Remarks at the Major Economies Forum Ministerial

Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Marriott Hotel
New York City
September 29, 2015


SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon, everybody, and thank you all for being here and for waging incredible struggle with New York traffic to get from place to place. It amazes me that anybody is able to be where they are supposed to be, and we’re grateful to all of you.

I know everybody has a packed schedule, so my thanks to you for choosing among many things and many places you could be to be here at this critical meeting. I especially want to thank Foreign Minister Fabius. Laurent has been running around the world, exhibiting terrific leadership on an issue of vital importance to the planet, and we’re very, very grateful for his efforts. And I want to thank my indefatigable special envoy on climate change, Todd Stern, who likewise has been at many of the meetings with Laurent, has been working with all of you here. And I thank the whole team who have been part of it at this – there couldn’t be a more critical time to try to engage on this.

We’re – last year, I invited many of you and your counterparts to join me for a special foreign ministers session of the Major Economies Forum, and it was the first time that a group that large came together at a ministerial level specifically to focus on climate change as a foreign policy priority.

I’m very, very pleased that now we’re growing still as more and more countries are joining the significant effort to deal with this challenge, and it means that you share the belief of an increasing number of leaders around the world that despite all the other challenges that we face – and there are many – addressing the global threat posed by climate change has to remain an absolute top priority. And many could argue easily, and I could join them, that – I mean, it is so important in terms of its impact on communities, on life, on food, on the survival, indeed, of the planet itself that it’s at the top because of that. And it’s very hard to convey to people – it remains very hard to convey to people that sense of urgency for something that seems less tangible in certain ways to our fellow citizens. So it’s up to us to try to communicate to people what is happening and how it’s happening. But we come here absolutely determined, all of us, to reach an ambitious, effective climate agreement in Paris. And it is right around the corner, folks. We’re (inaudible) beginning of October, so there we are – October, November, and we are in Paris.

We have come a long way since last year. Last November, the United States and China, the two largest emitters in the world – I regret to say, but it’s a reality – who have historically been on very different sides of this fight. I went to the first COP in Rio in 1992 and I’ve been to many of them in between, including Kyoto, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen. And I – we struggled all the time with the hard lines drawn between developed and developing, and I think finally we’re in a new place. But one of the reasons that we’re getting to a new place is thanks to the decision by China and its leaders that they were going to step up and take a position of leadership. And so we broke new ground as our presidents came together to announce their respective emissions reductions commitments, and I know that when I went down to Lima, Peru and we engaged in the discussion there and things were kind of stuck, it was language directly out of the China-U.S. agreement that helped to provide a way forward.

Now, we hoped at the time that our announcement would do exactly what I think we can say it has done. We wanted to motivate other countries to sort of step up and realize, “Whoa, if these guys can come to this kind of an agreement after all of these years of separation, then maybe it’s incumbent on us also to take a look at our policies and see what we can do together.” So today, nations that account for more than 70 percent of global emissions have declared their individual commitments. Do we want more? Yes, obviously we do. We need INDCs from others in the next days, and we urge every country to step up with it. But I thank every one of you here for the leadership that you have exhibited and for crafting your own contributions in that spirit.

Even more encouraging, some of our nations have begun to put in place the kind of bold policies that we have to implement in order to actually meet the targets that we’re setting. Example: Over last summer – over the summer, President Obama announced new standards here in our country that for the first time cap the amount of harmful carbon pollution that U.S. power plants are allowed to release into the atmosphere.

And just last week, during his visit to the state of Washington, President Xi of China announced innovative steps his government will be taking – actually, he announced them in Washington D.C., but he laid the predicate for them in the state of Washington, in Seattle, where he met with a lot of the high-tech folks and discussed energy and technology. But he announced in Washington with the President in the Rose Garden that China is going to take an enormous step of putting in place a national cap and trade program.

So these and other measures are building critical momentum as we head towards Paris. But obviously, reaching the ambitious agreement that we need is far from – as our friends from France would say, it is far from a fait accompli. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us to do in the next days.

And many of you know that this fight is one which the global community has tried previously to tackle and not succeeded. And so we know that we can’t address this challenge through half-measures and empty commitments. We have spent years dancing around the same issues, firmly entrenched in individual excuses and arguments. And all the while, the problem has just gotten worse, not better. Just this week I saw a study projecting that by the end of the century, the kind of severe floods likely to hit New York City only once every 500 years ago will now start occurring every 25 years. For New Yorkers who saw their neighborhoods destroyed by Hurricane Sandy not too long ago, that prospect is obviously devastating.

And by the way, we paid out probably over $100 billion globally on the issue of damages as a result, and here we are struggling to find $100 billion for long-term investment in terms of dealing with this and preventing it from happening in the first place. Ask any insurance company, and most of them, the vast majority, will step up and tell you – and they now want to work with us in this effort – how seriously they take this issue. Ask our military how seriously they take it. It is a security issue in the determination of our military.

So, my friends, in recent years the alarm bell has really gotten louder. The science is crystal clear, and nobody can afford to go to sleep.

As the Holy Father said last week in his historic visit here, climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living in a critical moment of history.

Well, I think everybody here understands that we share a moral responsibility to future generations. It’s as simple as that. I can’t think how many times I’ve heard politicians in our elections in our country stand up and talk about kids and future generations. If there’s any issue that ever applied in reality to future generations, it is this one.

So as Foreign Minister Fabius speaks – after he speaks we’re going to have a chance to see a short video that we showed at the GLACIER conference that we hosted in Anchorage last month. And it features one of the United States top science – climate scientists, Piers Sellers, and I wanted to screen it this afternoon because I think that it hugely underscores why our engagement is so critical and it paints a very stark picture of what is at stake.

The last thing I would say to everybody is that I’ve heard in the last days some of our friends, our leaders, saying, “Well, there’s an issue of tradeoffs, and we can’t allow our economies to be hurt.” Number one, if you don’t have an economy in the future because it’s flooded or it’s too dry to grow food or there isn’t enough water, et cetera, that argument’s not going to be very meaningful. But more importantly, it’s wrong. And the reason it’s wrong is that there is in the choices we can make now to deal with climate change an extraordinary amount of money to be made, jobs to be created, health to be improved, environmental responsibility to be lived up to. It’s just staring us in the face. And it may cost you a little more today to put a solar in or an alternative or a hybrid or one other thing, but in the long run far less expensive if we had honest accounting for what the costs of carbon really are. It’s that simple.

And the bottom line is that in these choices you’re looking at the biggest market in human history – the energy market is an enormous market, and I’m told we’ll be spending somewhere in the vicinity of $27 trillion or more in this course of the next 10,15, 20 years. Think of what that means if we got the marketplace to accept the signal that we send in Paris and they just start to take off and transition. So I believe that it’s an enormous opportunity for us, and if we can get there without fanfare, we would have lived up to our most basic responsibilities.

So I now invite Foreign Minister Fabius to deliver his opening comments and then we will have the video and then give everybody a chance to share thoughts.

Laurent. Thank you. (Applause.)