Remarks at the University of Texas at Austin Pickle Research Center Solar Field

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Austin, TX
April 27, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m very grateful to the University of Texas, to the Pickle Research Center, and to the president of the University of Texas, Greg Fenves, for inviting me here today to really look at the future that is happening now. And Texas is really an extraordinary story, where they are creating the reality to what so many leaders came to New York last week to embrace in the signing of the Paris climate change agreement.

Last week we saw some 200 nations come to the United Nations, and 100 and, I think, 90 or so signed the agreement itself that will put the world on the road towards sustainable energy production, sustainable energy use; towards clean energy and alternative (inaudible). And one of the reasons that my being here today is so important is that really, the Paris agreement is a statement about urgency. We are already witnessing the impacts of climate change in many different ways: increased droughts; increased numbers and greater intensity to fires; changes in our oceans’ temperature, and therefore in the stocks of fish and movements of fish which provide enormous protein to people all around the world; changes in species habitat, species that are moving from one location to another, whether in the ocean or on the land. The – we’re seeing change in agriculture, what grows where. And we’re seeing, profoundly disturbingly, changes in the available water and water supplies, which has affected the movement of people, so we have what are called climate refugees as a growing challenge in terms of public policy.

But the Paris agreement is not in and of itself a solution to all of this because it doesn’t guarantee we will keep the global temperature from rising above 2 degree centigrade, which scientists tells us is the tipping point, is the critical number. What we do know is that that agreement is accelerating investment, accelerating entrepreneurial research, scientific research, and we are seeing people for the first time in history changing the equation. Last year, for the first time in history, the – despite the low price of gas and oil and coal, more of the world’s money was spent fostering renewable energy technologies than on new fossil fuel plants. That is a game-changer. And in the past, because of the steps that we took – this has happened partly because of the steps that President Obama has taken in his National Climate Action Plan, but also the private sector now has the confidence that it needed to begin to pour higher levels of investment into this new energy future. In recent years, the United States of America has increased our wind power generation by threefold and our solar power generation by twentyfold. That’s what you see here. That’s what they’re working on inside in the Pickle Research Center, is the panels that you see – how to make them more efficient and how to bring the cost of solar production down so it is competitive, and that is exactly what they have done.

Solar panels now cost a fraction of what they cost the day that President Obama was sworn in as President, and in many places solar power is now competitive with fossil fuels, including right here in Austin. What’s also interesting is that Texas, which is attracting some of the finest researchers and scientists in the world – are coming here because Texas, while long associated with the oil industry – and it will always be associated with the oil industry going into the future; that’s not going to change quickly – but it is now also far and away a national leader with respect to wind power. The state’s solar sector is also expected to grow steadily as well, more than sixfold in the next year alone.

So Texas is making the kind of progress that we’re hoping to see in states all over the country and in countries all over the world. We’re not only seeing incredible levels of clean energy generation, but we’re also seeing infrastructure development that is enabling the energy that is being produced here to be able to be transported to the places that it needs to be.

So the bottom line is the story of Texas’s energy transformation is one of the examples of where this world of ours is going and of how economies are going to change over the course of the next years. Smart investments, creative entrepreneurs and innovators are writing this story, and it is a story that is critical for all of us, and I’ll tell you why: because other countries also see this, and whether it’s China or India or other competitive countries in the world, if the United States doesn’t move fast enough – and we have the ability, we have the technology, we have the knowhow, we have the savvy, we have the innovators, and we have the best system of allocation of capital anywhere in the world – we have the ability to do this, but we have to now build the commitment within our communities and our politics and our leadership to embrace this opportunity.

This will be the single biggest market the world has ever seen. Millions of jobs will be created in the building of and in the maintenance and running of these kinds of energy production facilities. And we’re already seeing growth in our economy as a result of the investment in the clean energy future.

So I’m really excited to be here today because of where I was last week when I had the privilege of singing the United States participation in the climate change agreement with my two-year-old granddaughter on my lap. This is about the future – it’s about the next generation and doing what we need to do to guarantee that they grow up in an economy that works and in a world that is safe and clean and where the environment doesn’t bring you disease but it brings you more of a future that is safe and sound.

So thank you for having me here at the University of Texas Research Center, the Pickle Research Center. I’m delighted with what you’re doing here and more power to you, so to speak. (Applause.)