Remarks at EcoPartnerships Signing Ceremony

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Great Hall of the People
Beijing, China
July 10, 2014

Well, State Councilor Yang and all of our ecopartners today who traveled so far in order to sign these landmark agreements, we are delighted to be here. I was sitting here, thinking, listening to the State Councilor -- the amazing journey we have traveled in very few years.

I was in Rio in 1992 for the first Earth Day for the Earth Summit, when we first began to discuss, globally, the challenge of climate change. And even five years ago, when I was in the United States Senate, I would not have imagined that we would have been standing here in Beijing, joining together in this kind of initiative. And the reason we are here is because the science is growing so significantly, and coming back at us not just with the truth of what was predicted, but coming back in greater quantities, faster than anybody predicted.

And so, it is no secret that China and the United States have a very special role to play together in combating climate change. Our words and our actions will set the tone. Either we create the momentum to galvanize global action in order to deal with this, or we risk a global catastrophe. That is the science. You can't be half pregnant on this. If you accept the science, and it tells you what is happening, you have to also listen to the people as they give us warnings about what will happen if we don't take action.

All of us in this room recognize that governments cannot meet this challenge alone. And that is why we are harnessing the ingenuity and the innovation of the private sector, universities, civil society, in order to promote economic growth, energy security, and environmental sustainability. And our EcoPartnerships program is a tremendous jumping-off point to help us do exactly what we need to do in those three objectives.

Some of you here are working on biofuels and battery storage technology. Some of you are focused on reducing air pollution in ports, and promoting low-emission cities, creating city planning that works on sustainability and efficiency, and also developing clean technologies. But all of you are turning a singular challenge into a moment of great opportunity.

The former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, my friend -- I had the privilege of serving with him -- Speaker Tip O'Neill, had a terrific saying, that all politics is local. Well, our ecopartnerships are applying the Tip O'Neill doctrine to climate. If you want to make progress globally, start locally.

And I will just share one example. The Center for Climate Strategies in the United States has been working very closely with the Global Environmental Institute in China in order to develop ideas for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And the Center has already worked with 36 states in the United States on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it is transferring these best practices to Chinese provinces. It is doing so directly. In the next three years, the partnership will develop 30 low-carbon plans across China. And that is exactly how we are going to make the most progress in this fight.

Now, it is easy to get caught up in the conventional wisdom that says no big change is going to be able to happen without big bureaucracies, big government, big decisions. But, frankly, a lot of us have learned in the last 20 years that you've got to begin somewhere.

I still remember participating, back in 1970, in the first Earth Day in the United States of America. On that day, 20 million Americans came out of their homes and demonstrated, because they didn't want to grow up drinking water that came from pollution from local dumps, or from toxic chemical sites, and so forth. We had no Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 in America. We had no laws preventing paint from being used in people's homes or on babies’ cribs that was lead and could do injury, if not death to those children. We had no one that was safeguarding our public drinking water. Polluters were even dumping medical waste directly into the oceans. And by 1970, our rivers were so dirty that, famously, one particular river in one of our states actually caught fire.

The explosion of our activism at that moment in time, on that very first Earth Day, was people-driven, local citizens demanding something better. And that first Earth Day led, ultimately, to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, signed into law by Richard Nixon; the passage of the Clean Air Act; the Clean Water Act; the Safe Drinking Water Act; the Marine Mammal Protection Act; the Coastal Zone Management Act; and the EPA, itself. So, I have seen the power of grass roots action, of local efforts becoming magnified and ultimately creating action at a larger, federal level. And I see that same kind of drive, that same kernel of innovation, and of demand for a difference right here, today.

What one country does with respect to the environment impacts the livelihoods of people in other countries. And what we all do to address climate change will now determine the kind of planet that our children and our grandchildren will live on. That is not a question about who wins and who loses. If you tackle climate change and you lead the way to a clean energy future, the fact is it is win-win-win: win for China, win for America, and win for the world. And today, these ecopartnerships are a signal to everybody that we are serious, we are on our way, and we intend to seize the opportunity. Thank you. (Applause.)