Remarks at the Closing Session of Our Ocean Conference

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, DC
September 16, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Sheldon, thanks so much. Thank you for taking time on a Friday. I know you guys are extraordinarily busy, and I am very appreciative that you came down here to chair this particular panel, and I’m even more appreciative of our great friendship. Sheldon is a near-neighbor of Massachusetts obviously, Rhode Island – a great sailing state – and Sheldon himself is an avid sailor. He has a beautiful, beautiful old wooden boat, restored. And he is a man of the sea and represents a state that is deeply committed to all of the ethic that is represented in this gathering. So Sheldon, thank you very much for being part of this.

And I want to – you guys have been very patient. You’ve heard a lot from me in the last couple days, so I want to jump right in and try to summarize.

But I want to begin by again singling out a few folks who really deserve to be thanked. Especially our Assistant Secretary of OES Judy Garber, Ambassador David Bolton, Sally Yozell, and Senior Staff Director Elizabeth Kim are really the ones who shepherded this incredible final product to its current state. And I’m deeply appreciative of them, as you all ought to be, and I thank them again for their tremendous work. (Applause.)

And Cathy – and the whole effort was organized by the Under Secretary of State Cathy Novelli, who opened this all up. And Cathy, thank you so much. (Applause.)

I also want to thank National Geographic. Some of the images that you have seen are beyond my scuba-diving capacity. (Laughter.) They were beautiful, moving, and that is a very important part of conveying to people what this is all about. So we thank National Geographic for their tremendous contribution to this. And I also – (applause) – thank you.

And I want to thank the folks who really executed this – set up the screen, put the rooms together, conceptualized where we move and how and when. Our professionals are doing that, and I want to thank Hargrove Productions and J Street Productions, both of whom collaborated to do this. And we thank them for their skill and their creativity. (Applause.)

I also want to thank the incredible men and women who are on this stage. I’ve already mentioned my friend and former colleague Sheldon, who is, by the way, one of the tireless advocates, as you can imagine, for all environmental issues on Capitol Hill. We have a new name for the ministers who have gathered here – Ocean Champions – but actually, as I was sitting here thinking about it, you’re all ocean champions because you have – you’re also hard-assess sitting here for the last few days. (Laughter.) I’m pretty impressed by the steady listening that you have done, and it signals the seriousness of purpose here.

But the roll of honor up here includes Mankeur Ndiaye of Senegal and Julie Bishop of Australia; Borge Brende, who you just heard from, who made an important announcement from Norway; and Karmenu Vella of the European Commission. And they have all of them contributed so significantly to this effort. I’m excited – I can’t tell you how excited I am, really, by the fact that the EU is going to do this next year in Malta, and then Indonesia will follow, and then finally Norway will follow. And if anybody else wants to stand up and make an announcement – (laughter) – I invite you to do so.

But that’s important, and I want to tell you why, because this is one of the points I really wanted to sort of focus on in the context of summing up. We can come here and we can meet and we can be moved by the images and moved by the speeches and touched by the announcements, and we are. But if we just go out of here and go back to business as usual, we’re not going to win this battle. And I think everyone here, as an ocean champion, completely understands that.

What is important is not – it is vital that we make the announcements we are making here and make the commitments. But it’s more important that we meet those commitments and that we stay in touch with each other. The power of this event I really think has been people I’ve known for a long time coming together in one room at the same time for two days and feeling everybody else’s sense of urgency, and also feeling everybody else’s commitment and seeing their commitment and measuring their commitment, so that we are accountable to ourselves.

That is the key as we leave here. And I think you would agree with me that every single week it seems that there is new science that reveals the extent of the challenges we face and the degree to which human activities are to blame. Just this week, we saw that scientists from Stanford University published a report finding that, for the first time in history, larger marine creatures are far more likely to face extinction than smaller ones. Why? Because those are the ones that human beings typically target. Now, this isn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon. This is – at the risk of being redundant, I suppose, but entire species are being wiped from this Earth specifically because our species is going after them.

So we’re reminded again and again of the hard work that lies ahead of us. And we also know what the impact of money is. We know what the impact of demand can be, whether it’s legitimate consumer demand or illegitimate consumer demand, as it is in many cases for luxury items that are forbidden either under one law or another. So just as indisputable as this challenge, as we leave here, the last two days have proven to every single person here that we are making progress and that everybody here is determined on an international basis to guarantee that we make even more progress – not just sufficient to feel good, but sufficient to get the job done and meet the task at hand. All you have to do is look at the absolutely remarkable, transformational commitments that have been made here.

Together, in the last two days, we have created over 40 significant new or expanded marine protected areas. (Applause.) I thought – I knew as we came in here, and I think I predicted it in the beginning in my opening comments, there were going to be about 12 or so – over 40, the first two ever in the Atlantic Ocean, with the sister MPAs that the United States and Canada have announced. In total, the steps taken this year – just this year – will protect nearly 4 million square kilometers of ocean water. That is more than we did at either of the last two and we are hopeful – not the combined of the last two, but at either – and we are hopeful that that number is going to grow as the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources convenes next week to consider an MPA in the Ross Sea.

And I will tell you that I have had conversations about that with President Putin, with Minister Lavrov, and they told me that they were engaged in interagency assessment last week. I don’t know what the results of that assessment will be, but we obviously all remain hopeful that Russia will step up and join us in this endeavor.

In the last two days – (applause) – that applause is not for the hope, it’s for the pressure. (Laughter.) It is really significant that just focused on marine pollution, more than 1 billion has been committed to be put forward here, and five countries announced nationwide plastic bag bans. (Applause.)

Several new announcements were made about new projects that are going to help us to better understand the impacts of climate change on our ocean and make sure that we understand all the options to be able to adapt to them. For example, my government announced the development of two cutting-edge satellites that we’re going to send into space in order to help us understand better what is happening in the ocean – in addition to the 38 million that we committed to the Pacific Island nations whose very existence is at stake due to rising seas, threatened fisheries, and the other impacts of climate change. People in many parts of the world don’t realize that whole nation-states, island states, are under siege. Their existence is threatened; the very existence now. Not in the future by rising seas, but today.

And we also made it clear that as a global community, we’re not going to sit back and watch as our oceans are pillaged by illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. And let me note that this is something the U.S. intelligence community is becoming increasingly concerned about and focused on and engaged in. This year, we launched the Safe Ocean Network in order to undertake a number of initiatives to detect IUU fishing, enforce international laws, and empower us to be able to prosecute those who violate them. And over the course of this conference, we announced the first wave – and I am convinced it is only the first wave to be continued over the course of these next years – of some 40 projects announced here that will be part of the Safe Ocean Network, as well as the announcement of the initial partners for the program. That also comprises 27 governments, including the EU, nearly 20 NGOs and IGOs. And the United States also announced some 65 million over the next five years for specific Safe Ocean Network projects in order to guarantee that we kick start it and get into high gear as fast as we can.

And I want to underscore again, it’s not just the dollars being brought to this table; it’s brand-new technologies, and I’m sure all of you got a chance to see some of them out there. Oceana, SkyTruth, Google, Paul Allen’s Vulcan, the Pew Charitable Trusts, Satellite Applications Catapult all announced major, innovative contributions that are going to help the world to better monitor the ocean and track where and when IUU fishing is happening and who is doing it.

And I think I mentioned this in my opening comments, but I was really seized by this when I was a senator and I saw the images of driftnet fishing. And unfortunately – we succeeded in banning it at the UN, but there are still rogue – I hate to say it, but rogue state-supported efforts and even ignored efforts and pirate fishermen who still driftnet. And it’s thousands of miles of monofilament netting that can just strip-mine the ocean, half the catch, two-thirds of the catch thrown overboard, not used, which is why it was banned, because it does strip-mine and not fish selectively. But also it becomes ghost fisheries, because sometimes it breaks off and then it just fishes by itself, collects fish; when the carcasses are heavy enough, it sinks to the bottom; the predators strip it, and it rises to the top again and fishes once again. So we have ghost driftnet fishing as a consequence of the law that gets broken.

I want to underscore that this entire effort to address the threats that face our ocean, it’s not just about governments stepping up. It’s about everyone stepping up. We had a concurrent event taking place over at Georgetown University today and yesterday, and I just went over and addressed an auditorium full of kids, about a whole bunch of them, who were selected in a competitive choice, coming to Washington to be involved, bringing their ideas to the table for what we can do to do this. And I told all those folks they can make all the difference, they can organize, they can go out and become the powerful force at the grassroots level that will hold the political process accountable.

And as we saw over the course of this conference, private sector leaders are becoming more and more involved because they understand the food chain, the downstream impacts of what happens. And this – as we heard Keith say earlier today, it doesn’t just affect the person who fishes or the person who (inaudible). It can affect the entire food chain economically. And if it begins to break down, a lot of other things begin to break down with it. So they’re helping to change this paradigm.

My friends, what you have done here is nothing less than extraordinary. Over the course of the last two days, this ocean conference, in order to protect marine ecosystems, to prevent pollution, to address the crippling impacts of climate change, has committed over $5.3 billion of money and initiatives in order to achieve those goals. It’s extraordinary. (Applause.) That exceeds the amount that was committed by the last two conferences put together, and more than 1 billion alone was announced in just one panel this morning, including the Packard Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Oak Foundation, and the Waitt Foundation. And I think everybody ought to say a special thank you to the example that they set. We thank you. (Applause.) So now with the EU’s commitment to host the conference next year, with Susi Pudjiastuti’s commitment for Indonesia that they will host 2018, with Borge Brende’s announcement that they will hold 2019, we’re all on the hot seat for accountability going forward. And we are deeply appreciative to each and every one of those countries for taking on this responsibility. I can commit to you that the United States will continue. I am confident to be deeply engaged in this. I won’t be Secretary, but I’ll be a private citizen. I guarantee you I will remain committed to this task and we will be continuing this endeavor. (Applause.)

And so in formal sort of ways, our third ocean conference comes to an end this afternoon, but I will say to you I don’t think this is an end. I think this is a beginning. And I think we are going to, all of us, share a new voyage of environmental stewardship, environmental leadership, and we are going to be informed by unassailable science. We’re going to be driven by an awakened and global constituency. We’re going to be motivated by the fact that when the very health of our planet is at stake, delay, denial, and neglect have no place on the agenda.

So after many decades of environmental advocacy, I can tell you I’ve never been as enthusiastic about our capacity to be able to get this job done. And with that conviction, I will now announce that the third Our Ocean conference is formally come to a close. Thank you for being part of it. Thank you. (Applause.)