Luncheon Remarks at Our Ocean Conference

John Kerry
Secretary of State
His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
June 16, 2014

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Secretary of State and His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco. (applause)

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. Please sit and quietly continue to eat, for heaven’s sakes. (Laughter.) We don’t want anybody starving on our watch here. Thank you for what I thought was a terrific start this morning. I caught some bits and pieces as I was in between calls and it really seemed engaged and engaging, and I’m grateful to everybody for their early seizure of the mantle of responsibility here on this.

I know you’re all looking forward to hearing from our keynote speaker. I just want to take a moment to welcome everybody to the Ben Franklin Room of the State Department. I don’t know how much how many of you know about Ben Franklin, a fascinating man. It is unknown to many people he actually was the first kite surfer. He used to – (laughter) – so help me God, he used to use this big kite he had to tow him across Boston Harbor. And he was always out in the harbor swimming robustly. He was very, very energetic, raised part of the time by an aunt down on Nantucket Island long before he became affiliated with Philadelphia and Pennsylvania and so forth. But he, today obviously, would have an extraordinarily hard time getting confirmed by the United States Senate if you know anything about him at all. (Laughter.)

It’s a great, great honor for us to welcome, as our luncheon keynote speaker, His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco. I want to begin just by congratulating – we have a chance to meet and talk for a little while here this morning privately, and one of the things we talked about was the fact that he is the, as I mentioned this morning, only head of state who’s been to both the South Pole and the North Pole, the Antarctic and the Arctic. And we talked a lot about the Arctic and Antarctic because the United States assumes chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year, and we’re already beginning to think hard about that agenda, which will be even more critical given some of the things we’re talking about here today. So I wanted to thank him for his leadership in making those two journeys, which are an important statement about his commitment.

The second thing I wanted to do was publicly congratulate him and Princess Charlene on their expecting their child sometime in December, I’m told. So we’re all delighted with that news. (Applause.) I don’t know if it’s a boy or girl, but I know that this child is going to be born into a family of distinction with a long history of caring about the planet. And that’s what brings us all here today.

Ben Franklin also was well known for his famous work, “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” There are a lot of wise words in that almanac, but particularly I want to underscore the importance of what he said when he said that “When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” Thankfully, when it comes to the issue of the ocean, we’ve all made a decision we’re not going to wait that long. And Prince Albert obviously has not. He has spent his career doing whatever he can do to protect the ocean. Just six years ago when the Mediterranean Bluefin tuna stocks were in serious trouble because of uncontrolled fishing, Prince Albert was among the first people to bring the issue to the world stage and call for a solution to protect the species.

In 2009, when scientists first began to discover that carbon pollution was dramatically disturbing the chemistry of the ocean and causing it to acidify, Prince Albert brought together a group of 150 scientists from more than two dozen countries to alert policy makers around the world about the troubling findings. Thanks in part to his commitment and sense of urgency, last year the International Atomic Energy Agency established a new international coordination center in Monaco in order to better understand the global impacts of ocean acidification.

And today I am pleased to announce that the State Department will be making a $320,000 contribution to the center this year, and the Department of Energy will match that contribution with another 320 of its own for a total of $640,000 in order to help kick the acidification study into even higher gear. Together – (applause) – together this will bring our total contribution to the effort to date to almost a million dollars. And we have long considered Monaco a critical partner in the effort of protecting our ocean, thanks to Prince Albert’s leadership, everything from acidification to marine protected areas. I think we can safely say together that the cooperation between our countries and between all of us together in this effort coming out of this conference will only grow.

So ladies and gentlemen, Prince Albert II of Monaco. (Applause.)

Prince Albert II: Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary of State, Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends of the global ocean.

What planet will we be passing on to our children? What conditions will we be leaving them to live, develop and flourish under? What dreams will they still have the right to nurture? These are some of the key questions underlying the issues that bring us here today…we need to....that we need to answer as the oceans cover over 70% of the earth surface and a large part of our existence is dependent of their future.

Therefore, I'd like to express my sincere thanks to you, Mr. Secretary of State, for organizing this summit on the ocean. I'm delighted to be able to be here today and to speak about the topic which, as you know, I hold particularly close to my heart and which motivates my commitment every day and what shapes a significant part of all of our future. I'm glad to do so in this country which is so dear to me and where, as you know, I've many ties due to both the history of the Principality of Monaco and to that of my mother, Princess Grace.

Preserving the environment, especially the marine environment, is no longer a matter of concern restricted to a few activists. It is now one of the key issues of the 21st century, not only from an economic point of view but also with regard to health, social and strategic aspects. And such, it deserves all our attention, all our energy and our efforts. We all know the importance of the ocean here and the threats that it is facing. We are aware of the extent of the pollution contaminating even the remotest eco-systems on this earth. We spoke this morning of the absurdities of over fishing which is gradually emptying our seas of all life and depriving the very people who exploit them of jobs and resources. And we know the dangers of increasing acidification which affects the ocean environment.

Instead, I would like to talk to you about the potential solutions which are already emerging. We remained powerless for a long time when confronted with the threats menacing the environment because we were ignorant. We were not aware of the harm we were inflicting on our seas and our oceans. We did not imagine that such vast expanses, unknown and foreboding, could also be so fragile and so vulnerable. Today, we do know and it is not yet too late. We are aware of the studies conducted by the world's top experts who are beyond any reproach. Others, we'll be unveiling in just a few days and I'm thinking of the Global Ocean Commission's report. We have, I think, also read the IPCC's latest report and realize both its legitimacy and its importance. This report, which for the first time, devotes a specific chapter to the oceans, states loud and clear that climate change is already a reality that is gathering pace and could increase more significantly to reach the critical threshold of 2°C within a few decades. It points out that the probability of severe widespread and irreversible impacts increases with the intensification of global warming. However, it also says that it is still possible to combat this warming and to mitigate this process by means of pertinent, sustainable strategies and the development of a low carbon economy. Thanks to all these experts, some of whom are with us here today, in this room, we are now aware and able to take action. This is our chance and our duty. However, this compels and obliges us to fight those insidious enemies; indifference, skepticism and resignation.

To do this, our duty is to alert, convince and prove that all is not lost. It is to generate lucidity, courage, and determination, and the resources that have too often been lacking and, above all, it is also to invent solutions and try to propose them and then to apply them. Because as our discussion this morning proved, such solutions do exist. First of all, marine pollution. We know that a large proportion of this pollution is from land-based sources and it's possible to combat it in a very direct way. The implementation of water treatment systems is a necessity here in all respects. For reasons of ecology, of course, but also for reasons of health and even development. With the growing water scarcity that's experienced around the planet, and which risks becoming a problem over the next few decades through the constant population growth, this issue needs to be approached with the utmost seriousness at a local level and, in particular terms, this concerns water basins. It is, in fact, that this scale of innovative solutions for integrated management systems can be implemented which address both the population's needs and the reality of the resources available.

As for maritime pollution, its prevention and possible sanctions against it must be developed more effectively, especially, in international waters. Of course, the question of implementation methods needs to be raised. But this does not tackle the fundamental issue, the political will entailing substantial work on the high seas, which alone represents close to two thirds of all maritime areas and the implementation of tools, which by necessity, must be restricted.

This work is currently underway at the United Nations, more than 30 years after the Convention of the Law of the Sea was adopted in Montego Bay. I can only hope that it is successful and that it will unite us all, including the United States of America.

The same way, I can only hope that the United Nations affirms a substantial and a sustainable development goal specifically dedicated to the oceans. Such an initiative can't but increase awareness of the ocean situation and help us to find the resources we so badly need.

Faced with the issue of over fishing, solutions also exist as we saw this morning. They also involve the updating of international standards and more effective control mechanisms. However, whilst awaiting such progress, action is already possible whether it be through specific measures concerning certain species or through the establishment of special protection areas.

My own country, Monaco, has moved forward, I think in a decisive way on these two solutions at its own level but with a certain rate of success. There was a case, as you mentioned Mr. Secretary, of the bluefin tuna, this very emblematic species of the Mediterranean, which was endangered a few years ago, and thankfully, it is now on the road to recovery. This action has thus proved that determination can bring about change even in a complex institutional framework. To combat over fishing and allow our oceans to regenerate, we also need to focus on the development and extension of MPAs, Marine Protected Areas. These protected areas are in fact a means to restore stocks and thus promote a sustainable local fishing economy. I know that Marine Protected Areas have been created in U.S. territorial waters proving their ability to combine economic and ecological imperatives. We also see this also in Europe, and in Monaco, where we have implemented various marine protection agreements in Mediterranean waters. The Pelagos Sanctuary, for instance, is set-up with France and Italy, this important conservation area for marine mammals and marine bio-diversity in general. In various regions of the Mediterranean, as well as in almost all of the other seas and oceans of the world, other Marine Protected Areas have been met with real success from an ecological, economic, social, scientific and educational point of view. It is now time to give them the proper resources, legal, of course, but also financial. This is why my foundation is striving to do with the creation of a trust fund aimed to support MPAs and reach the Aichi Targets, of course, they consider as being a minimum adopted by the international community some four years ago now. It is time to make this a true political issue which will involve the development of a global network of MPAs, especially those located on the high seas and in certain areas of the Arctic and the Antarctic, and I'm thinking here, most specifically, about the Ross Sea, this would provide a valuable opportunity to strengthen resources, share good practices and optimize solutions.

In the same way, we must and can join forces to combat deep sea trawling. A devastating practice that destroys whole ecosystems for the sake of a profitability that is completely hypothetical. If we truly want to protect under water life and all its wealth, and diversity, it is essential that bold measures must be taken.

Finally, as far as ocean acidification is concerned, I believe that the efforts to be made fall into two categories. There are global efforts against anthropic carbon emissions that the main causes of such acidification in which I spoke about a few moments ago, but there are also more targeted efforts to be made against the specific consequence of human activities of which we still only have a limited knowledge. That is what is essential, first and foremost, to support scientific initiatives, that will enable us to gain a better understanding of this phenomenon and to come up with different solutions to mitigate or curb it. In this respect, I'm delighted that my country, as well, is fully committed to supporting research on this topic from the Monaco Declaration in 2009, which you mentioned, Mr. Secretary, to the accommodation of the International Coordination Center supported by the State Department, and I thank you again for that huge commitment, and housed within the International Atomic Energy Agency's Marine Environment Lab, not forgetting the meetings hosted by the Principality where scientists and economists share their views on this issue.

It is a huge task, but it is a task for which we are not powerless. Despite the seriousness, excuse me, of the situation, many encouraging elements are to be noted now. First and foremost, the mobilization which is emerging all around the world on these different issues which I think is hugely, hugely encouraging.

All around us, millions of our fellow human beings have made these issues a key concern and have imposed it on even the most reticent of their leaders. I do not believe that such a rapid change in mentality has ever been observed, occurring so rapidly in the course of our history. It is now up to us to convert such strength into action. If we succeed, we will have accomplished an exceptional task as few generations before us were able to do. On the other hand, if we fail, then our future will be directly and very rapidly under threat. That is why we need to mobilize our contemporaries, awaken their determination and inventiveness in order to join with them, to find every possible way of helping, saving and improve the state of our ocean.

The young generations in particular, but also all the forces of our society, need to unite around this common objective for the betterment of mankind. Governments and NGOs, administrations and civil society, the corporate world and researchers, countries in the north and south alike, by joining forces will be able to make change effective. As a great American zoologist and pioneer in ecology, Rachel Carson, wrote in the introduction to her magnificent book, "The Sea Around Us", I quote, "It is a curious situation that the sea from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist. The threat is rather to life itself." Rachel Carson wrote this with good reason. The sea, the oceans and water still certainly continue to exist, even without life, but it is life that is at stake here, the life of all of us.

So, Mr. Secretary, your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, for thousands of years, we were able to build our history ignoring what was happening in neighboring countries, on other continents, and even more, on the ocean floor. And for thousands of years, we were able to increase our wealth with no concern for other animal or plant species with which we coexisted. Those days are now passed. Today, we need to learn to think beyond ourselves for others and with others. Those who live here, and those who live elsewhere, on the other side of the globe. Those who live today and those who will live tomorrow. I want to believe that we're able to overcome these challenges and to help bring on better solutions for a brighter future for our global ocean. Thank you very much. (applause)