Opening Ceremony of the United Nations Signing Ceremony of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change

John Kerry
Secretary of State
New York City
April 22, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY:  Mr. Secretary General, Monsieur le President de la France, Your Excellencies, friends and partners in this significant endeavor:

It’s an enormous privilege to be here on Earth Day to join in signing this historic agreement.

I was a young organizer and speaker, not so long back from Vietnam, on the first Earth Day in 1970.  And I was a young senator and advocate in Rio in 1992 when we held the first Earth Summit.  To say the least, it has been an interesting journey of 46 years to this podium today.  And after many COPs, many miles traveled – and many more debates – it’s fair to say that all of us could feel an extraordinary sweep of emotion and joy at the moment in Paris when 196 nations simultaneously said a resounding yes, we will do our part – we will live up to our responsibility to future generations and together, citizens of the world, we will work to save our planet from ourselves.

Now, that was a special moment in the plenary at Le Bourget, one of – one that I am confident those who were privileged to be there will never forget. 

So for certain, today is a day to mark and to celebrate the hard work done by so many to win the battle of securing the Paris agreement.  But knowing what we know, this is also a day to recommit ourselves to actually win this war. 

Paris was a turning point in the fight against climate change.

Paris marked the moment when the world finally decided to heed the ever-rising mountain of evidence that had been piling up for years.  It marked the moment that we put to rest once and for all the debate over whether climate change is real – and began instead to galvanize our focus on how, as a global community, we are going to address the irrefutable reality that nature is changing at an increasingly rapid pace due to our own choices. 

For sure, the agreement that we reached in Paris is the strongest, most ambitious global climate pact ever negotiated.  But the power of this agreement is not that it, in and of itself, guarantees that we will actually hold the increase of temperature to the target of 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees centigrade.  In fact, it does not and we know that, we acknowledge it.  The power of this agreement is the opportunity that it creates.  The power is the message that it sends to the marketplace.  It is the unmistakable signal that innovation, entrepreneurial activity, the allocation of capital, the decisions that governments make, all of this is what we now know definitively is what is going to define the new energy future – a future that is already being defined but even yet to be discovered.  The power of this agreement is what it is going to do to unleash the private sector, and it is already doing to set in pace the global economy on a new path for smart, responsible, sustainable development. 

Already last year, my friends, renewable energy investment was at an all-time high – nearly $330 billion.  And it is predicted that we will invest tens of trillions of dollars by the middle of this century. 

For the first time in history – despite the low prices of oil, coal, and gas – more of the world’s money was spent fostering renewable energy technologies than on new fossil fuel plants.

Today we know:  The new energy future, the efficiencies, the alternative resources, the clean options – none of what we have to achieve is beyond our capacity technologically.  The only question is whether it is beyond our collective resolve.

Indeed, even in the time since we convened in Paris, we have seen new evidence of the danger that the climate change pace poses to our planet.  We learned that 2015 was the hottest year in recorded history – by far – and we learned that after knowing that the past decade was the hottest on record, and the one before that was the hottest on record, and the one before that the third hottest on record.  And now we know that this year is already on track to be the warmest of all, and last month, March, was the hottest recorded March in all of history.  This past winter, the maximum extent of Arctic sea ice was the lowest ever reported – breaking the record that was set just one year ago. 

So the urgency of this challenge is only becoming more pronounced.  And that is why our gathering today is, in fact, historic.  The United States looks forward to formally joining this agreement this year, and we call on all of our international partners to do so.

At the first – as the first Earth Day proved here in the United States, when 20 million Americans came out into the street and said we do not want to live beside a toxic waste dump, we do not want rivers that actually light on fire – when enough people come out and make their voices heard, when they turn their policy into a voting issue, when they work together towards the same real goal, then, measureable change is possible.

Today, as we think of the hard work ahead, I am reminded of Nelson Mandela’s very simple words:  “It always seems impossible until it is done.”  And while it isn’t done yet, today we are on the march.  And for our children and our grandchildren, we are living up to President Kennedy’s inauguration admonition that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.  Thank you.  (Applause.)