Remarks at CleanTech Challenge

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Tamayo Museum
Mexico City, Mexico
May 21, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: (Applause.) Muy buenas noches a todos. (Inaudible.) (Laughter.) (Inaudible.) What an enormous pleasure for me to be here. I’m really delighted to be able to join you, and I hope everybody can hear me. Can you all hear? Okay?

AUDIENCE: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: (Inaudible) can hear? (Inaudible.)

Dr. Aguirre-Torres, thank you very, very much. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for bringing everybody together here. And I’m particularly happy to be able to be here as we launch the final round of the 2014 CleanTech Challenge. I’m very grateful to Dr. Torres for the visionary leadership that he has shown, and I’m grateful to all of you who are part of this incredibly important exercise, and I’ll talk a little more about that in a minute. But you all have turned the CleanTech Challenge into the top green business plan competition in all of Latin America, and I think you ought to be very, very proud of that. It’s a pleasure to be joining so many contestants, judges, mentors, innovators, and it’s clear that you are not only lifting Mexico’s economy, but with the successes that are achieved, you are designing things that have the ability to lift other people’s economies.

I had a chance just a little while ago to feast briefly – unfortunately, too briefly – on the historic central square with Diego Rivera’s remarkable murals. And I suppose from the prehistoric[1] palaces of the Aztecs to the Zocalo’s towering cathedral to this museum that we are gathered in today, Mexico has always had a very, very special sense of history, a very special commitment to culture and an extraordinary (inaudible). As much as we admire that past, I am not here to talk about the past, nor are you. Every single person here is fixated on the future, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.

And that’s appropriate. Because today, our global economy is more interconnected than it has ever been or than perhaps any of us might have imagined it might have become as fast as it has. I want to emphasize, the work of diplomacy is not just about our shared security and thinking about borders and terrorism and narcotics and all of those kinds of things. That’s not all that is at stake. It is about creating shared prosperity. And no society is going to survive unless it has a strong foundation of shared prosperity. There are many places in the world, including in my country, where the divide between people at the top and people struggling to get to the middle even is much too big. The way we’re going to deal with this is not through political speeches; it’s going to be through innovation, through hard work, through research, through education, and creating the kind of opportunity that creates the products of the future.

I want to emphasize to everybody here, from the day that I became Secretary of State, President Obama and I have been on a mission to emphasize to people that economics is not some separate component of policy. Foreign policy is economic policy and economic policy is foreign policy. And when you look at the world today, with millions of young people, whole countries where 60, 65 percent in a few cases, but many cases 55 and 60 percent of the young people are under the age of 30, 50 percent are under the age of 21, and 40 percent are under the age of 18. And if we don’t provide jobs and opportunity and education that is the entryway to those jobs and opportunity, we’re all going to have a much tougher time making the world safer. It’s just the bottom line.

So what we’re here to do is now us, together, through the green business design and the planning, is celebrate the idea that you can do things that are good for the broad society even as you do well for yourselves. You can make money and make life better.

I know people who only invest on that basis. They always make a judgment about their investment as to what it’s going to create in terms of community and society. So that’s why competitions like this are really so important. A few minutes ago, I had an opportunity with Aguirre to be able to go in and look at the table that had a few successes on it. And it’s incredible what people are able to do with their imagination in the context of today’s challenges.

So President Obama and I – and this is the part that I want to convey in coming here to Mexico City today – we are deeply committed to elevating our partnership with Mexico on innovation, entrepreneurship, and clean energy.

USAID is a very proud sponsor of the CleanTech Challenge, and our challenge is clear: in the past, we used to trade together. Today, due to trade relationships, we build together. In the future, we want to innovate and invent together. And we believe in the possibilities of a Mexico-U.S. strength with respect to that. If any nation has an ability to be able to drive towards that horizon, we believe it is Mexico. And if there’s one person – I mean, I’ll give you an example. Why do I believe that? Well, go look at the table that I just looked at up there. One of the inventions up there is made by a young man, or comes from the mind of a young man, by the name of Gerardo Patino.

Many of you know Gerardo. He won this competition last year, and his story should be an inspiration to everybody. He grew up in the small mountain town of Tepoztlan. But from an early age, he always had a big idea. And he was – Gerardo wanted to protect the environment. So he left the mountains just south of here and he worked really hard to get a first-class education. And when he graduated, he didn’t just cash in, he didn’t just take the easy path. He was prepared to take risks. He wanted to give back, even if that meant traveling a difficult road.

So he founded Terra Humana – Humans for the Earth. And his goal was to reinvent the way that we use water. Gerardo worked with engineers to develop a new technology that treats water so that plants can absorb it better for agricultural irrigation. And his device was really groundbreaking. But guess what? A lot of entrepreneurs will tell you, it’s not an easy thing to take it from a head to the shelf. It’s not easy always to get it out there into the marketplace. And Gerardo will tell you that, that getting farmers to adopt it was like asking them to believe in magic, he says. He literally had to go door to door, show each farmer, farm to farm, to sell his device. But guess what? Now he’s in the sixth year. His invention has moved from generation to generation, year to year. And it can cut agricultural water use by up to 30 percent.

Gerardo, his story, puts a human face on something that is pretty profound and pretty fundamental: The United States and Mexico are growing clean and growing green together. And never forget that what you’re doing is not hypothetical. It’s not a theory. It’s real. And it matters to the lives of real people.

It absolutely matters that the CleanTech Challenge in Mexico has produced nearly 200 clean technology businesses. It matters that the CleanTech Challenge has created more than 2,500 green jobs. It matters that the hundreds of companies that are engaged in this competition – entrepreneurs just like Gerardo – are on track to slash nearly 22 million metric tons of CO2, greenhouse gases, over the next five years.

Now, there’s an old saying in Mexico, and it’s not one that I know because I’ve been here a long time, but I know it. And I think it’s more appropriate for this occasion: “Aquel que no mira hacia adelante, se queda atras” – “If you don’t look ahead, you’re going to be looking behind.” And I look out at all of you and I think that’s accurate.

The question now is not just whether you’re looking ahead. It’s whether or not you can look ahead and translate what you see into something real that people will be able to use. And the secret to that is the meeting we had earlier this morning with your education leaders and our education leaders. The secret is three words: education, innovation, and conservation.

Now, this morning, we talked a lot about that and we are looking to you, the next generation, for the next big idea. But ideas alone are clearly not going to be enough to be able to get things to the market. You need to link the idea to the market and to a viable business plan, and ultimately find the capital, the finance to be able to go out and take it to the marketplace.

So I think that what we’re building between the U.S. and Mexican educational institutions, through the Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research, is the foundation to be able to take this idea of green business planning and actually turn it into a bigger reality for all of us.

Now, let me just say to all of you, through the Mexico-U.S. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council – MUSEIC – we are bringing together people from the private sector and the public sector in order to test new ideas. And we’re creating an environment where innovation hopefully can flourish. We’re going to create boot camps for young Mexican entrepreneurs and conferences that connect Latin diaspora communities in the United States with entrepreneurs in Mexico.

This is an important effort. And as part of this commitment, we are going to make a $400,000 grant to the University of Texas in Austin so that it can host four technology startup boot camps. And guess what? One of them is going to take place right here in Mexico. We’re also providing $100,000 to bring the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps model to Mexico. And this is going to help provide entrepreneurship training to Mexican scientists and support their efforts to build cutting-edge technology startups.

I’m also particularly proud of our Peace Corps program here in Mexico, which is focused on science, technology, and the environment. I think we have some of our volunteers here, do we? Raise your hands. Peace Corps volunteers, thank you very much for what you are doing. We deeply appreciate it. (Applause.)

So let me try to make this as real as I can. We are educating and innovating. But we really have an urgency about this. Just before I came down here, I caught about 10 minutes in my hotel room and happened to see CNN, and I saw the temperatures around the world right now – the flooding in Serbia, and the incredible storms that are taking place in France and elsewhere. Thirty-four degrees centigrade in Vietnam today, in May. Twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-two, thirty-three in places all around Europe. Unprecedented. Breaks every record that’s ever been seen. What we are seeing around the world is what scientists have predicted. They’re not telling us that we may see global climate change. We are seeing it, and we’re seeing the impacts now. And we are closer and closer to a time where the tipping point that they’ve warned us about is going to be reached. It’s becoming more and more dangerous. All you have to do is look at the last two reports, and particularly the IPCC report of the United Nations, with 97 percent of the scientists of the world warning us about the devastating impact of global climate change if we don’t take action -- and take serious action – soon.

Now, I’d just say to all of you: What is the solution to climate change? It’s very simple. It’s energy policy. Energy policy is the solution to climate change. We have to stop providing energy to buildings, to automobiles, airplanes, houses, electricity plants, with fuel that we know is creating more and more of the problem in a compounded fashion. Fossil fuel coal-fired power plant, so forth.

And I ask you just to think about the possibilities. The marketplace that made America particularly wealthy in the 1990s – a lot of people don’t focus on this. The United States got wealthier in the 1990s than we got during the Gilded Age, during the Rockefellers, Morgans, Pierponts, Fricks, all of that period of no taxes. People got wealthier in the 1990s. And they did it with a $1 trillion market that served 1 billion users – one and one.

The energy market that we are staring at today is right now, today, a $6 trillion market with 4 to 5 billion users, and it’s going to grow to 9 billion users by about 2035, with about $17 trillion of expenditure and maybe more – who knows? So the bottom line is this: The countries, the people, the individuals who design the means of providing that clean, alternative, renewable, sustainable energy are the people who are going to help save the Earth, life itself, as well as help their countries to do enormously better.

And I would just close by saying to all of you, there’s still a debate in some places about why we ought to do it or whether it’s real – amazingly. But let me ask you something. If we do what you know you can do as entrepreneurs, as scientists, as innovators, if we do it, and if we were wrong about the science – which I don’t believe we are, but if we were – and we move to new and sustainable energy, what is the worst thing that could happen to us? The worst thing is we would create millions of new jobs; we would transition to cleaner energy, which hopefully would be homegrown, which makes every country much more secure; we would have cleaner air, which would mean we have less hospitalization for children for asthma and people with particulates causing cancer; and we would have greater energy security for everybody and independence as a result. That’s the worst that could happen.

What’s the worst that happens if the other guys are wrong, the people who don’t want to move in this direction? Catastrophe. Lack of water. Lack of capacity to grow food in many parts of the world. Refugees for climate. People fighting wars over water. Devastation in terms of sea-level rise. We’re already seeing it in the Pacific.

So I’d just close by saying to all of you, this is an important meeting. This is an important initiative. This is how we have a chance to define the future, and this is how Mexico and the United States can do it together – by innovating, conserving, and educating. This is one big challenge.

It was the great Mexican novelist Octavio Paz who said: “Deserve your dream.” Well, I think everybody here deserves it. The question is now: Are we going to go get it? Are we going to live it? That’s what this is about. And I hope, together, we’re going to redefine the future.

Thank you all very, very much.

[1] pre-Hispanic