Interview With George Stephanopoulos of ABC

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

QUESTION: History made in Paris yesterday, as nearly 200 nations approved the first global agreement on climate change. The Paris accord will aim to limit global temperature increases and their catastrophic consequences by curbing greenhouse gas emissions, cutting the use of fossil fuels. President Obama gave the agreement an emphatic endorsement in a rare Saturday evening statement from the White House.

(Begin clip.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The targets we’ve set are bold, and by empowering businesses, scientists, engineers, workers, and the private sector – investors – to work together, this agreement represents the best chance we’ve had to save the one planet that we’ve got.

(End clip.)

QUESTION: And we’re joined now by Obama’s chief negotiator, the Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us. Pretty remarkable to get 195 nations to agree on anything, but the agreement does have significant critics too – James Hansen, the NASA scientist who many see as the godfather of the movement to take on climate change, said this to The Guardian. He said, “It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises.” Your response?

SECRETARY KERRY: Look, I have great respect for Jim Hansen, and I was there in 1988 when he first warned everybody climate change was happening. But with all due respect to him, I understand the criticisms of the agreement because it doesn’t have a mandatory scheme and it doesn’t have a compliance enforcement mechanism. That’s true. But we have 186 countries, for the first time in history, all submitting independent plans that they have laid down, which are real, for reducing emissions. And what it does, in my judgment, more than anything else – there is a uniform standard of transparency. And therefore, we will know what everybody is doing.

The result will be a very clear signal to the marketplace of the world that people are moving in to low carbon, no carbon, alternative, renewable energy. And I think it’s going to create millions of jobs – enormous new investment in R&D, and that R&D is going to produce the solutions, not government.

QUESTION: As you know, there are no sanctions – this is – it is not legally binding, in part because the U.S. couldn’t get a treaty through the Senate. And the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also weighed in quite strongly already, Mr. Secretary. He’s saying that before the President’s international partners pop the champagne, they should remember that this is an unattainable deal based on a domestic energy plan that is likely illegal, that half the states have sued to halt, and that Congress has already voted to reject. So can this deal actually be implemented absent a consensus in the United States?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there is a consensus in the United States among the American people and among mayors across the nation, all of whom are already – many of whom, excuse me, but those, all of them that have joined a mayors’ conference with respect to climate reductions. And the fact is the United States of America has already reduced its emissions more than any other country in the world, and it’s done so through various means – by raising the efficiency standards on automobiles, by engaging in R&D and deployment of new technologies. And the President has made it very, very clear that he’s committed to this. And this agreement really came about significantly due to American leadership with President Obama engaging with China, coming to an agreement with the two largest economies, the two largest emitters saying they were going to join together to put out their reductions. And that spurred 184 other countries to step up.

So this is significant. I mean, what do – what do the members of Congress think when leaders of major countries around the world are actually stepping up to do these things? These are not --

QUESTION: But Mr. Secretary --

SECRETARY KERRY: These guys aren’t making up the science or the plans to do it. And I think, frankly, a lot of members of Congress are on the wrong side of history, and I don’t believe you can be elected president of the United States if you don’t understand climate change and you’re not committed to this kind of a plan.

QUESTION: Well, that’s what I wanted to get to. Most of the Republicans running for President have said they would not have attended the Paris talks, would not have led, and they’ve vowed to undo the President’s executive actions.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think it’s irrelevant.

QUESTION: So if President Obama’s successor is against it, will it unravel?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, obviously, if a Republican were elected and they have the ability by executive order to undo things, the answer is yes. But that’s why I don’t believe the American people, who predominantly do believe in what is happening with climate change – I don’t think they’re going to accept as a genuine leader someone who doesn’t understand the science of climate change and isn’t willing to do something about it. We had eight storms last year which cost America well more than eight – than a billion dollars per storm. It’s far cheaper to recognize what’s coming and cure the problem ahead of time.

QUESTION: Finally, Mr. Secretary, Donald Trump’s comments about banning the entry of Muslims into the United States rocketing around the world this week. How have his comments affected America’s standing in the world? And do you agree with your colleagues in the Administration who said they are endangering national security?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it does endanger national security because it exhibits an attitude by one American who is running for the highest office of our land about a willingness to discriminate against a religion. I mean, that is against our Constitution and it’s against who we are as Americans. We have all kinds of ways of putting protections in to the programs by which people come into our nation, but to outright ban people because they belong to one particular religion? That’s just stunningly contrary to the fundamental values of our nation, which were built on tolerance. In the House of Representatives, on one of those panels of the dais, where a president speaks from to deliver the State of the Union, inscribed in that panel is the word “tolerance,” and it seems to me that Mr. Trump’s statement is wholly and totally without recognition of the true American spirit and values, and certainly tolerance.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.