Remarks at Vibrant Gujarat Conclave

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University
Gujarat, India
January 11, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very, very much, Mr. Prime Minister. It’s a privilege to have an opportunity to twice be able to address this extraordinary conclave. And I’m particularly privileged to do so following my friend, Jim Kim, who is doing an extraordinary job at the World Bank. And I appreciate the opportunity to share a few more thoughts with all of you at this remarkable conclave.

When Prime Minister Modi visited Washington last fall and we were privileged to receive him, I thought that no matter how hard we rolled out the red carpet anywhere, we’d never be able to top the rock star reception that he received at Madison Square Garden. I know many of you saw that. But it’s clear from this conclave, from the meeting this morning and the several thousand people who must have been there to cheer the efforts of this conclave, as well as walking out with him afterwards, the shouts of approval, this prime minister is on the right track. And it is clear that his policies are beginning to reverberate and be developed by people.

I want to thank Secretary Ban for his commitment to be here, also for the work he is doing not only on sustainable development but also on conflict resolution in the Middle East and a bunch of other challenges that we face.

And when you look at the long list of challenges that leaders across the world are wrestling with right now – even as I stand here at this moment, a great march is taking place in Paris, where leaders have come from around the world in order to stand up against extremism. And so from the barbarism, the nihilism, of ISIL to the challenge of Ebola, to the conflict of Ukraine and the way it has demanded that Europe respond and the imposition of sanctions, to the devastation that we see in Syria and areas of conflict from the Sahel to the Maghreb to the Arabian Peninsula to the Middle East to South Central Asia, everybody here knows that you are competing and working in a business world that is more complicated not just by the kind of competition that you face, not just by the voracious appetite to grab market share somewhere as rapidly as you can and as effectively as you can, or to compete with internet sales and retail establishments and this incredible transformation that we’re witnessing – in the midst of all that, we also know that we have the challenge of unprecedented numbers of young people, and that challenge is not unrelated to the extremism and the nihilism that we see in certain parts of the world.

So being here is not just about business. It’s also about building a community, building nation states, building the possibilities of the future, which is the obligation of the leaders of the present. And the fact is that I sense that challenge more than ever before. I was privileged to spend almost 30 years as a United States senator, all of them on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I traveled, in the course of that time, to many countries, including India, as I mentioned to you earlier this morning.

But never have I seen the kind of global challenge that we face today, where so many young people – in some countries 60 to 65 percent of a country is under the age of 30, 35. In many countries, 55 to 60 percent are under the age of 35; 50 percent under the age of 21; and 40 percent under the age of 18. And we witness a moment where tens of millions of young people need to be educated and educated quickly. And if they’re only alternative is a madrasa* or some other kind of isolated so-called education, in which they are separated really from modernity, then our challenge is even greater. That’s the backdrop for the world that we’re operating in today.

But notwithstanding that backdrop, the truth is that there are fewer people being killed in conflict than there were in the last century by far. And the fact is that we are witnessing a transformation taking place in business and in governance that is working hand in hand with business in ways that it never might have imagined, so that we actually face many more opportunities and a time of gains that we might never have imagined.

Take Ebola for instance. Two months ago, people all around the world were threatened and felt the possibility of imminent cross-boundary invasion of the disease that might be pandemic and incapable of being controlled. But we came together. When I say “we,” governments at the United Nations and elsewhere came together in a way that effectively marshaled a response. We’re still involved. We’re not out of the woods. But we’ve proven to people that they don’t have to live in absolute daily fear, that there are ways to manage and cure, and that is why is governance is important.

In the same way, the rules of the road for business – the United States has been blessed with a particularly strong transformation in this last year or two. We’ve had 58 straight months of job growth as of this December. We’ve seen unemployment fall to 5.6 percent. We’ve created 11.2 million jobs in the last 58 months. The trade deficit has been narrowed by $3.2 billion. And real GDP in the United States grew at 5 percent on an annual rate over the third quarter. So even in the midst of this moment of challenge, we’re seeing other opportunities.

I believe that this is a time, frankly, of remarkable opportunity. And this conclave, this kind of gathering, is absolutely the appropriate place and time to be thinking about the future and defining the challenge for all of us. Because there’s no question in my mind that there’s more on the positive side of the ledger than on the negative, and we are witnessing a moment where there’s probably more business opportunity than any time in modern history.

Transformations are taking place in pharmaceuticals, in construction, construction materials, in retail products, in connectivity, in communications, in technology, in education itself. More people are traveling than ever before. More people are connected on the internet, more people talking to people in some other part of the world on a daily basis about everything all the time, which is changing politics itself.

Those kids who gathered in Tahrir Square in Egypt were in communication, texting, and working through smartphones. And ironically, that transition in government had absolutely nothing to do with any extremism or any kind of religious effort. It was young people, the very young people I talked about a moment ago, that fruit vendor in Tunisia, who ignited – some people say – the whole Arab Spring, was tired of being slapped around by corrupt police and so he demonstrated because he wanted to be able to sell his goods in the street unimpeded by corruption.

And from there it went to Syria, where young people came out into the streets, asking for a future. And when they were met by goons who beat them up, their parents came out in the street and protested the way they’ve been treated. And when they were met by bullets, that’s what began what has transformed into one of the great tragedies of our modern time, with almost three quarters of the population of the country currently displaced.

So there is a connection. The point I’m trying to make to everybody is there is a connection between the choices you make in business, the kind of business that you run, what you aspire to do as business people in working with governments and others in order to set standards – a connection between that and the political world that we live in.

Now I believe that in the case of India their future is unlimited. And there are incredible strengths that India has to build on. But there are three big questions that we have to answer together: How do we deepen our economic partnerships? How do we do that in a way that has shared prosperity and makes good ground on the vision that Prime Minister Modi has put at the center of his agenda that I mentioned today, Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas – participation of all, development of all? That’s really at the heart of this transformation that’s taking place and the challenge of governance today. And number three – and I’m so pleased that I’ve heard it from so many speakers today – how are we going to respond to this challenge of global climate change?

Just very, very quickly, because I don’t want to abuse the privilege of speaking this second time, innovation and entrepreneurship have tied the United States and India together more and more. And it is clear that any country that matures its capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship will have natural advantages over those countries that don’t. None of us can sit back in this fast-paced world that we’re currently living in; nothing can be taken for granted. But it seems to me that through innovation carving out a new track, we have an ability to be able to address the concerns of people.

For every one billion dollars that you spend on infrastructure between 27,000 and 35,000 jobs generally are created. India has enormous infrastructure needs. So do we in the United States, by the way. We need to build an entirely new energy grid. We need to connect parts of our country that today are not even connected. And there is, in the building of these grids, in the effort to go out and provide for the capacity of businesses to get their goods to the marketplace and find the people they need to develop those goods and make those goods and sell those goods and stay competitive – there is in all of that an enormous amount of money to be made and enormous possibilities for growth and development.

The Ford Motor Company is spending $1 billion to turn its new auto plant right here in Gujarat into a regional manufacturing hub. And American subsidiaries of Indian-owned companies employ tens of thousands of people in the United States. I met this afternoon with a group of CEOs, who were telling me about the ways in which we could do more to build each other’s economies. American utility firms are very eager to help Prime Minister Modi to meet his goal of bringing power to every single Indian home before the end of the decade. And that’s a goal I know that many of our – many of the countries assembled here share.

At the current moment, Tata is expanding operations and adding to their American workforce like never before. And I’ve seen it firsthand in my hometown of Boston, where Tata has bought and refurbished the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and restored it to a premier destination once again. And now Tata is investing in sustainable mining all over the world. And the Adani Group is building infrastructure and connecting ports across India and Asia. So my friends, this opportunity is gigantic. And if we work intelligently together, then we have an ability to be able to make this happen.

Now, one thing leaps out at me as I go country to country more than anything else. We, all of us, have to work, as Prime Minister Modi worked where he was in Gujarat exclusively, to guarantee that decisions get made, that when a company applies for a zoning permit or a permission or for land or for any other thing, those decisions need to be made. And we no longer live in a world where a country is going to be competitive if its bureaucracy sends people from door to door and window to window and meeting to meeting and letters don’t get answered and people can’t be told, “yes, you can go ahead.” The competition for higher standards of accountability and transparency and decision making is going to only grow more and more. And it’s those countries that move, as Prime Minister Modi has committed – right here in Gujarat he put in place a model of how raising standards actually increases growth. And that will become a hallmark of growth, I am convinced, for all.

The second thing – and there are only three; I’ll be very quick. The second thing is throughout time poets and philosophers and travelers of all types have marveled at the diversity of India, its languages, its people, its talents. India’s religious and ethnic diversity is a source of extraordinary strength, and time and again, it has proven one of the most important catalysts for growth and for discovery.

Inclusive growth means investing in women and girls. The fact is that no society can get ahead with half of its population, half of its team, on the bench. I met with a remarkable group of women this afternoon, women entrepreneurs right here in Gujarat. And I think all of you agree that women leaders play a critical role in driving some of India’s most successful and innovative businesses, and what we need to do is make sure that we break down the barriers all across the globe so that we can maximize the possibilities of this period of growth.

The final thing I want to just say is on climate change. There are 18 countries that are deemed to be the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas. We are one of them. The United States is number two. We were number one. We have now been surpassed by China. Those 18 countries are sometimes the butt of some anger from very small nations in the world, Pacific Island nations, coastal nations, others, who are feeling the greatest brunt of climate change, but who contribute the least to it.

What I want to emphasize to everybody here today is very simple: No single country – not the United States, not China, not India, not Mexico, not Korea, not Japan, not Indonesia, not any of the major greenhouse gas emitters – can solve this problem by itself, nor can those 18 major emitters solve the problem without the developing world, because the developing world now constitutes more than 50 percent of all the greenhouse gas emissions. That’s what we’ve come to.

And so think of it this way. If every single American biked to work or carpooled to school, if we used only solar panels to heat our homes, if each person in America planted a dozen trees over the course of the next weeks and months, if we somehow eliminated all of our greenhouse gas emissions to zero – guess what? – that still would not be enough to offset carbon pollution coming from the rest of the world. The exact same thing would be true if India or China did the same thing, got down to zero.

Bottom line is we all have to be part of this solution, and every company here has to start making choices. You think it’s more expensive to invest in a particular form of energy that may be cleaner, not as cheap as coal, not as cheap as oil, dirty oil, but you’re wrong. Because there’s no cost accounting that is done that actually tallies up the real costs of our current dependency on fossil fuels, which is reflected in children who go to hospitals with lung problems, people who get cancer because of particulates in the air, devastation of coastal communities in storms that are increasingly more ferocious, unbelievable destruction to crops and agriculture that is now coming as a consequence of climate change, and a host of other problems.

When I arrived in India two summers ago, Uttarakhand was grappling with historic floods that killed nearly 6,000 people. And when I visited Tacloban last year, in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, I’ll tell you it’s incomprehensible to me that that kind of storm could become the norm. In 2013, countries in Southern Africa experienced the worst droughts that they had seen in 30 years. In Brazil, they saw the first drought – worst drought in half a century. New Zealand recently experienced a drought that was so bad that farmers had to slaughter all of their dairy cattle and sheep because they didn’t have enough food and water to be able to keep the animals alive. So these are the problems that global climate change is already causing. And there isn’t a scientist worth his or her salt who won’t tell you that the problem is going to grow more severe.

So I simply – I’m not going to go through what I said earlier about the largest market in the world, but I will tell you this – there is more money to be made in this transformation, more jobs to be created, more good to be gained, more lives to be saved, more damage to be reduced, more opportunity to be creative than you could ever imagine by moving towards a clean energy, alternative energy base for all of this planet. We have the technology; we know how to do it; it’s not a matter of some pie-in-the-sky solution that’s hanging out there in the future; it’s staring us in the face. What it needs is the political leadership that is prepared to make this choice.

Mahatma Gandhi made a statement years ago that the prime minister repeated in his important book on climate change. Gandhi’s words are relevant today as they were when they were first uttered. He said one must care about a world one will not see. There isn’t one scripture – not in the Qur’an or the Torah or the Bible – or almost any philosophy of life that doesn’t talk about the responsibility of generations to the next, about people’s responsibility for creation.

Even those who may feel momentarily insulated from climate change, make no mistake, the problem will grow beyond us unless we make the choices that we could make. Just as Gandhi and this great nation succeeded, I’m absolutely convinced, as your prime minister is convinced, and as he singled out those words in his book, we can all succeed protecting the world we will not see if we make the right choices now. And guess what? You can actually make a lot of money doing it and strengthen your nation in the process.

So I hope that out of this will come a new resolution to do that and also to understand the connection of these business choices to the effort we are all engaged in to build safe and secure and prosperous countries. Thank you. (Applause.)