CORVI: From Land to Seascapes, Building Climate Resilience for Island States and Coastal Communities
Monica Medina, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt
Hello, it is a pleasure to see you all. Thank you to Sally Yozell and the Stimson Center for inviting me to join you today. It has been so valuable to connect with so many colleagues while here in Sharm El-Sheikh, as we focus on adaptation and the importance of preparing communities around the world for the climate impacts they are already facing and expect in the future.
The United States is committed to stepping up and showing up to tackle the climate crisis and the many ways it affects communities around the world. Every country, every region, and every community faces unique climate challenges and has unique needs for adaptation solutions. But we know that small island states and coastal communities are on the front lines of the climate crisis.
The ocean is the foundation of life in so many ways for these communities. Ocean fisheries feed families. The ocean’s resources drive local economies. And it is integral to the history, traditions, and cultures of those who have lived beside it for generations.
Island states face an existential crisis as they contend with an ocean that is increasingly higher, warmer, more acidic, and less productive. Residents are facing more intense storms and growing risks to health and well-being. At a time when one-third of fish stocks are already overfished, science tells us that climate change could decrease the catch potential of fisheries by up to 12 percent in some regions. These effects will be felt especially by the more than 500 million people that depend on small-scale fisheries for their livelihoods. For these communities, adapting to a changing ocean and coastline is not just conserving a habitat – it is protecting an entire way of life.
That is why the United States is redoubling its efforts to support climate resilience for coastal and island communities. In September, President Biden hosted Pacific leaders at the White House for the first-ever United States-Pacific Island Country Summit. The Summit reflected our growing cooperation with the Pacific Islands on key issues that are integral to building resilience, like climate change, maritime security, and environmental protection. At the Summit, the Administration announced that we are working to provide nearly $5 million for a Resilient Blue Economies program. This program will help the Pacific Islands climate-proof their “blue” economies, a key adaptation need identified by Pacific leaders. It will strengthen the capacity of the Pacific Community to combine climate science, marine spatial planning, sustainable fisheries, and aquaculture governance, and marine conservation to promote resilient Pacific economies across the region. And that’s not all. The State Department also announced commitments to address adaptation needs related to fisheries, maritime security, mosquito-borne disease modeling and early warning, capacity-building, and a new policy on sea-level rise.
We are also committed to working hand-in-glove with Pacific Island communities to ensure that resilience efforts are collaborative, community-led, and designed to meet their adaptation priorities and needs. Indigenous and local communities possess the best knowledge of local ecosystems and how to sustainably manage them, so they are crucial partners in this effort. To build community resilience and adapt effectively to the impacts of the climate crisis, we must learn from their expertise and follow their leadership. That is why the Administration has placed a strong emphasis on engaging Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities to better understand their priorities, needs, and challenges.
And while I’m proud of what we have achieved this year, there is still so much more to be done to ensure that coastal and island communities have the tools they need to build true, lasting climate resilience. In particular, we must get expanded access to climate data and early warning systems. Early warning systems can save lives and assets worth at least ten times their cost. Just 24 hours' warning of a coming storm or heat wave can cut the ensuing damage by 30 percent. These tools are critical to giving communities the information they need to make decisions about how to address the risks posed by a changing climate. They have the power to change lives in the communities that are hit hardest by climate impacts. But even though this technology exists right now, one-third of the global population does not have access to or the capacity to use it. Putting these tools in the hands of communities that need them is a critical piece of building climate resilience.
We cannot do it alone. No one government – or even a group of governments like the group assembled here today – can tackle such a monumental effort single-handedly. That is why I am so happy to be introducing this panel. Organizations like the World Bank and the Stimson Center are critical collaborators in building climate resilience. And tools like CORVI are changing the game when it comes to getting data into the hands of communities that need it. The CORVI tool is an excellent example of how to bridge the gap between data and decision-making, by combining financial, ecological, and political risks associated with climate change into a single risk assessment. This is an invaluable asset to community decision-makers.
At the Our Ocean Conference in Palau in last April, we announced $1 million in financing for two Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance projects and the next round of the Ocean Resilience Innovation Challenge. And I am happy to announce that as part of this funding, the United States will support a full CORVI risk profile assessment in Toamasina, an important commercial hub that is vital to the economic security of Madagascar. Through this funding, we will also support the Stimson Center and the Commonwealth Secretariat in the development of a standardized CORVI Rapid Assessment Protocol that will integrate feedback from stakeholders in Kiribati, Sri Lanka, and Barbados.
The United States recognizes the importance of a global, coordinated approach to reckoning with the climate crisis. We are going to meet the challenges before us – alongside our partners – to ensure that all communities have the resources they need to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Thank you, and welcome to our panelists.