Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a Reception Hosted by Mayor Karen Bass in Honor of the Los Angeles Consular Corps

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Los Angeles, California
July 19, 2023


Thank you. It’s great to be here in Los Angeles at the beautiful Getty House, and I want to thank my friend, Mayor Bass, for hosting us. Mayor Bass is sorely missed in DC. Her engagement on international issues while serving in Congress was appreciated by all.

Let’s give it up for Mayor Bass.

You know, I thought I would get away from the United Nations, and head to Los Angeles to rub shoulders with the stars. Maybe I’d see Barbra Streisand at a trendy wine bar in Malibu. Or maybe I’d run into Beyoncé on Rodeo Drive. Listen, a girl can dream!

But here I am, almost 3,000 miles from the UN Security Council, in another room full of diplomats. That tells you who I really am.

All jokes aside, I am thrilled that Mayor Bass has brought us together. It is truly an honor to be amongst so many distinguished diplomats from the Los Angeles Consular Corps, especially because I started my diplomatic career as a consular officer in Jamaica.

The lessons I learned during that posting still guide my work today. More than anything, during my time in as a consular officer, I learned that foreign policy is about people. Not just people in the capital city, but in every corner of the country you are serving in.

What you do, unlike your colleagues in Washington and New York, is take foreign policy to the people. That is what I am doing in my current job and what I have done throughout my career, from Jamaica to my last overseas posting in Liberia.

Too often, leaders and diplomats take a macro-level view of foreign policy and lose sight of the needs of the most vulnerable. And at a time when pressing global challenges have pushed millions and millions of people to the brink, we need to stay focused on what matters most: the security, prosperity, and dignity of each and every single person.

This brings me to what I want to focus on today: five global challenges that demand global solutions. Food insecurity. Water scarcity. The climate crisis. Protracted conflicts. And attacks on human rights.

First, the global food security crisis. As we speak, more than 345 million people are suffering from high levels of food insecurity. This is a five-alarm emergency.

From Day One, the Biden Administration has taken on this crisis with urgency. We have committed billions of dollars to address food insecurity. And we have brought this issue to the top of the UN’s agenda.

Food security – specifically ending famine – will be a focus of the United States’ upcoming presidency of the Security Council as it has been every year since I started this job.

Of course, no country can solve a crisis of this magnitude alone, which is why we have called on every country to do more and give more. This is a humanitarian imperative, and a security imperative. After all, food security is national security.

The second issue I want to discuss is water insecurity. Estimates suggest that almost half of the world’s population will suffer severe water stress by 2030. This is a dire crisis – one that hits women and girls the hardest.

During this year’s UN Water Conference, I announced that the United States is committing $49 billion toward equitable, climate-resilient water and sanitation investments. We are working to build a future where safe water flows freely for all.

But again, we cannot do this work alone. We are counting on other countries to step up. And we are counting on the private sector to invest in the water supply and sanitation sectors.

The third and fourth issues I want to discuss are the climate crisis and protracted conflicts around the world. Because these two manufactured crises are driving food and water insecurity.

It’s no secret that our planet is warming at a rapid pace. Earlier this month, the world experienced the hottest day ever recorded. The climate crisis is not a crisis of the future, it is already here.

We see that in Los Angeles, where climate change has increased the frequency of extreme heat and floods and wildfires. And I want to give major kudos to LA for being so forward thinking on climate – particularly for continuing to work towards the goals of the Paris Agreement even when the last Administration withdrew U.S. support.

Being part of this landmark international agreement, as we once again are, is critical because this crisis impacts every single person, in every single country, especially in the Global South. We know the climate crisis is making it harder for farmers to grow crops. And we know the climate crisis is increasing pollution in water systems and decreasing water availability around the world.

Both the water crisis and the food security crisis have also been exacerbated by conflict, including the war in Ukraine, and fighting in places like Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Since Russia launched its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, its forces have weaponized food. Russia has turned Ukraine’s rolling wheat fields into battlefields. It has deliberately attacked Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure.

And just this week, Russia suspended its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, an arrangement that has helped lower food prices and feed the world. It was a shameful act of cruelty, which followed Russia’s decision to block cross-border humanitarian aid from reaching Syrians in dire need.

The bottom line is this: where there is conflict, there is hunger and water scarcity.

We all have a responsibility to push for the just resolution of war. We must do so for the good of those trapped in conflict zones and for the good of the entire world.

The final issue I want to raise is the attacks we are seeing on universal human rights, especially from authoritarian leaders. In China, the government has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.

In Sudan, we are beginning to see reports use the dreaded word genocide to describe the situation in Darfur. In Ukraine, people have endured rape, torture, and killings by members of Russia’s forces. And in North Korea, we continue to see state-led repression of the fundamental freedoms of much of the population.

Tragically, the list goes on.

And we know gender-based violence and the oppression of women persists around the world in Iran, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

This December will mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a document that enshrined the values on which the United Nations was founded. And while the world has made great strides since then, clearly, our work is far from finished.

So we must stand together to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and call out anyone who tries to roll back our hard-earned progress. This is how we fight for the security and dignity of all. This is how we honor the UN Charter, which calls on all of us to address issues of peace and security.

Now, I know this is a daunting list of challenges. But the good news is this: we have the power to address all five challenges – especially as we approach the Sustainable Development Goals Summit, which will be held at the UN in September.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals – also known as the SDGs – are the world’s blueprint for building a more just, more secure, and more prosperous future for our planet. They are our guiding light.

Unfortunately, the international community has fallen behind on many of these goals, and on some, we have backtracked. That’s what makes this upcoming summit so important. And that’s why the United States is committed to driving progress forward on all 17 SDGs.

In this work, we have a strong partner in the City of Los Angeles. LA is at the forefront of efforts to invest in clean energy, tackle hunger, root out gender inequities, and advance other SDGs. These efforts have been detailed in the city’s two Voluntary Local Reviews. And LA is the first city in the world to report SDG data at the indicator level through an open-source platform.

Mayor Bass, we are grateful to you and your team for your continued leadership on the SDGs. You are an inspiration to leaders of other cities around the world.

And I want to encourage everyone here today to use your voice – and your position of power – to advocate for change. As diplomats, you are the foundation of foreign policy. You understand, better than anyone, the impact geopolitical decisions have on people.

And you are key to our efforts to tackle food and water insecurity, address the climate crisis and conflicts, and safeguard universal human rights.

By working together, we can give hope to humanity.

Thank you.