Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan Before the H209 Forum
Monday, September 9, 2013
New York, NY
As prepared for delivery
Thank you very much, Tracy (Metz) and Adam (Freed), for that kind introduction. Thank you Minister Schultz van Haegen for your friendship, for your partnership and for your leadership.
It truly is a pleasure to serve as an Honorary Chair with you, and join you in saying a few words to kickoff this conference. And of course, I want to thank all you for taking time out of your schedules to participate in this H209 Forum.
The United States and the Netherlands share a rich and long history. We share deep cultural ties that enhance both our countries. We share valuable economic bonds that benefit businesses in both our countries. And today, I’m proud that we have come together to share different ideas and perspectives.
This dialogue provides our two countries with an important opportunity: to learn from each other, and to work together on issues critical to both people and the planet. And I’m so pleased to be here with you today.
As we all know, the environmental challenges facing our two countries have grown considerably since that day—more than four centuries ago—when Henry Hudson’s sailed up the river that now bears his name.
In fact, a lot has happened in just the four years since the first H209 Forum was held.
For a long time, the scientific community has told the world that the climate is changing, posing an incredible threat to us all. And unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen these predictions become a reality.
We’ve seen devastation across the world, from the endless rain in Colombia to flooding in Thailand. It feels like storms that used to occur every 100 years now come every few years –
or in the recent case of Oklahoma City here in the U.S., within 10 days of each other.
And if nothing is done, the risks facing our world will only continue to grow. So we’ve got to act now in order to prepare our communities for tomorrow.
President Obama’s Commitment
This is something President Obama has long believed and has made a priority of his agenda. And he has reiterated his commitment to this work a number of times, most notably during his Inaugural Address earlier this year, when he said: “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
Clearly, this is a President who knows the urgency of the moment. And ever since he took office in 2009, he has been determined to do something about it.
Thanks in part to measures he took during his first term, the United States’ carbon pollution is at its lowest levels in nearly 20 years. And he’s eager to build on this progress during his second term.
That’s why, in June, he released his Climate Action Plan – the most aggressive initiative ever taken by a U.S. President to address climate change. And a key component of the plan is partnering with leaders like you from across the world.
Earlier this year, I was proud to join Minister Shultz in signing a Memorandum of Understanding between our two countries to collaborate on a wide-variety of climate-related issues and initiatives. This kind of engagement is happening at all levels and in all areas of the Administration. And with the President’s Climate Action Plan – we want to take it to the next level.
Together, we can cut global carbon pollution by using more clean energy and cutting waste. This will go a long way in creating jobs and shaping a healthier planet for future generations.
But, this alone is not enough. We’ve also got to prepare our communities for the weather-related threats that are already being felt across the world because of climate change.
Of course, this is the goal that brings us all here today.
Hurricane Sandy Task Force
As Hurricane Sandy reaffirmed – we need to make resiliency a global priority. This was a storm that deeply impacted me in a personal way. As many of you know, I’m a native New Yorker.
It’s where my wife and I built our life together.
And it was devastating to see places that have been so important to me—and millions of other families across the region—damaged by the storm. So when President Obama asked me to chair a special Sandy Task Force to help rebuild the region, I immediately said yes and soon got to work.
The Task Force was created for two reasons. The first was to ensure that there was Cabinet-level attention focused, every day, on recovery in a united way. The second reason was because of the scale of the damage. Roughly a dozen states were impacted, covering thousands of jurisdictions – and nobody but the federal government could coordinate these efforts.
To achieve these goals, we knew that we would need resources. In this difficult Congressional environment President Obama worked with state and local leaders to fight for supplemental funding. As a result, in January, he signed a measure providing roughly $50 billion in funding to aid victims and communities hit by the storm.
To date, the Administration has helped nearly 270,000 people and thousands of businesses turn the page on this painful chapter. And we continue to work to get help to those who need it as quickly and efficiently as possible. But as we do this, we are also firmly focused on the long-term.
That’s because it is not enough to rebuild the region back to the way it was before the storm.
That would just put communities at-risk of the same tragic outcomes when the next big storm arrives. Instead, our goal moving forward is to help the region build smarter and stronger than before, work that can also serve as a model for communities across the world.
The Task Force has done just that.
We’ve empowered planners and decision makers with the most valuable commodity—information—by creating a tool that allows them to determine flood risks as far as a century into the future.
We’ve ensured that this science will be put into practice by requiring that all projects funded by Sandy-supplemental dollars take into account future flood risks.
We’ve launched Rebuild by Design, an international design competition that will connect communities with the most innovative engineering, planning and design ideas from around the world.
We’ve outlined a roadmap for the region to make its infrastructure more resilient with projects ranging from the electrical grid to communications systems.
We’ve identified ways to ensure that we protect affordable housing options and support small businesses after a disaster strikes.
And to maximize the potential of these efforts, we’ve created a regional forum so that leaders from across the region can coordinate and determine the effects of large-scale and interconnected infrastructure projects.
In total, the Task Force recently released a Rebuilding Strategy that contained 69 recommendations. I know that Henk Ovink will talk more about this in a bit, so I’ll just close by stressing that the Hurricane Sandy Task Force isn’t about looking backwards or just improving responses to the next big storm.
What it calls for is a fundamental shift in the way communities here approach future development – a blueprint that can be useful for other areas around the world.
With every decision, and every project, the global community must take into account the growing risks caused by flooding and climate change. It’s in the interests of families so that they are kept as safe as possible.
It’s critical for any area’s economic competitiveness because businesses need to know that their operations are safe from weather risks. In short, it’s critical for the United States, the Netherlands and for the entire global community.
That’s why I appreciate all of you for coming together to develop new ideas and new partnerships. I know that all of us will leave this conference considering newer and greater possibilities. And I look forward to the continued partnership between the United States and the Netherlands.
Together, we can coordinate a global assault on climate change. Together, we can ready our communities to deal with the natural disasters already being felt. And together, we can shape a stronger and healthier planet for generations to come.