Remarks at UN's Earth to Paris Event with Mashable's Andrew Freedman

Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Petit Palais
Paris, France
December 7, 2015


MR FREEDMAN: I’ll give you the big chair rather than the awkward sort of lounge couch – exactly. Welcome. Thank you for making time to do this on what is a very busy schedule in Paris. So I’ll get right to it, the first question: How does the United States define success in a COP21 agreement?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, success is getting an ambitious agreement that is durable, that has transparency and accountability on the methodologies people are employing to meet their INDCs. It will require a five-year review so that whatever technologies enter the marketplace we can all take advantage of and so that we can measure what we’re doing. I mean, it doesn’t do any good to come to Paris, have a great big meeting, run out of here, say that there are a lot of goals, if they’re not being implemented and you’re not moving down the road. So the key is – in my judgment, one of the most important things in this entire agreement is knowing that – knowing where we’re going and knowing that people are actually moving concertedly, uniformly to try to get there. That’s the key.

Obviously, we have to deal with mitigation, we have to deal with adaptation, there has to be adequacy. The financing has to be adequate. But really, we feel very strongly in the United States that in 2015, it is time to get rid of this rigid differentiation between developed/developing in a way that has – that prevents us from maximizing our progress forward. I was in Rio in 1992; I was in many of the intervening meetings. I was in Poznan, in Buenos Aires, in Copenhagen, Kyoto. So I’ve been through this routine, and I don’t want to see us lose the opportunity here to have 184 countries that have put their intended national contributions on the table and not being able to follow up on them. So that’s success.

And we require adequate financing by the developed world. But remember, when we did this before, a country like Korea was receiving aid from the United States. Today, Korea is giving aid to other countries. So the world has changed, and Paris needs to reflect that change and the urgency with which all countries need to be part of this.

It is an absolute fact that already developing countries are the majority of emissions. So if the developed country is left over here and they’re the ones, quote, “responsible” but nothing sufficient is being called on of the other countries, we will not make it. It’s that simple. We could give up automobiles, ride bicycles, plant trees, and do everything we want to have zero emissions in the United States, and developing countries will completely wipe out all those gains in a very few years and we will still be in the same predicament we are in today. So our sense is we need a modern agreement out of Paris that reflects the realities of the challenge that we face today.

MR FREEDMAN: And is that call for less rigid differentiation behind why the U.S. is pushing for language calling for countries in a position to do so to provide climate aid, rather than developed countries providing that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re willing, obviously, from now – I mean, we made an agreement and we need to live by the agreement. And the agreement is that up until 2020 we’re going to provide 100 billion a year, and we should do that. I mean by 2020, excuse me. By 2020. And we should do that. Absolutely, we should do that. We have our obligation and we need to live up to it.

And going beyond it, I believe that we need to find a way to continue that kind of contribution, because there are countries out there that just don’t have the money; they don’t have the economy; they don’t have the ability to attract capital to the normal kind of invested program. And so we, I think, need to help those countries close the spread between the commercial deal and what is incentivisable. And if we can provide those incentives, we all gain by that. And I think that’s a critical component of any outcome here.

MR FREEDMAN: What are some of the thorniest issues being grappled with right now, and where might the landing zones be, now that you’ve gotten to Paris and are about to head to these talks?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t want to – I’m not going to break it all down section by section. Laurent Fabius has done a very good job. The French, I think, have been leading this thoughtfully and they’ve put a lot of energy into the five – into the facilitators, and the facilitations are taking place. We will be meeting over the course of the next 24 hours. I have some ideas for what we may be able to do in one section or another. But I think floating them all publicly now is not necessarily helpful, and that’s been my experience at past negotiations.

We need to have an agreement somewhat in shape by Thursday, really, if we’re going to meet the needs of Friday, and I think everybody wants to try to get this done. So we obviously have to finalize the differences on differentiation. We have to get transparency locked down, loss and damage, and the ambition pieces. But I think it’s coming together in a lot of places. We still have some tough issues. That’s inevitable, and I’ve always seen these things. Their dynamic is such that they’re just not going to – you don’t close out one section completely at any time, because everything is dependent on everything else, and it’s a package. And people need to see the whole thing and feel that it fits, that it’s comfortable. And we really won’t know that for a few more days.

MR FREEDMAN: It would help me job-wise if you would float some of these proposals publicly, just to let you know. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I know.

MR FREEDMAN: Just so you have that in mind as we go forward.

SECRETARY KERRY: I suspect you’ll still have your job when I leave here. (Laughter.)

MR FREEDMAN: Well, thank you, thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Unless we want to do something – I mean, break the rules.

MR FREEDMAN: Yeah, maybe.

CROWD: (Cheers.)

MR FREEDMAN: In terms of --

SECRETARY KERRY: Whoa, there are a lot of anarchists here. (Laughter.)

MR FREEDMAN: Countries are – there is a lot of countries fighting for a 1.5 degree target. The slogan being shouted often is, “1.5 to Stay Alive.” They’ve got a hand signal that I find slightly complicated that also means that. The United States delegation has spoken of trying to accommodate this in agreement language. Do you see – do you sympathize with that target, one? And two, do you think there’s a way to bring that into the agreement in some way, shape, or form?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, look; do I sympathize with it? You bet I sympathize with it. I feel very strongly that when human activity that is a choice is potentially putting whole nation-states at risk, we better care about it. And I think we do. I know we do. We – all of us – share a responsibility not to see history and culture and people destroyed as a consequence of the things that we do or because we’re unwilling to do things. So we – I – I’m for embracing conceptually, aspirationally anything that gets us below 2 degrees centigrade, because even the 2 degrees centigrade is science that is declaring something, but your insurance policy against that science potentially being wrong is important.

My instinct would be, however, in the context of this agreement we have already agreed previously that 2 degrees centigrade is the target, and I think we’re at something like 1.4 or so right now. So unless some massive mitigation or massive adaptation or something else takes place, which I don’t see in the current economic cards or path, I don’t think it’s realistic to embrace as the – as the sort of principal target of this agreement that kind of a goal, because I don’t think it will be taken seriously and it may not be achievable. I don’t know the answer to that. But should we incorporate the notion that we should be trying to do anything we can below the 2 degrees, including the 1.5, I think there are ways to do that that don’t turn this agreement into a 1.5 agreement, which it will not gain support for. It needs to be an adjunct to the notion that the formal goal of the agreement is 2 degrees, but yes, we all need to take note that it would be better if we can move in the direction of some further reduction. And I think that would be a way of trying to get the best of both worlds, because we still have to get consensus from a lot of countries for whom the whole picture is going to be very important.

MR FREEDMAN: Why is the U.S. opposing language anywhere in the agreement that says, quote, unquote, “shall implement policies to meet Paris targets?” Is their view that the State Department is just concerned about triggering a Senate ratification requirement?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the frank and simple answer is that certain legal – certain terms have legal impact and certain legal impacts have political impact, and certain political impact can kill the agreement. Our feeling is that this agreement as it is is one that is really – I mean, here’s the – here’s why Paris is so important. I think everybody knows that the Paris agreement, because it’s not setting emissions reductions levels that are mandatory to every country and every country agrees to live by one standard, everybody understands that this is a step on a very critical role for the next 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 50 years.

We’re not going to do it all in one fell swoop here in Paris, but I am more than convinced – I mean, as I say to you, I’ve been at this a long time, having started in the voluntary outcomes of Rio and been there in the mandatory outcomes of Kyoto, and I led the efforts on the floor of the United States Senate to try to deal with Kyoto, and we ran into an absolute buzz saw of resistance based on the fact that people were able to argue, “Well, why should we be the only ones reducing? If other countries don’t reduce, it won’t make any difference. So we curb our economy and nobody else does anything to theirs, and we’re the only ones hurt, and in the end we’re all hurt because it doesn’t work.”

So the importance of Paris is that everybody sets goals. I will tell you, too, when I became – I became Secretary of State in February – February 1st of 2013. One of my first objectives was to address this issue, and realizing what I saw in Copenhagen and what I saw previously of this G-77 bloc resistance to movement and this hard differentiation which prevented us from being realistic, I knew it was critical to get China into the game. So within two months of my being sworn in, I was in China. And I had previously called the state councilor, Yang Jiechi, and asked him, “We need to start a working group between China and the United States, and we need together, as the two largest emitters in the world, stand up and make it clear to the world that Paris matters and that we need to have more countries put in their intended reductions.”

Well, at first there was sort of, “Woah, what’s this all about?” I’ll just refer you that today, China announced today in Beijing they have a air quality alert. From now till Thursday, their public schools are closed, their transportation shut down – public, and there’s no barbecuing allowed in open air. China understood they have a problem and they need to deal with it. So we agreed on a working group. And within three months of the working group being formed, we came up with five different sectors on which we were going to cooperate together in order to try to see if we could announce our targets together.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, one year later President Barack Obama stood in Beijing with President Xi and he was able to announce our targets, China announced their targets and goals, and since that day we have been joined by this 182 other countries that are going to reduce their targets – agreed voluntarily. But who would have imagined? I didn’t imagine when I went to China we were going to have 184 nations embrace this goal and this urgency and this target and come to Paris seriously. This is a whole new paradigm in Paris. And what I am absolutely convinced of is, with Bill Gates and other entrepreneurial investors and people around the world, with the commitment that we have now to double our R&D, with the effort we have with the solar allowance that Prime Minister Modi is initiating – you put all of this energy together, and I don’t mean that as a pun, but we are going to have an incredible amount of investment and outcome over the course of the next five, ten years.

And I don’t, frankly, look to government to solve this problem over the course of the next few years. It’s not going to happen. I look to the private sector. I look to businesses that are going to say: Our consumers are going to demand that we’re environmentally responsible. I look to business, to the MITs and the Caltechs and the Chinese universities and innovators and researchers. And we’re doing joint ventures with them, by the way.

It’s the private sector, the next Elon Musk or Steve Jobs is going to find a way to do battery storage for alternative and renewable energy, or we’re going to find a way to burn energy, or maybe this dream of fusion is going to be accelerated and actually have a commercial viability. I don’t know the answer, but I have absolute confidence in the ability of capital to move where the signal of the marketplace says “go” after Paris.

And if 184 plus nations sign on to a durable agreement with a review and accountability and transparency here in Paris, you watch the world begin to change. And already mayors all across the world are coming together to do things at the local level that they can order by administrative order. Already you’re seeing fleet purchases of automobiles change. Buildings codes are changing.

President Obama has put in place one of the most ambitious national climate action plans in the world. We’ve doubled our car efficiency and truck – we’re requiring – our coal-fired power plants have to begin to phase out. We have new standards for new power plants. We have an incredible array of steps we are taking to meet this challenge. And I think Paris’ importance is that even without the fixed number and the legal shell, we are going to see an enormous amount of movement without creating political obstacles that prevent us from being able to send that signal. (Applause.)

MR FREEDMAN: Now, I’ll close with this quick question. On a scale of 1 to 10, how hopeful are you? How helpful are you? How hopeful are you that we’re going to get a deal relatively by deadline to allow reporters to go home and everybody – no. (Laughter.) How hopeful are you that we’re going to get a deal here that is effective and meets your level of ambition?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, if I’m really helpful, I’ll be even more hopeful. And I’m going to try to be both. I don’t want to express levels or grades of 1 to 10. I am an optimist, or I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. I think the stage is set. I think the attitude is currently there. I think there are players who would like to try to scale it back and hold it back a little. My hope is the momentum that we are building and good negotiating over the next days will overcome those hurdles, and that towards the end of the week we’ll be able to come to an agreement. I believe we can.

But – and I think it will happen relatively. You say “relatively.” Relatively is always within a span. I want to finish on Friday, as does Foreign Minister Fabius, and I think most people would like to see it done on time. But these things have a way of seeing the clock stop at midnight and you drift into Saturday, because there’s always some legal detail, some word that has to be massaged. But I think we’re going to get to know whether we can get there or not within the reasonable period that’s been set. And I am so hopeful that Paris will be a truly historic moment when we will ratify what people all over the world are coming to understand, and that is that this is happening. It’s happening now; it’s happening faster than scientists predicted it would; and it’s happening to greater degrees than scientists predicted it would.

And we need, as responsible leaders, to take account of science; not some cockamamie ideological hypothetical, but science. And we need to make clear that those members of the Flat Earth Society are on the wrong side of history. We are going to make Paris the demarcation point where we begin to get the job done to save the planet, period. (Cheers.)

MR FREEDMAN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)