Remarks to the D.C. Greening Embassies Forum

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
October 29, 2013

Thank you. Thank you very, very much. Thank you. I apologize. Thank you. I apologize for running a little bit late, and I was catching up on old times outside there with Denis Hayes and Jeanne Shaheen and a few people. Forgive me for that, but I’m glad to be here. Alaina, thank you – there you are – for the incredible work that you’ve been doing as the Director of the Department’s Office of Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation. And I want to thank all of you for taking time to come here and be part of our Earth Day Network/Embassy/State Department effort here. And I’m particularly happy that you all had a chance to hear from Denis Hayes to start with.

Denis and I go back – he just reminded me – 43 years, to 1971, 1970 and the first Earth Day. First thing I did, sort of, politically when I came back from Vietnam back in 1969, then going into 1970, was help organize Earth Day in Massachusetts. And I think one of the first speeches I ever gave anywhere – I was terrified in some school somewhere – was about the environment and Earth Day way back then. And since then, I was New England chairman of Earth Day 20-year anniversary in 1990, and we had a million people come out along the Esplanade in Boston and we literally painted Star Drive green – literally – with an obviously environmentally friendly, erasable paint. (Laughter.) But it was fun and we had this incredible Earth Day show on the Esplanade and it was very, very exciting for everybody who took part in it.

And then of course, those of us who took part in Earth Day are fond of reminding people that the result of that event – where 20 million people came out of their homes to speak to the country, and particularly their elected representatives – the result of that was that we created a political movement that actually held people accountable. The first thing that political movement did was not just end on the one-day event and coming out, but became part of campaigns across the country and targeted the so-called “dirty dozen,” the 12 worst environmental votes in the United States Congress.

And I am happy to tell you that seven of the 12 were defeated in that 1972 election, the result of which was that immediately, Congress took about – responding to the fact – whoops, looks like the environment has electoral power; we’d better do something. And therefore, the Clean Air Act was passed, the Clean Water Act was passed, the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed, Marine Mammal Protection was passed, Coastal Zone Management was passed, and we actually created the Environmental Protection Agency that we didn’t even have in America until Earth Day sparked that sense of conscience.

So people being involved makes just an enormous difference. And I regret to say that a lot of people then went home thinking, “Oh, my God, we’ve done it. It’s worked.” And of course, we haven’t done it. It hasn’t yet worked. We face this enormous challenge still in front of us with climate change and energy and energy policy and energy uses. And that’s what brings us here today.

I’m also glad to know that Jon Powers was here and I gather you already heard from him. Jon Powers and I met about maybe close to 10 years ago now right after he came back from a lengthy tour of duty in Iraq, and he has been significantly engaged in public life and public endeavor, and I’m delighted that he is now our Federal Environmental Executive and working on these issues.

And of course, my great, great friend and colleague Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire, my neighbor as well as my friend, who is one of the leading voices in the Congress on the subject of energy and has done a terrific job of helping to push that agenda, was one of my real collaborators in our efforts to try to pass a climate piece of legislation.

So this forum, if I can just say to everybody, on greening embassies is a part of the continuum that I’ve – of the effort that I’ve just described to you, and it’s the perfect way to really mark World Energy Day. And it’s also the second birthday of the State Department’s own Bureau of Energy Resources. So we think this is a good moment to be here to talk about this particular subject. And it is clear that if you’re serious about talking about energy policy and serious about doing something about climate change, one of the first places that you start is in dealing with buildings.

Why? Because amazingly, the energy used to power buildings accounts for about one third of all global energy demand and regrettably almost 40 percent of all of our associated CO2 emissions. So buildings contribute to global climate change and buildings are a huge source of pollution as a consequence of that. The fact is that they emit more carbon and more pollution than all of the cars, trucks, planes, and – cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes. That’s it. (Laughter.) What more do you want? (Laughter.) So by greening our embassies, we are really taking one other important step in the effort to try to contribute to a larger effort with buildings around the world.

So let me just quickly remind you why this is so important. I am amazed after all these years that we’re still struggling here in a very educated country to get a lot of people to embrace and understand why this is not a matter of theory, a matter of mere policy, but a matter of urgency for life itself on the planet as we know it. And the IPCC report that was recently released that assessed where we are in climate change now and what science continues to tell us about climate change is underscored by saying to you that it is documenting that everything that scientists predicted 20 and 30 years ago is now coming true at a faster rate and to a greater degree than was predicted.

Now if people can’t draw a sort of reality curve out of that, we’re in serious trouble. Because everywhere you see these consequences. You see it in less winter in places that used to have winter. You see it in millions of acres of forest that is destroyed in Canada and Colorado, Montana, various places because a pine bark beetle now lives that didn’t use to live as long because it doesn’t get cold and wipe it out when it used to. You can see it in all kinds of ways, in the migration of certain kinds of plants and species that are now migrating further north where it’s colder. You see it in our fisheries, where certain fish have migrated to different places and stocks have changed. You see it in the Arctic with the melting of the ice.

You see it in the Himalayas with the continuing diminution of glacier, the critical glaciers that not – that feed a mere 2.5 to 3 billion people on both sides of the Himalayas and are essential to some of the greatest rivers in the world. But as those begin to dry up and change, you have to ask yourself: What’s life going to look like with the numbers of refugees or the food dislocation and the question of food security and all the things that are linked to it?

So heat waves are becoming more prevalent. We’ve only had the 10 hottest recorded years in the last decade in all of our recorded weather history and the warmest of the 10 in the last two years. And yet, people sort of want to be oblivious to this fact, despite the fact that scientists are telling us in 6,000 peer-reviewed reports that we are responsible for what is happening, we are contributing to it very significantly through human choices.

Now, 6,000 peer-reviewed reports say yes. Zero – zero – peer-reviewed reports say no or contribute to the theory of denial. And yet, we have people, even in the United States Senate, who stand up and deny. So we have work to do and we have to undertake to try to do whatever we can – without legislation, if that’s what it takes, through executive authority, through our own decisions – to try to make the choices that will make a difference in this.

And so I don’t think it’s ever been more important to talk about our energy future than it is right now, for a lot of different reasons.

And incidentally, one of those reasons is that at a time of enormous costs, when legislators are looking for savings, what greater savings could there be than to transition to cleaner energy and alternative energy uses that wind up saving you money in the long term?. I know of companies in the United States – a friend of mine happens to run one of them – who will go to a business and say to the business, “I’m going to save you money and it’s not going to cost you anything until you start to pay me from the savings that I give you.” So they finance the entire retrofit of a particular building. It doesn’t cost the company or a government agency anything to do it. And indeed, they’re making millions of dollars by virtue of the savings and the percentage they get of the savings while the rest of the savings go to the company or the government agency. It’s such common sense, it really defies imagination that people aren’t able to say, “Why aren’t we doing that everywhere?” Think how many people you could put to work in the doing of this, not to mention how fast you would move towards energy independence or towards the reduction curve that we’re supposed to be on with respect to climate change.

So energy policy is not just about energy policy. It’s about climate. It’s about the environment. It’s about economic policy. Energy policy is the biggest single market we have ever looked at. The market that made America rich, and a lot of Americans rich, and saw every single quintile of American income earner go up in the 1990s, that market was a $1 trillion market and it had 1 billion users. It was called the tech market – computers and so forth. The market we’re looking at today for energy is a $6 to $9 trillion market with 4 to 5 billion users today, and it will go up to some 9 trillion – 9 billion as the population grows in the next 20, 30, 40 years. That’s the biggest market we’ve ever seen.

Now, a lot of competitors of the United States understand this. You see the Chinese racing towards certain technologies and implementation. You see Europe, India, others, but we’re still dawdling because we have this political-ideological divide that is unwilling to embrace the realities of what needs to be done. Investment in this energy sector is expected to reach nearly $17 trillion between now and 2035, and that is more than the entire GDP of India and China combined.

So I think energy is at the heart of any of the choices that we face going forward, and adopting cleaner and more efficient practices is critical to empowering us to be able to make the right choices to deal with this challenge. But it’s also a huge opportunity for us to get it right with respect to how we behave with our buildings. And so we need to make a whole set of choices. We need to do things like make the most of programs like the U.S. Low Emissions Development Strategies, known as the LEDS program. We need to pursue development around the world in a way that is sustainable, environmentally sound. The World Bank is here and represented. The World Bank is increasingly making specific choices about energy as a critical decider in their decision as to where and how they will invest in various parts of the world.

We also need to make much more progress through the Clean Energy Ministerial. We need to take advantage of initiatives like the Connecting the Americas 2022 initiative or the Power Africa initiative, and develop critical energy infrastructure linkages in regions that have been unconnected for far too long. But we also have to make sure that as a lot of countries struggle to become part of the global affluence that they see in many parts of the world and the growth that they see in many parts of the world that the only choice in front of them is not the choice of making the same mistake that we made that we’re now trying to undo. It is 20 countries that have made the fundamental difference with respect to what is happening in climate change today, 20 countries. The United States and China represent slightly shy of 50 percent of all emissions that are harming us. And when you add India and Indonesia and another group of countries, you very quickly get to a percentage with a small number of countries that could have a profound impact if we were making a different set of choices.

So the idea behind the State Department’s Greening Diplomacy initiative is pretty straightforward. And I’m proud to report that the Department today operates more than 35 LEED-certified buildings globally and we have another 30 buildings in the works. So we are putting our choices where my mouth and other people’s mouths are these days. And I’m happy to say that our embassies overseas obviously are some of our most important facilities, and I don’t want anybody to think other than the first priority for us is, needless to say, the safety and the efficiency and security for our personnel. But our embassies ought to also reflect the very best of American design architecture, and they ought to reflect our commitment to sustainability and to technology. They are the model of American innovation in this field and they reflect our deep commitment to responsible environmental stewardship. So through the use of new and efficient technologies, they not only send a message about our commitment, but they also save the American taxpayer a lot of money if it’s done properly.

Today, more than 100 American embassies are finding new ways to power their facilities, reduce carbon pollution, reduce energy costs through the League of Green Embassies. And in Sri Lanka, for example, we’re using solar panels to power the residences for Embassy personnel. In Oman, we have replaced mechanical cooling towers with new ones that use less energy and less water. In Helsinki, we are working towards renovations that would enable us to light the Embassy exclusively with LED bulbs, and that, coupled with strategies to dim electric lights when there’s enough light outdoors – enough daylight available, which that part of the world is significant for about six months – that will save the Embassy an estimated 50 percent in current costs.

Now we’re not alone in doing these things. Last year, more than – there’s some representatives here from other embassies – I thank you for coming – more than 75 foreign missions here in Washington signed an agreement to find ways to incorporate clean energy technologies and energy efficient services into their day-to-day operation. And these important upgrades represent more than the energy that each individual building uses. This I call the ripple effect. It’s part of what I talked about when I opened up my comments to you about Earth Day 1970.

And I’ll just leave you with this homegrown example of what can be done. I’m very proud of the work that my wife Teresa has done in Pittsburgh. That’s her hometown, Pennsylvania. And the industrial boom of the 20th century literally was choking that city in the 1960s, ‘70s, and turning it black. Buildings were just covered in soot from the industrial power that Pittsburgh represented. And coal-fired power plants and steel mills and so forth were all costing people quality of life in that city. And so at some point, the local philanthropists, the business leaders, the public health groups, and government organizations said we got to change this, we got to take matters into our own hands.

And so they launched what is now known as the Pittsburgh renaissance, homegrown. And the first green office design project in the city, I’m pleased to say, was the redesign of the Heinz family offices, done completely with all sustainable goods and supplies. And the result of that initiative and that leadership now sees Pittsburgh home to more than 70 green buildings, an award-winning convention center that is completely self-sustainable, likewise, off the snow and rain water, so – waste water, et cetera. And so it sets an example for what is possible.

As the world now contemplates the UN Climate Conference in Warsaw next month, and then leading up to the 2015 conference in Paris, we, all of us – and I can assure you this Department will be and I will be – laser-focused on how we are going to step up our response to the reality of the threat that climate change poses to all of us. We don’t need to wait till Paris. We can take immediate complementary actions in all of our nations, and those actions will send a ripple through the cities of the world from Pittsburgh to Paris to Penang. And all of it, in the end, will not only contribute to a healthier, greener, more sustainable planet; it will contribute to a more vibrant and employable and prosperous planet. And it will most significantly contribute to our efforts to live up to our obligations to future generations and to all of us individually as stewards of this planet.

So thank you very much for being part of this. Appreciate it. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/1315