every U.S. government agency now, de facto, is a climate agency because climate is touching every aspect of American life. It is also touching every aspect of what U.S.A. does around the world. So you can't think anymore about conflict - recovery from conflict without thinking about what caused conflict in the first place. And often in scarce resources brought about by changing weather conditions.

We are devoting a larger and larger share of our budget to humanitarian assistance because there are so many more climate-related disasters happening. A whopping 1.7 billion people, in fact, Ari, since 2000, have been affected by climate-related disasters. And so meeting those needs in an act of compassion but, again, also because we know how destabilizing it is when peoples are displaced or are hurting, you know, from whatever the disaster that falls them, whether conflict or natural disaster.

SHAPIRO: Wealthy nations have made promises before to help developing countries, and those promises have been broken. The prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, spoke about this at the climate conference earlier today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER MIA MOTTLEY: Can there be peace and prosperity if one-third of the world literally prospers and the other two-thirds of the world live under siege and face calamitous threats?

SHAPIRO: So why should countries in the developing world believe that this time the promises will be kept?

POWER: Well, President Biden is making the case domestically, as you well know, and injecting into his Build Back Better framework here the most substantial commitment to reducing climate change, to curbing warming that any leader of any advanced nation has ever met.

SHAPIRO: But he's had such a hard time getting Congress to pass that. This is yet another program that the guidance says he will work with Congress to provide the money. I mean, isn't going to run into the same challenges?

POWER: Well, I think that you've seen public opinion domestically really evolve as more and more Americans are feeling the effects of climate change every day. Again, from farm workers to people living in major industrial centers, everybody is getting touched by this. And so I think the constituency for taking ambitious action has broadened. It gets larger every year. And we just, of course, need Congress to follow suit both with these ambitious domestic commitments that are in the Build Back Better world framework - Build Back Better framework - and as part of the global initiative that President Biden is taking internationally to ensure that we have climate finance made available to those countries that are trying to transition to clean energy.

SHAPIRO: Just in our last 30 seconds or so, you had a front seat to negotiations for the Paris Agreement in 2015 when you were U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. And that summit produced a lot of ambitious goals that people were excited about and that countries have not met. So what do you think needs to change in order for this summit in Scotland to turn out differently?

POWER: Well, I think what's really important is that we have seen so many countries increase their nationally determined contributions, the ambition of those contributions. More than 65% of the economies of the world are committed to meeting that 1.5 degrees Celsius target. But as we know, there are countries and leaders who have not shown up in Glasgow. And so out of this, the united world, the world that is in the same page, the world that wants to adapt and mitigate, needs to put pressure on those countries that remain outside.

SHAPIRO: Ambassador Samantha Power, thank you very much.

POWER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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