Remarks at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Marriott New York East Side
New York City
September 23, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good morning survivors of New York traffic – (laughter) – survivors of UNGA, diplomatic speed dating at its best. You’re all wonderful to be here this morning. We really appreciate it. I know it’s been a very, very busy week for everybody, but I know you all agree also there really couldn’t be a more urgent topic where we are building momentum and where the world is increasingly in agreement. My friend, Xie, nice to see you – one of the great champions here. We appreciate China’s efforts.

So I want to begin just by thanking everybody for joining this special foreign ministers’ session of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate. This is the third time that I’ve had the privilege of convening the MEF, as we call it, at the foreign ministers’ level on the margins of the General Assembly. And I think everybody is here today because we understand the magnitude of the climate change challenge; we also understand the foreign policy and the global security imperatives of addressing it. Our lives, the lives of everybody in the business of trying to respond to national security needs to meet the interests of their nations, are going to be complicated significantly by the impacts of climate change, and everything we can do to get ahead of this curve is wise and imperative for all of us.

Most parts of the world now have come to this understanding. It’s interesting. The debate over whether climate change is happening is, in most places, not a debate anymore; it’s a visible reality that people can measure, like the sun coming up in the morning or the moon appearing. There’s a predictability to it and a clear scientific understanding of what is happening. The last two months – July and August – were the hottest ever recorded on our planet, and they were the 14th and 15th consecutive record-setting months in a row. And the last – that year-plus is part of a decade that has been the hottest decade in human history, and the decade before it was the second hottest, and the decade before that was the third hottest. So just as a matter of common sense, if you don’t begin to get a sense of what’s happening from those facts, you’re really not exercising your brain in the way that God gave us the privilege of doing.

So make no mistake, these high temperatures are actually already having very severe consequences. You see more powerful storm surges. We spent $230 billion in the United States of America last year just to clean up after eight storms, and here we are fighting about trying to find 100 billion for the Global Fund. I mean, this is one nation alone spent 230. Think if we put the 100 billion up front ten years ago to get ahead of this curve.

We see lower productivity in many industries. We see harmful impacts on people’s health and well-being. And most people do not realize this already: In the Middle East – where climate change has intensified summer extremes – many more people die because of soaring temperatures than because of the human conflicts that are consuming the Middle East. So in the Fertile Crescent and the Arabian Peninsula, an estimated 230,000 people are killed by the heat every single year.

Now, of course, it’s not just oppressive heat that’s the problem. There’s a direct link between the impacts of climate change and global security threats. The U.S. National Intelligence Council recently made public a report that shows that the risks posed by impacts like increased water scarcity, food insecurity, rising seas, climate-related migration, climate refugees. The Pentagon calls climate change a “threat multiplier” because its impacts can magnify otherwise manageable tensions and they transform those otherwise manageable tensions into full-blown conflicts.

Now, earlier this week, President Obama signed a Memorandum on Climate Change and National Security to assure that all across our federal government, our scientists, our intelligence experts, our security professionals, and our development agencies are going to be working together in order to take climate impacts into account in everything that we plan and do in government. And the State Department has already made a head start on this. We’re also working to expand our collaboration with our international partners so that we can all do the same working together.

But obviously, the most important thing that we can do to address climate change is try to limit the warming that our planet currently experiences. And the only way to do that is to transition as rapidly as possible to a global, low-carbon economy.

Now, in Paris, we all know that we took, and we’ve celebrated it here this week, an enormous step forward when the COP gaveled into effect the most ambitious and inclusive climate agreement in history. This week we took another critical step when in a single day more than 30 countries formally joined the accord, which carries us over the 55 nations necessary as a threshold requirement. And I am absolutely confident that in the next month or two, we have the ability to cross the threshold of the 55 percent of emissions contained within the countries that have signed up.

So this is critical, and I will tell you unabashedly in every bilateral, every multilateral meeting that President Obama and I have, we raise this issue. We urge countries to move rapidly to embrace this because we’re all dependent on it. No one country can do this alone; we know that. I mean, if we went down to zero tomorrow in the United States and the developing world continues doing what it’s doing, it’s going to wipe out every gain that you would get from that zero. And the same is true for – add China and the United States. If we two, the largest emitters, both went to zero tomorrow, we still don’t make it.

So everybody has a stake in this, and I think it’s clear that global leaders and global private sector are now taking this challenge even more seriously. So we have to take every opportunity that we have to address greenhouses gases and change the course we’re on.

Now, there are two other immediate priorities that I look forward to discussing this morning as well which will significantly contribute to this effort to win the battle on climate change. And one is finalizing and adopting a global market-based measure to limit emissions from the international aviation sector. And we’re all negotiating the ICAO; that’s a chance to really have an impact later this month. And then second, amending the Montreal Protocol, when the parties come together in Kigali next month, to have an ambitious phase-down of the use and production of hydrofluorocarbons.

Folks, hydrofluorocarbons were once upon a time going to be the saving step. And guess what? It succeeded. The most singularly successful environmental agreement in history was the Montreal Protocol, where every single nation complied – and we say it, we’ve actually been proven now, we think, to have saved the ozone, because the ozone hole is closing. Guess what? What we used to close it, HFCs, is a thousand times more potent than CO2, for instance. And so it’s causing damage and contributing to climate change.

We have the same technological capacity to solve this problem as we did when we solved the ozone, and that’s why it’s so critical for us to come together and deal with the hydrocarbon challenge. And we can do it in a way, by the way, that does not punish less developed countries or high ambient temperature countries. We have an ability to do this in a sensitive, thoughtful way where technology countries, leading countries, take the lead and other countries get a little more cushion to be able to come along as the technology gets there.

And let’s face it, if that doesn’t – nobody has anything to lose, because if that doesn’t happen, nobody’s going to be able to do it anyway. So you don’t lose by betting on the future, and that’s what we’re asking people to do.

So the only way that we’re going to make progress, the only way we’re going to live up to our responsibility, the only way we’re going to serve our children and our grandchildren and do what generations are supposed to do – which is leave this planet of ours in better shape for the next people who take over, that is the goal – is for us to collaborate, for us to work together. Let’s not take our eye off the ball. And I am absolutely confident that if we do what we know we can do, we will prevent the worst effects of climate change from taking place.

So with that, we’d like to ask the press if they would leave us to be able to do some quiet, private business, and we appreciate your being here very, very much.