Remarks at the Caring for Climate Business Forum

Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Le Bourget
Paris, France
December 8, 2015


SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much. Good afternoon everybody and thank you all for being here and participating. And the fact that you are here already makes a statement about the choices that you’re making. I want to begin by thanking Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his terrific and important leadership on climate change, and I think all of us are extremely grateful to him, to the United Nations, for their leadership with respect to this. On any number of fronts he has taken the initiative to make certain that we are moving forward.

I have been focused on this issue for many years now, since my early days in the United States Senate in the 1980s when Jim Hansen first testified that climate change was happening. And I traveled with then my colleague and classmate Al Gore and Tim Wirth of the UN Foundation and a number of other senators – Jack Heinz, John Chafee, a Republican, others. All of us went to Rio together where President George H.W. Bush joined, and in fact led, an effort to help sign the agreement, and we left Rio believing we were on the road to helping to solve a problem.

It has proven so much harder, obviously. You all know that. And we have watched the world try through successive COPs – Conference of the Party meetings – to come to grips with this. I have been at many – at certainly the most important ones I have been at, and – including Kyoto. And I managed Kyoto on the floor of the United States Senate, where we were not able to summon passage for reasons that go to the argument about differentiation here at this COP today. But we were in a much different place; that is the good news. And the other good news is we still have time to prevent the worst impacts of climate change from happening. And we are more prepared in the walkup to Paris than at any Conference of the Parties that I have attended. Though we have some tough issues the next three days to resolve, I’m confident that we have the ability to do it.

Reaching an ambitious, durable, inclusive, and transparent agreement is our goal here. And I think, as do others, this may well be the last opportunity to come together on a global basis to be able to signal to the world that we understand the challenge, that we’re ready to grapple with it, we’re ready to meet the challenge, and do for our people all over the world what they want us to do.

Now, a global climate agreement here in Paris is not in and of itself going to be the silver bullet that eliminates the threat posed by climate change. We know that. What we accomplish in Paris in and of itself doesn’t end the mission. It builds a platform if we do it properly. It sets the roadmap. It’s the foundation for our ability to be able to know that we can move forward. And bringing world leaders together to commit for the first time, all of them, to making fundamental changes to the ways that we power our economies – that, we believe, will give confidence to business leaders all over the world, many of whom may be uncertain about our collective commitment and hesitant therefore to invest in low-carbon alternatives. The signal will be sent: The world is open for the creation of this new economy.

Unleashing investment, encouraging innovation, fostering development, and the spread of new technologies is precisely how we are going to get where we need to be in order to win the fight against climate change. I don’t believe that governments are going to wind up making the fundamental decision that in fact changes the world to this low-carbon economy. We’re going to set our stage, we can create frameworks, we can lower costs, we can make decisions; but in the end, it’s you. It’s businesses and the choices that you make and the kinds of buildings that you build, the investments that you make, the products you create, the sustainability of your products from start to finish that will make the difference.

Let me underscore also that the solution to climate change is not waiting to be discovered. It’s not some pie-in-the-sky thing that has yet to be defined. We know what it is. It’s energy policy. And we have the technology. We know how to get to the clean energy choices. And the most ignored – but you, I think, understand it because you’re here – component of this transformation is the fact that you can do well and do good at the same time. There’s an economic windfall in this transformation. Clean energy job growth is happening at double the rate of the economy writ large right now, and the solar industry is growing at 10 times that rate. Over the next 15 years, $17 trillion is expected to be invested in energy, and the vast majority of that is going to be in clean energy, thank heavens.

This is one of the greatest economic opportunities the world has ever seen. I represented the state of Massachusetts for many years in the Senate. I’m proud of our technology base and of MIT and other colleges and universities that give us a knowledge-based economy. And I am telling you that that economy grew during the 1990s where there was a $1 trillion economy that drew people to invest with about a billion users. It was the technology economy – computers, so forth, communications. The energy economy that we’re looking at today is multiple trillions of dollars of economy already and about to grow with the investment I cited with four to five billions users today and going to grow to nine billion users over the next 30 years. Please, it’s an economy waiting to be defined and tapped, and it is one of the greatest economic opportunities the world has ever seen. If we continue to make smart choices, businesses and workers around the world stand to gain enormously.

The fact is that shrinking our carbon footprint makes very good business sense, which is why a lot of you are here. And thankfully, more and more business leaders are coming to that conclusion. Obviously, the private sector has a critical role to play, not only in the design of your companies and what you make, but also in pressuring global leaders, in your corporate citizenship, impressing on people to reach the kind of deal that we need to reach this week and surpass the targets that we set when we leave here.

Now, that’s one of the reasons that President Obama created the American Business Act on Climate pledge, ABAC as we call it. I helped to launch it last summer, this summer, and we have 154 companies that have already signed on, among them Google, IKEA, L’Oreal, Mars, Pepsi, Unilever, GE, Apple, Starbucks, Alcoa, AT&T, Dell – a host of companies, huge companies with smart business leadership, all of whom have decided this is the direction to move.

And we can’t overstate the impact. The businesses involved in APAC – ABAC brought more than 4.2 trillion in revenue last year. They have a capitalization of more than $7 trillion and they employ nearly 11 million people. The investments that these businesses choose to make, therefore, matter; they will impact the marketplace. The ways that they power their operations matter and will impact the marketplace. The sustainable paths that they forge matter. And all of these things will drive us closer, faster toward the low-carbon global economy that we desperately need.

And as part of ABAC, each business has announced its own targets to reduce their emissions, increase low-carbon investments, and deploy more clean energy, and they are setting company-specific goals. For example, one company has pledged to reduce water usage by up to 80 percent. Another has said that it will pursue zero net deforestation in the supply chains. One business even committed to purchase 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources. In taking actions like these, these big businesses not only do their part to help solve the climate challenge, but they set an example for businesses around the world and they encourage them to take similar steps.

So ladies and gentlemen, it’s becoming even more clear with every record-breaking year of drought, with every hottest-ever month or year that we live through. With every peer-reviewed study that details the catastrophe that climate change could unleash with every passing day it is becoming more clear how urgently we need a global response to this challenge, with all countries and all sectors involved.

We have to reach an agreement in the next three days that will serve as the foundation for this vision that these companies have expressed and that we express. And I think the road to Paris, through Paris and onwards, is paved with your decisions – the decisions made by private sector leaders, by the projects that you choose to engage in.

So that is one of the reasons why I convened the Climate and Clean Energy Investment Forum at the State Department to find ways to enhance collaboration across borders and sectors. And I guarantee you that we in government are looking for ways to facilitate your choices, not to stand in the way of them. I know that each of you are contributing already to this in some fairly significant ways, but I believe by looking at this picture in the holistic way that I’ve tried to present it we will leave Paris with the energy that we need – no pun intended – to accomplish this goal.

A final thought, I’d just say to you that I believe the significance of Paris will be written in the signal to the marketplace that we set, that you set. This meeting, your being here and being part of this, these businesses being part of ABAC, all of this on a global basis will send a message to every company at every level that there is a new paradigm, that there’s a new way of doing business, a new way we have to think. And you, ultimately, will help us meet the two degree challenge that governments are incapable for political and ideological reasons in doing on their own. That’s how important your participation is, and I thank you very much for being part of this effort. Thank you.