Remarks at the Kennedy Center

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
September 15, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: David, thank you very, very much. No speech tonight. I did that earlier. And everybody has had a very, very long day, but it’s my great pleasure to welcome all of you here to the Kennedy Center. And I’m deeply appreciative to David Rubenstein, the chairman, who does an extraordinary job of overseeing, managing this fabulous asset, institution that belongs to the people of the United States and is in memory, as he said, of President Kennedy.

And I’m delighted, somewhere out there, that my wife is here tonight. I’m glad that she was able to join us because she and I actually first met in real terms, other than a hello at the Capitol one day, introduced by her late husband, John Heinz, who served in the Senate with me. And we were in Rio together during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. And so she has been a longtime, believe me, super-committed environmentalist. And together, we share a love for the ocean.

I want to thank my colleagues. They’re a tremendous group of foreign ministers, environment ministers. We have Segolene Royal, who is the president of COP21, who is here with us, who you saw on the video. And all of these folks have come here to Washington not because it’s easy. Julie Bishop, the foreign minister from Australia, literally just arrived on Qantas and American and got here a little while before dinner tonight. And that’s a long way to travel, but she’s here because Australia obviously is a partner in this endeavor, as are all of the island state folks who are represented here, the nations who have come here, in order to join together to make a difference with respect to the challenge of our oceans.

Jules Verne, who a lot of us grew up with – 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea – wrote many things about the ocean – that it was a receptacle for prodigious, supernatural beings that lived there. But mostly, he summed it up by saying it was the living infinite.

Well, in 2016, some of it isn’t living, and we all know it is not infinite. Despite its size, it is affected by human beings and has been profoundly affected by human beings over the last few centuries in ways that Jules Verne never would have imagined. Even his imagination could not have foreseen what we human beings steadily, slowly are allowing to happen to this incredible resource on which we literally depend for life itself.

So tonight, I’m not going to go into a long substance about it, except to say that we’re not here to lament where we are. We’re here to take where we are and make it a swift boot in the rear end and kick us into gear so that we all go out and get the things done that we know are there to be done and will make the difference and bring the oceans back from the brink of challenge, at least, and disaster perhaps.

So I really thank you. I thank those of you who come here as supporters, I thank those of you who have come here to work these two days in order to set out an agenda. And I’m proud to tell you that just today, in the first day, more than 50 countries and entities, organizations, stood up and made their commitments public. And among those commitments, apart from many pilot projects and many initiatives that will affect children in schools, that will have an impact in education, have an impact in organizing people, have an impact in communicating, there are 15 nations already, 15 entities that have talked about the role they will play in the Safe Ocean Network, which will begin to create accountability for fisheries in the high seas where it doesn’t exist today.

One of the things that most struck me about today’s meeting was Enric Sala’s presentation about where the fishing is, how we track it, but most importantly, about the high seas and how the fishing that takes place on the high seas is not profitable, but subsidized, and it is fishing that is almost exclusively for luxury purposes, not for necessary food production for people. So if we began to deal with just that, the high seas alone, and that would become its own massive marine protected area, if it began to become more economically dependent and viable, it would be an extraordinary step in and of itself. And today, we had more than 3.3 million square kilometers of sea set aside for additional to the 6 million that we did last year and the year before, and in addition to that, some $3.3 billion committed today. So that’s a start. That’s a start. (Applause.)

And that is the end of statistics and figures and concepts. We want to have a little bit of fun. For those of you who are jetlagged, this is not a long show. (Laughter.) We’ll get you home and get you a good night’s sleep before tomorrow. But this is a wedding of the appetite, in essence, tonight with some great talent. And I want you all to join me as we welcome them to share some varied entertainment with us tonight.

A thank you to Grace Potter, to Norm Lewis, to Eric Whitacre, and to Adrian Grenier We are deeply grateful for them for taking time out of their lives to come here and donate their talent in order to share the evening with us. Thank you all for sharing these two days with us. We appreciate it. Thank you. (Applause.)