Remarks at the Milan Expo 2015

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Milan, Italy
October 17, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: (Applause.) Foreign Minister Gentiloni, thank you very much. Mr. Prime Minister, Commissioner Sala, distinguished guests all:

Vorrei cominciare congratulandomi il ministro degli esteri – (applause) – il governo italiano e gli italiani tutti per aver accolto una stupenda Expo a Milano. Grazie. (Applause.) L' Expo avvicina il mondo al fine, di volgere lo sguardo, sui temi quali la sicurezza alimentare e la nutrizione, elementi di grande importanza per tutti, sens’altro, per aver battuto tutti i record con la creazione di una pizza lunga quasi due kilometri. Che meraviglia. (Applause.) Sono molto contento di trovarmi di nuovo in Italia. Grazie infinite.

Let me underscore in my native language – I want to thank our Italian friends for hosting such an absolutely remarkable Expo here in Milan. I also want to thank our U.S. Ambassador to Italy, John Phillips; our Consul General here in Milan, Phil Reeker; our Ambassador to the UN agencies in Rome, David Lane; and my senior advisor, former U.S. Ambassador to Italy David Thorne.

Finally, I want to thank our terrific Commissioner General, Ambassador Doug Hickey, and all of the staff, the sponsors, the supporters of the USA Pavilion, which I look forward to touring later today and which by all accounts – thank you, Paolo, for your generous comments, and Commissioner Sala, thank you for mentioning the level of visits to this pavilion. I look forward to visiting it for the first time, and I’ve seen the reports, I’ve seen the building itself, and I believe it is outstanding. And I want to thank our Student Ambassadors, who have been a critical part of our success. I’m told that more than five million people have visited the USA Pavilion so far. It has seen the most traffic, or almost the most traffic, of any of the pavilions and last week we recorded a record 65,000 visitors in one single day. And that is remarkable, so on behalf of all Americans, I thank everybody on our team for representing our nation so well.

I’m also personally, obviously, delighted to be able to finally visit the Expo. I was supposed to get here earlier, but as some of you know, I fell off my bike and I wasn’t able to get here. But it’s spectacular to be able to visit the great city of Milan. And when anyone is in Milan, you automatically think of Leonardo Da Vinci. He called this place home for much of his life, and as we know, he did some absolutely brilliant work not very far from here.

Da Vinci would have absolutely loved what is happening here. While he is best known for his art, Da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance Man because his interests extended way, way beyond sculptures and canvases. He devoured knowledge on any and all subjects. And he would fill his notebooks with inconceivable speed, taking notes with one hand while, at the same time, drawing a masterpiece with the other. And given his penchant for innovation and science, I think he would have delighted in the creativity that World’s Fairs and Expos have always inspired.

And it’s really interesting: Many of the inventions that we use all the time in our lives were first displayed at expositions like this – the dishwasher, the telephone, touch screens that I see some of you pointing at me right now and that most of you have in your pockets. And in fact, a number of things that we use today can be traced directly back to Leonardo Da Vinci and to his notebooks: parachutes, for example, helicopters – some say he even designed the world’s first bicycle.

And as an avid cyclist – and I watch the Giro D’Italia every year – I am particularly grateful for that invention. And maybe if I had been riding one of his designs, I wouldn’t have broken my leg and spent the summer on crutches.

All kidding aside, I wanted to be here in Milan today not just because it is an amazing city – and not just because this is an amazing event – but because the focus of the 2015 Expo – Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life – it could not be more important and it could not be more timely. And I am particularly glad to be here the day after the celebration of World Food Day.

Consider that – right now, today – one in every nine people wakes up in the morning hungry and they go to bed, most of them, with an empty stomach. Consider that today, in 2015, nearly half of child deaths worldwide are rooted in under-nutrition and a lack of healthy food. We’re talking about 8,000 children dying every single day because in a world of plentiful food, they aren’t getting enough nourishment.

And now consider that the global population is growing – and growing unbelievably fast. In the next 35 years, we will go from about 7 billion people to 9 billion people walking the Earth. And all of them will need healthy food to thrive and survive. So given the hunger and the poverty on the Earth today, the challenge of making sure that future generations have enough to eat is not a small challenge.

Now, obviously, it starts with making sure that we’re producing more food. By some estimates, the world will have to increase food production by 60 percent between now and 2050 in order to keep pace with the rising number of mouths to feed. But growing and raising more food is only part of the challenge. We also have to be better stewards of the food that we have.

Believe it or not, we are wasting food almost as quickly as we are producing it. Fully one-third of the food that we produce globally is thrown away before it even makes it to the table. Think of the millions of people – millions, literally – who could eat more and better if we just got smarter about food harvest, storage, and distribution. Think of the natural resources that we would save – water, land, energy – if food production were more efficient.

Another challenge is that, obviously, food isn’t always generated exactly where it’s needed. Millions of people in rural and urban areas don’t have access and they don’t have the economic means to obtain sufficient food for their families. So we, obviously, have to do a better job of building the infrastructure that will enable us to move food to where it is needed and to keep it fresh and keep it healthy in the process.

And in some cases, getting more food from our resources isn’t the solution – it’s the problem. And that’s because of illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing. Nearly one-third of all the fish stocks of the world are over-exploited. And most of the major fisheries of the world are over-fished. There are entire families of fish – including species like tuna and mackerel – that are at risk of being completely wiped out. And populations of these species today are a quarter of what they were in 1970. Very simply, there is too much money chasing too few fish. We need a global system to regulate the open waters and to identify, interdict, and to prosecute those who pursue unsustainable and unacceptable fishing practices.

Years ago, we went to the United Nations and we banned driftnet fishing, where you have literally thousands of miles of monofilament net laid out behind a boat and it strip-mines the ocean. And at least half of what is caught is simply thrown overboard. Well, today, despite the ban, there are countries whose fishermen are illegally still using driftnets and we don’t have the enforcement mechanism to protect what belongs to all of us.

So even if we do reduce waste and do more to preserve our resources, I have news for you – it was mentioned by Paolo and others: We still have another challenge ahead of us, and that is the challenge of dealing with climate change.

Climate change is perhaps the most significant threat to global food security today. You don’t need a science degree to see that our world is already changing dramatically. Nineteen of the 20 warmest years on record have occurred in the past two decades. If you’re 29 years old or younger – and most of you look younger – then you have not lived through a single month that was cooler than its 20th century average. Think about that. It means that what we used to consider normal is no longer normal, and we’re only going to see more changes unless we take action now.

In recent years, nearly every single part of the world has reported a record-breaking extreme weather event. In some places, the kind of flooding that used to happen once every 500 years, once every hundred years, is now expected to happen once every 25 years. Americans living in California – you may have seen it on television today – huge mudslides, unbelievable size balls of hail. At the same time, they’re living with the most extreme drought in the entire state’s history. Not too long ago, New Zealand suffered through a drought so severe that some farmers had to kill their dairy cattle and sheep because they didn’t have enough food and water to be able to keep them alive – in New Zealand.

Even the chemistry of our ocean is changing – and changing rapidly. Why? Because nearly a third of the greenhouse gases that are coming out of tailpipes and smokestacks end up getting absorbed by the ocean. Now, you may say, well, that’s pretty helpful. Yeah, it is, except that when carbon dioxide dissolves into salt water, it forms an acid – carbonic acid. And as a result, the ocean is acidifying 10 times faster today than at any point in its history, and that stunts the growth of shellfish, it degrades coral reefs, and it puts the entire marine web at risk.

And here’s the point. We cannot have food security if farmers and fishers around the world are having a more difficult time growing crops, catching fish, raising livestock. It just doesn’t happen. It won’t compute. The hard truth is that unless the global community comes together to address climate change, every one of these challenges – droughts, floods, extreme weather, ocean acidification, hunger, malnutrition – all of them will only become more pronounced. And that means that feeding the world – which is the most basic job that we have – is going to become an even more elusive goal than it is today unless we take action.

Make no mistake: The implications of this extend well beyond just hunger. This isn’t only about food security; it’s about global security, period. If people who can no longer make a decent living farming and fishing and herding, the way their families have for generations in many cases, they will have no choice but to seek other opportunities, and they may seek them in other places where you don’t have the ability to support them. If they migrate to cities – which is today happening at an unprecedented rate – they will bring hunger and malnutrition with them.

And what about the families who can’t afford to buy food for their children because the prices have skyrocketed and supermarket shelves are literally empty? They too could become desperate and they could begin looking for other means to survive.

It is not a coincidence that immediately prior to the civil war in Syria, the country experienced the worst drought on record. As many as 1.5 million people migrated from Syria’s farms into Syria’s cities, and that intensified the political unrest that was beginning to brew. Now, I’m not telling you that the crisis in Syria was caused by climate change. No. Obviously, it wasn’t. It was caused by a brutal dictator who barrel bombed, starved, tortured, and gassed his own people. But the devastating drought clearly made a bad situation a lot worse.

Climate change is – to borrow a term from the Department of Defense in America – a “threat multiplier.” Even if it doesn’t ignite conflict, it has the ability to fan the flames and to make situations much more complicated for political leaders to deal with.

Now, my friends, this is not really a complicated equation. It’s not hard to figure it out. Human beings are just like any other species on the planet: When our environments no longer provide us with the things that we need to survive, we will do everything we can to find a new place to live.

Here in Europe, you’re in the middle of one of the worst refugee crises in decades. And I would underscore, unless the world meets the urgency of this moment, the horrific refugee situation that we’re facing today will pale in comparison to the mass migrations that intense droughts, sea-level rise, and other impacts of climate change are likely to bring about.

For all of these reasons, it is essential that we address the challenges of food security and climate change in a way that is coordinated. In government, we talk a lot about what we call “climate-smart agriculture.” Basically, that means ensuring that solutions we pursue are aimed at achieving three specific goals, all at the same time:

First, that we increase agricultural productivity in a way that is sustainable over time.

Two, that we make sure our food systems are able to adapt to the climate impacts that we’re already experiencing.

And three, that we find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural sources. Most people don’t realize that agriculture as a sector itself is actually one of the leading drivers of climate change. It emits as much agricultural – as much greenhouse gases as all of our cars, ships, trains, and airplanes combined. People don’t think about that. And when you add in deforestation, much of which is driven by agricultural expansion, we’re talking about one-quarter of global emissions.

Accomplishing all three of these objectives, folks, requires us to be creative – and believe me, Da Vinci and others have proven for centuries we know how to be creative. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here. Each and every situation is going to have to be assessed and managed in a way that works for that particular community in that particular region.

In the United States, for instance, we consider the nexus, the connection, between food security and climate change to be a central pillar of our foreign policy. And that’s why I brought my longtime colleague, Dr. Nancy Stetson, who’s here, to the State Department – to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to combat hunger and advance global food security. With Nancy on board, and with the help of her terrific team at the State Department and throughout the United States Government, we are already making important progress.

In the last year alone, President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative connected nearly 7 million small-holder farmers with a wide range of climate-smart tools, technologies, and training, all of which helped them produce their crop yields in a sustainable way.

In Tanzania, we helped farmers like Clement Mshana, whose maize crop was suffering due to a lack of reliable rainfall and, unbeknownst to him, his farming methods were actually depleting the soil. With help from Feed the Future, he was able to diagnose the problem and change the way that he plowed his farm. And as a result, he more than tripled his harvest with the same amount of rainfall on the same amount of land. That’s the promise of the future.

Across the Atlantic, in Haiti, we worked with the local government to open the Rural Center for Sustainable Development, in order to help nearly 60 percent of Haitians who make a living through agriculture. The center is fully equipped with facilities for soil and water analysis, onsite farming demonstrations and classrooms, and even dormitories for farmers who travel long distances. And it’s already making a distinct difference not just in the yield size of their crops, but farmers who have learned new techniques from the center are telling us that they have, on average, more than doubled their incomes.

Now, these kinds of solutions are available to the world, and if all work together we can make more of them available to the people who need them and we can meet this challenge. That’s why last year we launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, which brings together more than 100 partners from all over the world to increase resilience of food production to climate impacts, reduce emissions from agriculture, and enhance productivity.

We’re also exploring entirely new ways to address the climate-food security nexus. For example, the United States has created a new insurance product called Caribbean Oceans and Assets Sustainability Facility. It’s a long – it’s a mouthful of a name, but it works. What it does is it reduces the risk that climate change poses to Caribbean fisheries. Under this initiative, Caribbean countries can buy insurance to help protect their fisheries sector – and by extension their food security – and that helps them guard against damage due to extreme weather. It’s the first initiative that actually gives an incentive to governments to adopt climate-smart practices for the fisheries sectors while also protecting fishers against weather and climate-related risk. Our hope is that COAST, as it’s called, will become a successful model that could be replicated for any food sector of food production in any geographical area, anywhere in the world.

So my friends, the bottom line is this: In order to meet the food security and climate challenges at the same time, we have to be creative. We have to be flexible. We have to think big, and we have to be committed to pursuing multiple approaches at the same time. Like Da Vinci, we sort of have to learn how to write with one hand and draw with the other.

And ultimately, if we really want to build a sustainable future our children – the future that they need and deserve and that they rely on us to provide them – then we have to commit to a low-carbon economy not just in the agriculture sector, but in every sector of our economies.

And here, I ask your help. Later this year, the world will come together at the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris. And we need every country on the same page, all pushing for an ambitious, durable, and inclusive agreement that will finally put us on the path towards a global clean-energy future. The kind of agreement that we’re working toward will prove that world leaders finally understand the scope of the challenge that we are up against. It will give confidence to business leaders who are uncertain about our collective commitment and therefore, many of them hesitant to make the investments in the new technologies. And those investments would begin to move the entire economy of the world in a better and different direction. We need to invest in the low-carbon, climate-resistant alternatives that we need. And the private sector has the ability to be the great agent of change in this if the right signal is sent out of Paris.

It will help leaders at every level of government in every corner of the globe to know that we are all together part of a worldwide commitment to build sustainable economies. And most important, folks, it will help to bring about a safer and healthier future – and it will help us live up to our responsibility for generations to come.

What’s amazing to me all the time – and I’m stunned by this – the market that made many people in America very wealthy and raised the incomes of every American in the 1990s was a $1 trillion market with 1 billion users. That was the technology – computer, personal computer, communications device market. The solution to climate change is energy policy. And if we make the right choices about energy, we get more benefits back to society than you get in most decisions that you make in public life.

We will reduce the particulates in the air so people don’t get cancer from breathing those particulates. We will have healthier suburbs where children don’t go to the hospital because of environmentally-induced asthma. We will have countless millions of jobs created in the transition to this new economy. We will create energy independence for nations that don’t have it today, and make the world safer as a result, and we will live up to our global responsibility as leaders to leave the world in a better shape than we were given it.

So there are more than 140 countries represented here at the Milan Expo. Those countries – all of them – are staring at a marketplace – compared to the 1 trillion, the energy market of the future is today a 4 to 5 billion user market, and it is looking at a – trillions of dollars of market, multiples. There will be 17 trillion spent in the next 20 years just on energy and the jobs that are being created. If we 140 countries represented here expand beyond here and bring people together, we can come up with an agreement in Paris that will change the future.

So I urge all of you, those of you who are already involved – and many of you here are because you’re here – stay involved. And those of you who are not, get the message out to people to ask their leadership to respond to the felt needs of people all around this planet. Explain how important a strong agreement in Paris is, and make it known that failure is not an option and that successo is a beautiful word in any language.

There is no question that the challenges that we are facing are significant. The United States stands ready to work with all countries. I appreciate what Paolo said about the quality of the U.S.-Italy relationship today. I think it’s never been stronger. We’re working so hard on so many of these challenges, and we will work together to guarantee that people will be able to live up to their fullest potential and live the strong and healthy lives that they deserve.

Together, we can harness our energy in order to cultivate food and feed the mouths of the world, and in the process we will protect the food security of billions of people on this planet.

Congratulations to all of you involved in this Expo for all that you are doing, and together, let us go out of here and build the economic security, the physical security, the health security, and ultimately the global security. That is our charge, that is our responsibility, and I know we all look forward to completing it.

Thank you so much for being here. (Applause.)