U.S.-China Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi
Beijing International Hotel
Beijing, China
June 7, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: (In progress) “You’re on.” (Laughter.) So here I am.

Distinguished mayors – I understand my own mayor is here, the Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh. Where is he? Somewhere? There he is. Thank you, Marty. Good to see you. (Applause.) Thank you very, very much.

Special Representative Xie, I want to thank you so much. I want you all to know that the special representative and I have spent years, literally – when I was in the United States Senate, I met with him any number of times. Once he even served me an enormous meal at an airport as we met in between travels, working on the issue of climate change. And I want to thank him for being a central voice on the issue of climate change and a voice for conservation at the NDRC.

But most importantly, he was China’s top negotiator, as I think most of you know, for the climate change negotiations in Paris. And he is one of the people who really helped to make this happen. When I came over here literally a month or so after I had been appointed Secretary of State, I came to China because we knew we had failed in Copenhagen and we couldn’t afford to repeat. And so the first meetings were with the Chinese; the first commitment was the Chinese; and President Xi committed to do this and follow through on it, working with State Councilor Yang Jiechi. And so the result is that really China and the United States were able to come together a year before Paris, and it’s that joint leadership that I am convinced helped set the stage for the Paris agreement.

So Special Representative Xie, thank you for your role in that. I think everybody here is grateful to you for your leadership. (Applause.)

I want to thank the Government of China for convening the Second Annual Climate-Smart, Low Carbon Cities Summit. And particularly I want to thank my friend, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, who has been a terrific host this week and whose partnership on climate change has helped all of us to be able to move the ball forward. I especially thank the Mayor of Beijing, Wang Anshun. Where is the mayor? Is he here now? He’s probably not here now, but I thank him very much for his efforts to reduce emissions here in the city of Beijing, which everybody knows was a huge challenge. And he has been and Beijing has been as forward-leaning as any city anywhere in the world.

So let me just be very clear to all of you. And I know you’re here because you’re already believers in the urgency of action; that’s what’s brought you here. But climate change is without any question unlike anything that we have ever faced before. It’s a different kind of challenge, and it’s different from anything we’ve faced as individual nations or as one planet. The fact is, if we are going to live up to the Paris agreement and accelerate the transition to a low carbon future, we have to start with our cities.

Now, let me just emphasize to everybody that the effects of climate change are moving faster than many of us anticipated. Just the other day, we learned that last month – actually we’re just into June, so effectively it would have been April. But the month of April was the hottest April in all of recorded history. And the month before that, March was the hottest March in all of recorded history. And guess what? Every single month of the entire year preceding was the hottest month in all of recorded history. So we had the hottest year in history, which is part of the hottest decade in history. And now the decade preceding that is the second hottest in history, and the decade preceding that is the third hottest in history.

So just as rational people, what does that tell you? What does it tell you when you see record rainfall? Go to Paris and see what’s happening there. Go to Houston, Texas, where a few weeks ago they had 17 inches of rain in one day within, I think, about five hours, which is more rain than they had the entire summer the year before. So you add it up, take all the evidence – and I’m not going to put it all on the table now because all of you understand this. But what is happening is it is building. And that is the reason that as we look to the future, it is an inescapable fact that cities are going to be in the eye of the climate change storm.

Why? Because more people live in urban areas today than rural, and that has never happened before in our lives. And by 2050, two out of every three people on Earth will live in cities.

Second, fully 90 percent of major cities – 90 percent – are situated along inland or coastal waterways, making them particularly at risk for storm surges and for sea level rise. There are cities today in parts of the world that are going to have trouble existing unless things change – certainly trouble functioning. And the kind of extreme weather that we anticipate could shut down – we’ve already seen it shutting down cities. The local economy of Houston in the example that I just described took a hit of an estimated half a billion dollars or more as a result of those five hours that one day.

So the bad news is that cities are highly vulnerable to climate change. That’s what brings you here. But the good news here – there actually is good news – is that cities have it within their power to protect themselves. They have the power to ensure resiliency in the face of this danger.

And here is why. The answer to climate change is not a mystery. This is not some challenge that we look at, like some in public life, where you kind of scratch your head and you just don’t know what the answer is going to be, or the answer is going to require you to go out and discover something that you haven’t yet discovered. But that’s not the case here. The answer to the problem of climate change is staring us right in the face. And we have already the capacities. It’s called clean energy.

Energy is the solution – or energy choices that we make is the solution to climate change. And we’re simply not going to need – we’re just not going to get where we need to go unless we move towards – and rapidly – towards a low-carbon global clean energy economy.

Now, today the world’s cities account for more than two-thirds of global energy use. So you can begin to add it up. If most people are going to live in the cities and they already account for most of the energy use, then they’re going to account for even more energy use in the future, except for efficiencies or changes that we make. But here’s the downside: Cities are also responsible for 70 percent of global greenhouse gases. And if we change the way that we power our cities, then we will change the way that we power our world. And in the process, we’ll actually save it.

Now, the United States and China fully understand this. This is a great partnership, an important partnership. And that’s why we launched the U.S.-China Climate Leaders’ Summit in Los Angeles last year; and more than two dozen cities, states, provinces, and counties signed the declaration committing to establish ambitious targets to cut their emissions, develop climate action plans, and report regularly on their process.

So we have come together now to build on these steps here in Beijing. And I’m very proud today to announce that the 2017 U.S. Climate Change Leaders’ Summit is going to convene in my hometown of Boston. (Applause.) And believe me, Boston is a coastal city that understands the threat of rising sea levels and extreme weather and that has already taken ambitious steps in order to reduce emissions and mitigate the harmful effects of climate change.

Now, our efforts – I want everybody to understand – are not limited to coming here and attending a summit in one city or another. More than 125 U.S. cities have signed onto the Compact of the Mayors, which former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg organized in order to secure public commitments from urban leaders on a global basis. It’s a great act of leadership, and I applaud what Mayor Bloomberg has done while he was in office and even more so now as he continues now that he’s out of office.

An increasing number of Chinese mayors have joined the Alliance for Pioneer Peaking Cities. That is not Peking; that is peaking cities. (Laughter.) And the – it’s called the APPC. And they are going to explore new approaches for low-carbon development and help local and national leaders to be able to reach peak emission targets as quickly as possible.

Just a couple of hours ago, these two coalitions – the Compact of Mayors and the APPC – signed an MOU to better be able to connect their members and to ensure that our cities are helping one another as they combat climate change and promote sustainable development.

Finally, I am pleased to announce that later this year the U.S. State Department is going to again partner with Mike Bloomberg and Bloomberg Philanthropies to bring urban sustainability directors from around the world to the United States in order to exchange ideas and learn best practices.

So the record is plain. Mayors and other urban leaders have contributed enormously to the progress that we’ve begun to make in combating climate change. Cities are on the front lines of devising ways to save energy and cut emissions. And cities and those who represent them played an indispensable role in encouraging federal officials to set a meaningful national target and approve the Paris agreement. But that agreement is actually not – it’s obviously not the end of the story. It’s the beginning of the story. It’s the first chapter. And we need your continued focus, especially from the mayors of the United States and China, if we are going to bring about the low-carbon global future that we need to bring about.

Now, I want you to know that the criticality of this cannot be overstated. But also, folks, you’ve got to think about this for a minute. We still have some people who are climate deniers. We had a United States senator come to the floor of the Senate last winter with a snowball in his hand – by the way, technically you’re not allowed to bring props on the floor of the Senate, but that’s another matter. (Laughter.) But the prop that he had was a snowball in January as if to say, “Gosh, look, there’s still snow, therefore there can’t be climate change.” That’s what he set out to prove. It’s not what he did prove. He proved something else altogether. I won’t talk about it here. (Laughter.)

But the point I’m making is if the climate deniers compare the climate deniers’ choice, which is to do nothing, to the choice that we’re embarking on here, we believe that this is urgent enough that we need to move rapidly to do it. Now, if we do it, what is the worst that can happen if we were to move rapidly to a low-carbon world? Well, guess what? The worst that would happen is you’d have a massive transformation as companies move to alternative kinds of fuel that happens to be cleaner. And so the greatest cause of children going to the hospital in the summer in America is environmentally induced asthma, and we spend billions on it. You’d eliminate it or diminish it significantly. You’d diminish particulate-incurred cancer. You would begin to not only increase the health of your citizens, but you’d have millions of jobs as people build the infrastructure of transitioning to a low-carbon world, whether it’s solar or hydro or some kind of hybrid or wind power. There are massive numbers of jobs to be created in that transition.

And by the way, there’s still a whole bunch of people on this planet who don’t even have electricity. And if you began to do distributive power and build out the solar distributive power that would bring homes in Africa or in South Central Asia or places electricity for the first time, you begin to change the foundation of society itself and reduce poverty. And in the doing of all of this, you actually make yourself more secure because you’re no longer dependent on fuel from another country or another part of the world where there may be conflict, and that security pays off in dividends that we don’t even measure. Right?

So that’s the worst that would happen to you – jobs, health, environment, security. What’s the worst that happens if the deniers are wrong? End of life as we know it on the planet. So compare your choice of worsts. And that’s something we have to start to get people to understand, because in the choices that a lot of the mayors I talk to, a lot of the government officials I talk to, they say, “Oh, well, we can’t afford to switch from coal,” or “We can’t afford to switch from fuel oil,” whatever it is, fossil fuel. But guess what? When they say that it’s 7 cents or 10 cents a kilowatt-hour or whatever the cost they come up with, they are not measuring the $230 billion we spent in the United States last year alone to clean up the damage from eight storms that are more intense than ever before. They’re not including the cost of all those kids going to the hospital. They’re not including the security costs and the costs you pay to go to a part of the world where you have to defend the ability of your ship to bring the fuel oil through the Straits of Hormuz or wherever it is. Add the costs up and the reality is it is far, far more costly today to be sticking with a fossil fuel oil of dirty impact rather than to move rapidly to a low-carbon economy. That’s what we have to make sure people start to understand.

So we have, I think, considered the global threat caused by climate change in every way possible, and we – we’re fortunate enough to be able to bring China and the United States together on this most critical challenge. And here in Beijing, President Obama and President Xi stood up together and said to the world we are going to set our intended reductions a year ahead of time so that other nations can come and join in and get the job done. Guess what, folks? That’s what I call leadership, and that leadership made a difference. (Applause.)

So as we work, all of us together, to implement and move beyond the Paris agreement, our cooperation is more important than ever.

In Paris we did not set a mandatory reduction. We set a scheme by which every country comes up with its own plan. The real importance of Paris is not that it absolutely guarantees we’re going to hold the rise of temperature to 2 degrees centigrade. The real impact of Paris is the signal 196 countries send simultaneously to the global marketplace that we are committed to moving to low carbon. And it is not government that ultimately is going to provide us with the solution, what form of energy or another. It’s the private sector that recognizing the largest market in all of human history is going to invest and move the world to this low-carbon possibility.

So it’s a monumental undertaking, and whether we can rise to this moment or not will profoundly affect our future. And it will profoundly depend on each and every one of you leaving here, going back to your communities, and carrying this call for action to every citizen you can reach. Because in the end, this is in your hands, in our hands, and I look forward to working with all of you to get the job done. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)


(In English) And some of the distinguished members of the audience come from the United States, so maybe you’ll feel like having a change, so I will speak English for a while. (Applause.)

Let me tell you, during the last two days we have had the Strategic and Economic Dialogue and we had the high-level cultural exchange consultation, we have been very successful. And this afternoon both President Xi Jingping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang met separately with the members of the two delegations. And there have been very good exchanges and important exchanges of views between the Chinese top leaders and the leaders of the U.S. delegation, namely Secretary John Kerry and Secretary Jacob Lew.

One of the main topics that they covered is climate change, the concerted efforts by China and the United States to work with others to make the Paris conference a great success. And we talked about how important it was for the two leaders of China and the United States to issue three statements, joint statements, on climate change. And we have to work together to make sure that the Paris agreement will come into effect as soon as possible.

I very much echo what the Secretary said a moment ago, about taking the long view. We have to think about climate change within the framework of multiplier impact. We have to think about the overall approach that we have to take. An overarching approach will make sure that the generations to come will live a decent, healthy, and happy life.

Where will they live? I think more and more youngsters will be brought up in the cities. The pace of urbanization in China is picking up, and the United States is already mostly an urban society, though in your countryside the living standards are equally high. But when you look around the world, more and more people will move from the country to the city. So China and the United States, with the complementary nature of our research abilities and our expertise in different fields, there should be a marriage of our expertise. There will be a further meeting of the minds to make sure that the smart cities will be the startups, the smart cities will climb to the summit, to make sure that there will be a broad horizon opening up for the younger generations.

The Secretary of State mentioned the great city of Boston. Boston is a beautiful city and a forward-looking city. I remember the Secretary of State kindly invited me to lunch in the harbor, Boston Harbor area, with a beautiful view of the sea. It was a clear day, but we were talking about a very heavy subject – about climate change. And I remember how many times my dear colleague, also a real expert on climate change, Mr. Xie Zhenhua, and I discussed this issue. And let us applaud for the great achievements and contribution made by these two individuals – the Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. Xie Zhenhua – for their contribution – (applause) – to addressing climate change.

I did go to L.A. for the meeting. I’ve been to L.A. many times. L.A. itself is a good example to see what pollution could bring to a city, and what great efforts to clear up pollution can benefit a city. China is making a relentless effort to make our cities cleaner, more beautiful, and this is actually part of the major themes of the S&ED. It’s not on the margins; it’s a centerpiece of S&ED. Just think about the time we spent during the last two days on climate change. The Secretary and I visited with a group of people – Chinese and Americans – they become new green partnerships. We also admired their achievements, the old partnerships, the enterprises, the R&D institutions, the colleges and so on, on either side of the Pacific. They pitched in together. They never rest on their (inaudible) and they have achieved a lot in terms of how to address climate change, and how to find new, cleaner, renewable energy.

So when we address climate change, it’s not a simple process of addressing one issue. It is not a double-track mindset. It is really at least a 10-track mindset. So we have to deal with climate change, but first we should have a change of mind. We should set our sights high to make sure that many people will think along the same way. When we build up our cities, we have to make sure that the new settlers in the cities will think in the same way as we do in terms of making the city a cleaner place. Eco cities are things we are yearning for.

So, friends, let us just work together. And it is very suitable to have the second smart city low carbon summit meeting taking place in our nation’s capital. In spite of all the difficulties, Beijing – we have the Deputy Mayor of Beijing, Mr. Li, here with us. And we have the Deputy Minister of NDRC, Mr. (inaudible), with us. Despite all the challenges of a developing country, we are doing our best. For one thing, we have such a huge population in China, we have a burdensome challenge. For another, we are making new progress. For instance, Beijing has introduced many electric cars into the city, and the buses in Beijing are not run on petrol; they’re electric cars. And China today is the largest producer of electric cars, and there are more coming.

So this is a very important meeting. We have the biggest cities. We have to climb from one summit to another. We have to reach the zenith. We have to make sure that we have the broadest vision in terms of city-building, which forms a large part of what the future world will look like.

On this note, I would like to thank the Secretary of State, thank Mr. Xie Zhenhua, and thank every participant in this great event. This is the second one, and certainly not the last one. There will be many more to come. And we need to make progress, step by step, a solid one by another, to make sure that we represent the bright future of the world. Together, the developing and developed countries should work together to make our mother Earth, or, as I said, mother ocean, during yesterday’s Blue Ocean public event – we have to cherish the Earth and the ocean, and we have to cherish the future generations to come.

Thank you very much.