Remarks at the UN Paris Agreement Entry into Force Event

John Kerry
Secretary of State
United Nations Headquarters
New York City
September 21, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: A special thank you to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He has, I think everybody will agree, done what a secretary-general needs to do. He has defined the job, and none of those videos appeared here accidentally. That is the work of the United Nations, that is the leadership of the secretary-general, and I think everyone here will join me in saying thank you to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for putting climate change front and center on the agenda of the United Nations. We thank you. (Applause.)

I also want to thank my friend and the current COP president, Segolene Royal of France. We are all grateful for France’s leadership. And I want to thank the incoming COP president, another great friend, Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar of Morocco. And finally, I join everybody in welcoming Patricia Espinosa, the new executive secretary of the UNFCCC, who has her work cut out for her, but, by all accounts, has already hit the ground running.

The Paris Agreement was an extraordinary milestone. It was one that, for so many of you here, took decades to achieve. But the feeling of satisfaction that comes with that milestone is tempered by the knowledge that those of us who have worked in this vineyard for a long time know that even as we mobilized on this issue, even as we advocated over so many years, even as we pointed to the science that motivated us and spurred our efforts, even as we negotiated in Paris, we were aware that with each passing day the problem that we confronted and continue to confront was growing worse.

Each day, the course that our planet is on has become more dangerous, and the alarming findings have only continued since the agreement was gaveled in. Recently, we learned that the last two months, July and August, were the hottest ever recorded on the planet, but they were the 14th and 15th consecutive record-setting months in a row. And we know now that last year contributed to the last decade that was the hottest decade in recorded history, and the decade before that was the second-hottest decade in recorded history, and the decade before that the third-hottest decade in recorded history.

So if ever anybody doubted science, all they have to do is watch, feel, sense what is happening in the world today. And make no mistake, anybody, these high temperatures are already having consequences, already people dying in the heat, already people moving because of lack of water, already we have climate refugees on this planet, already we see more powerful storm surges, already we see lower productivity in many industries, and serious impacts on public health and well-being. We know there are diseases that used to die because it got cold and it doesn’t get cold. We know that species are moving and that the ecosystem of the planet, including the oceans, is changing.

The bottom line is that even as we come here to celebrate – and this is a celebration – the challenge remains pronounced. And while the world took an enormous step by approving the most ambitious, inclusive climate agreement in history, the next step – bringing that agreement into force – must quickly follow. We still have a window of time, according to scientists, to prevent the worst impacts of climate change from happening. We are, however, stuck with mitigation, and the task of keeping the warming below that magical 1.5, let alone 2-degrees centigrade is an enormous challenge at this moment. But nobody comes here – I know you – nobody comes here to rest on our laurels. Adopting the Paris Agreement sent a remarkable signal to the world, and particularly it was a signal to the private sector.

I don’t think anything – any of us come here believing that any government, one government, or even governments coming together are actually going to be the ones who achieve this huge challenge of keeping the rise of temperature to 2-degrees centigrade. It’s going to be some magician, some young entrepreneur, some kid in a basement, some genius who comes up with better battery storage or better solar panels that have greater efficiency and lower cost. The private sector is going to take the message we sent in Paris and invest, and we will find a solution to this challenge. I have no doubt about that.

And governments around the world are acknowledging today – and this is the importance of this gathering – they are acknowledging the magnitude of this challenge and what it means to global security, and what we need to do in every way possible in order to address it. I am confident we will bring this agreement into force this year, and that message will be underscored and bold and italicized ways it will demonstrate to the world just how serious we are.

Earlier this month the United States and China – the two largest emitters in the world, I regret to say – formally joined the agreement. And now with the people who have joined here today, virtually every small island in the Pacific, every island state whose very existence depends on our success, has now joined this agreement. That tells you something. And we are extremely grateful to the 31 others who marched up here and presented today, which now brings us over the 55 countries necessary, and all that is left now to do is get the 55 percent of emissions. But this is a great accomplishment today, and everybody should be proud of what has happened.

Now, I know – (applause). And I know from conversations that President Obama and I have had with leaders in certain key countries, I am absolutely confident that this agreement will come into force this year before we convene again for COP22 in Marrakech.

Now, the global community’s path to limit the warming of our planet and stave off the impacts of climate change, as all of you know, has been long and it has been frustrating. Until last December, it was a pretty grim story. With many of you, I remember being in Rio 1992. And between Rio and today, so many meetings – Durban, Cancun, Doha, Warsaw, Buenos Aires, Poznan, Kyoto, Copenhagen, Lima. And I remember China managed the legislation that would have brought Kyoto into force on the floor of the United States Senate and running into a buzz saw of opposition from the coal industry in our country.

So we have shared our part of the blame for what has been a difficult road, and we accept that. And it’s one of the reasons why President Obama and I have been so focused and so committed to try to make up that difference and help us to get where we are today. But in Paris, my friends, in Paris, a remarkable thing happened. More than 185 countries came together; more than 175 signed on. In Paris, we began to rewrite the ending of this story. And provided that we implement the agreement that we reached last year, provided that we make progress on other important climate efforts in the market-based measure that we are seeking to address in international aviation emissions and the HFC amendment, the Montreal Protocol that we’re hoping to pass later this fall, provided we take all these steps, we will continue writing this new ending, and it will finally become a story that we will be proud to tell our grandchildren and future generations. It will be a story of how the world came together in the greatest aspirations of United Nations, of this institution, to embrace this moment and to safeguard the future of this planet for generations to come. That is this mission, nothing less, and we intend to get the job done.

Thank you, warriors for the planet. Thank you. (Applause.)