Press Availability

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Paris, France
December 12, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first of all, thank you all for tremendous patience over a complicated week with a lot of obviously private meetings, and we’re very appreciative for your steady reporting on this.

For a long time we have known that climate change is real, that it’s happening now, and that unless we come together as global community – because no one country can solve the problem – we’re not going to have a chance of doing what we need to do. It’s clear that the impacts all around the planet are beginning to manifest themselves increasingly.

So we’ve tried to wrap our hands around - our arms, really - around this challenge for a long period of time. And all the while the projections that scientists were making are growing in their urgency as many of the things that they’ve predicted are beginning to unfold before our eyes, some of them faster than people predicted. And those of us who have been attending these things called COPs – Conference of the Parties – for many years have recognized that half-measures, empty promises, and intransigent positions which we have seen in the past at these events were just not going to cut it. They weren’t going to get the job done.

So we had to come here and break that cycle, which is why President Obama has been focused on this, on Paris, for some period of time. It’s why from the moment I became Secretary three years ago you have heard me talking about Paris and preparing in our conversations, both at the Oceans Conferences – two of them now – as well as at our – at my – at the speeches I’ve given on climate change, we’ve talked about leading up into Paris to accomplish exactly what we were able to accomplish here today. And that is a binding agreement with respect to transparency and not having binding targets with respect to emissions or finance, because that triggers a different kind of agreement.

So the world has come together today around an agreement that will not do everything we need to do to deliver on the promise of 2 degrees, but will do everything to kick the process into gear. And when you have 186 countries that show up with commitments to reduce their emissions, even though they’re varying kinds and doing it in various ways, lots of countries are serious – including one country that at the end, for instance, raised some objections to this agreement, but has already moved to a very significant percentage of its economy into alternative renewable energy. So some people resist because not enough is being done fast enough.

I think that we’ve reached an agreement here that is the strongest, most ambitious global climate change agreement ever negotiated. And many of us here in Paris have recognized that we were going to have to do that in order to send a signal to the marketplace that can change the direction that the world is on with respect to dependency on carbon fossil fuels.

So this agreement does have the ability to succeed in its implementation where other agreements have fallen short, because they weren’t global. They didn’t include everybody. They didn’t have this kind of momentum behind them. And the bottom line is that this agreement recognizes that we are going to have to begin to change the way we power our planet, the way we power things, whether it’s transportation or buildings, create electricity that everybody draws on.

So these are pretty bold goals, and I think setting an ambitious target of keeping the global warming below 2 degrees centigrade and even aiming to try to hit something lower than that, including 1.5, is a worthy goal. And who knows what happens in the future?

So the first reason this is a strong agreement is ambition. The second reason this is a strong agreement is that it’s flexible. It does allow different countries to do what they’re able to do, reflecting their national capacity and their economies, their capabilities – and all of those things are very, very important.

I think that the third reason this is a significantly different agreement is it brings an unprecedented level of transparency to the entire effort. Why is the transparency important? Because the transparency in this agreement will shed light on what every country is doing to keep its commitments. And it helps everybody to share experience, to share technologies, to share best practices. So the transparency that is in here is legally binding, and that’s a way that we can turn to people and say, look, even these less-developed countries, even a near-developed country who has been an opponent of this has agreed to sign up and begin to shed light on their nation’s emissions levels, their strategies, their reductions – all of those will be reported in the context of this.

And I think that the other thing – there will be regular reviews under that. So there is a periodic review every five years, but even every two years there’s a review of some of the material that’s been put in. So you have these – I think it’s the only way we’re going to know where the world stands, and that’s very significant. We now have a credible system shared by everybody because it’s the rules of the convention and the IPCC so that we’re able to know where the world is heading.

Then the fourth reason this is different from others is that this one, because of its global nature with 186 countries with participating plans, absolutely sends a distinct message to the marketplace. And that message is: Hey, you better take notice. A whole bunch of companies came here – big companies, like Wal-Mart, GE, Google, and Apple, and a bunch of companies signed on to making sure the products they produce are produced from a virtuous cycle of fuel and sustainably, and that even the way they power their plants is going to be done so. That will begin to shift the entire marketplace. Analysts on Wall Street will begin to look at whether or not people are meeting standards. People will begin to make judgments. CEOs will begin to be asked the question: How are you doing for your shareholders relative to your responsibilities to live up to this?

It’s a sea change, and I think that’s very, very important. And I trust personally the private sector ultimately will deliver on this, because countless entrepreneurs will be attracting capital for R&D, for investment. And we’ve triggered that by adding to our own R&D, putting it up to about twice the level.

And so my sense is that – I’m not going to go through the details, but we’ve increased our adaptation investments in this effort. We’ve increased our commitment to the Mission Innovation, which will take our R&D up from 5 billion to 10 billion. When you add that to the President’s Climate Action assistance Plan, which provides help to about 120 countries to help to embrace climate change practices – we’re committed to working with the World Bank to help change the way it actually funds some of these kinds of initiatives. We think we can do better.

And I think the final virtue of this agreement – there are other virtues, but the final important one that I want to just single out right now is that it – as we keep an eye on the targets with the review process, this agreement allows us to change those targets, to – and you hear one country announce tonight that they’re already committing to change, France, in 2020. I’m confident others will follow. And technologies are going to force that kind of change. There’ll be a heck of a – huge amount of technology advantage created here. And I think that’s going to make all the difference in the world in the long run.

So with that, rather than go on, let me – I’d be happy to take some questions. And one thing I might mention quickly, just – we – our team was superb here, and I want to thank Todd Stern, who headed it up and has been at this for a long time. Much as Wendy Sherman was shepherding the Iran negotiations Todd has been for several years now out there, going to these meetings, moving around, building relationships. And he’s done a superb job, as has Brian Deese, who was assigned by the President to track this for the – to track this for the President. And the White House really stepped up and was a great colleague in the process there.

And then finally, we have a treasure in our team who has been at almost every COP, I think, since 1992, and that’s Sue Biniaz. Just amazing – her knowledge, her skill, her ability to be able to help find a creative way through some very difficult issues is second to nobody that I’ve seen. So I really credit the team we had in helping us to get over the hurdle.

And with that, let me take a few questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, just this week James Inhofe in the Senate was saying this was never going to happen, essentially vowing to block any effort that you’re making here. And I’m just wondering what response you have to that and how you can assure the Americans and the world that we can honor our commitments?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s already happening. I have news for Senator Inhofe. The United States of America has already reduced our emissions more than any other country in the world under President Obama’s plans. President Obama, because Congress will not face a – unfortunately under the current leadership of the environment committee or other committees is not able to do this. So the President has made executive decision, shown extraordinary leadership, has stepped up. And frankly, part of why were able to get this done today is because of the credibility of the United States that we have built over the last years by stepping up to increase our automobile efficiency, to change our efficiency standards, to put in place strong new power plant rules and so forth. That told the world we’re serious.

My being here for five days – I can’t tell you how many people commented how that made a difference to them. It said the United States is serious; look, their Secretary of State is here and working on this. We heard that consistently. So I think that – I regret to say Senator Inhofe is just wrong. This has to happen and I believe this will continue, because I don’t – I just personally do not believe that any person who doesn’t understand the science and isn’t prepared to do for the next generations what we did here today and follow through on it cannot and will not be elected president of the United States. It’s that simple.

QUESTION: Senator Kerry, Lisa Friedman from ClimateWire. Two questions. First, could you tell us a little bit about the huddles in the beginning? Was that a clerical error or a real error, do you think?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, it was a – it was – I mean, Laurent Fabius said point-blank that it was a mistake. And he doesn’t know where it took place, but the bottom line is that when I looked at that, I said, “We cannot do this and we will not do this. And either it changes or President Obama and the United States will not be able to support this agreement.” And we made it crystal clear that every text up until this particular one had a different wording. So it wasn’t hard for them to realize that somebody had made a mistake, and they accepted responsibility for it.

That is not what slowed us down so much. There was a slight slowdown with the G77 until that was clarified. But we had a country or two that had some questions and differences and how this process was going to work and were they going to be listened to. And we worked it out over a period of time with different meetings through various people who were able to talk to various people more effectively. That was the virtue of this. We worked very closely with a number of key countries in this effort in order to be able to reach some kind of consensus, understanding that it’s very difficult with 196 players to do that unless blocs begin to move together in certain ways. And that was part of our strategy.

But no, it was a genuine – it was a mistake, I am convinced. But it also makes it clear to people that we were willing not to do anything that we thought violated the bottom line of doing something that might have created a legal requirement in a place that it shouldn’t have been. So we kept faith with our own negotiating standards and what we promised to Congress and the American people.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that bottom line? The U.S. has fought so hard to create an agreement that was differentiated, that got away from this two-part, two-category system. Could you have created this agreement if the Senate had not killed Kyoto in 1997?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we wouldn’t even be talking about this agreement if Kyoto had been implemented and taken place. But it’s all moot now. It just doesn’t matter to answer that question. Because it didn’t happen, and where we are, and we have a lot more work to do as a result.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, I was going to ask the big question of the day on the news of the day, but I – this is the news of the day. How will you get these ambitious promises through given that you’ve kind of pushed the envelope on executive authority already as far as Congress goes? Because it’s not sure that Congress is actually going to back this.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re already on a path to reduce. As I said, we’ve reduced more than any other country in the world. And we’re reducing very rapidly. What is happening is that the private sector is stepping up already. And by the way, people need to take notice. I urge members of Congress to examine what’s happening in some of their own cities and states. Mayors are stepping up all across America, and mayors have command authority to do many of these things in their communities, and they are. So Mayor Bloomberg and others have stepped up, created a Conference of Mayors on this subject. I think there are more than a thousand-plus mayors who have signed up to this, and they’re doing things in transportation and cycling and building codes and other things that they can do.

So as the private sector steps up, you’re also seeing massive reductions, and those will increase, I believe. Most importantly, someone – the next Elon Musk, the next Steve Jobs, the next whomever – is going to find a way to improve battery storage to such a degree that we’re totally competitive in one alternative or renewable to fossil. You’re going to see solar panels improving significantly, becoming less costly, more efficient. You’re going – I mean, there are all kinds of things that are happening. There’s a massive amount of research in battery storage.

So I anticipate that the private sector is going to move here. We see this as perhaps one of the biggest job creators in the world. This is going to create jobs – the building of the infrastructure, the deployment of it, the research, the servicing of solar field, of wind power – you run the list – transportation, new systems, more efficiency. All of those things will require technical skills and jobs. In addition, there’s about $50 trillion that is anticipated to be spent between now and 2050 or so. That’s an extraordinary figure. And providing there are bankable projects that can be undertaken, that’s going to kick our economy into gear, and already we’ve seen the fastest-growing sector of the American economy is alternative renewable energy. You’re seeing massive numbers of new entities grow up.

So with 4.5 billion users today worldwide, growing up to 9 billion users worldwide, this is going to be the biggest market we’ve ever seen. And since people buy energy, it’s revenue-producing, and people can make a lot of money over that process.

MR TONER: One more.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Mr. Secretary. What I really wanted to ask you was, really, how is this going to survive this presidential election?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, this – it’s going to survive by electing a president who understands this and is committed to it. That’s how it survives.

MR TONER: Just time for one more, sir.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, Melissa Eddy, New York Times. You have obviously been at this intensely these past two weeks, but even before then there has been an entire process of diplomacy. Could you maybe just single out what were some of the most important steps along the way that really made even the intense diplomacy of the past two weeks possible?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think two of the most important steps were, one, the meetings we had early on, the initiative that we undertook to reach out to China, fundamentally calculated in 2013 to change the paradigm of what happened in Copenhagen. That was a calculated initiative to go to China, enlist their support, recognizing they had environmental challenges in China and had an interest, therefore, and we tried to tap into that consciously to build a working partnership and relationship purposefully to announce our intended reductions together with the calculation that if the two largest economies in the world and the two largest emitters in the world joined together at the same time, it would have exactly the impact it would have.

Now in truth, I didn’t anticipate 186 countries. I thought we’d be doing great if we hit 100 or somewhere – this far surpassed that. But because we got together and it became serious as a result for a lot of countries, and because you had a developing country and somebody who had been leading the efforts against us in Copenhagen, that opened up the door. And it was a sea change.

Then when we went to Lima, we were able to break through in Lima using the language we had come to agreement on in China. And that became the sort of stalemate-breaker in Lima and it gave faith to people this can be done. So I think that, coupled with a general growing sense of urgency in various parts of the world as more and more people for themselves are experiencing the transformation, seeing the consequences – floods, increased floods.

I was in the Philippines where the Haiyan typhoon hit. That seizes the people of the Philippines. You can go to many other places where there have been massive more rainfall. Rainfall of two years has fallen in the span of one day in some places. That concentrates the mind. And as people are beginning to even see glaciers melting and rivers drying up and droughts that they never saw before, fires consuming Indonesia and other places – there is a sense of urgency that is being felt increasingly by citizens around the world, if not some leaders in various places who refuse to take notice of it.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Congratulations.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good. Good to be with you. Thank you all.