October 21, 2021

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John Kerry Virtual Leaders Summit on Climate Day One Closing Remarks

18 min read

John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

White House – Washington, DC

As prepared

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Secretary Austin, and Ambassador, thank you so much. We appreciate both of you taking on this critical challenge of security. Not enough people are aware of the degree to which this is a security issue, and I particularly am glad that today you helped to really put it into a clearer perspective. The Pentagon has long said that the climate change – then a change, now a crisis – is a threat multiplier, and I know you’ve articulated it very, very clearly here today.

We’ve come to the close of the first day. Tomorrow, I want to make clear to everybody in the morning, President Biden will be here, a critical part of that session. We’re going to be taking on the combination of innovation tomorrow and the economic opportunities, jobs. Bill Gates, among others, is going to join us to talk about what he’s doing in innovation and some of the things that all of us can hope for.

Clearly, innovation is going to be a critical component of what we have to achieve. As I mentioned earlier, even if we get to net 50 – net zero by 2050, even if we get there, we still have to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. A lot of people don’t focus on that. And that means we need the innovative technologies to do that, or to be able to know that we can store it and – or turn it into something. We haven’t discovered that yet.

And in terms of innovation, there are great possibilities, I think, and I’ve been amazed by the number of countries that are already really chasing after green hydrogen, blue hydrogen. And hydrogen, I think, is something that makes a lot of us salivate a little bit. It may well be our saving grace. But also, storage. Battery storage is now leapfrogging in much of the same way that solar did for a period of time. So you’ve got utility-scale battery capacity today, which is enlarging the ability of power providers to have greater security in the provision of that power. It deals with the baseload challenge.

So I think we’re sort of on the cusp of something very, very exciting, and we touched on that today. Obviously, the finance component underscored the degree to which it is going to be critical to have the wherewithal in many countries to be able to make this transition. If we’re going to ask people not to use the cheapest fuel, which in many places still they think is coal – if you really did the accounting for coal, it’s not the cheapest, because nobody accounts for the health impacts or the warming impacts of the ocean or the black lung disease for the miners and so forth. So it under any circumstance is not cheaper, but some people think it is and so they build it out.

What we need to do is switch faster to these alternatives and renewables and use the progress of batteries and the cheapness now of solar. And we’re even on the cusp, I am told, of having a new process in solar, perovskite, which will, layered onto a solar panel, raise the capacity of that solar panel by some 40 percent, which becomes even more of a game changer. So I am excited and optimistic, and I think tomorrow’s session on innovation will help to make maybe a few more of you feel similarly.

Today, obviously, with the finance section, with the nature-based discussion, with the adaptation and resilience, I think we really managed to cover much of the waterfront of this challenge. But let me – and I think it’s been inspiring. The thing that’s leapt out to me, listening to the sessions and being part of this, is that, first of all, so many voices took part. And many of you may not be aware of it, but we had about 70 nations that have been part of a sidebar listening session. And I listened to 42 of them yesterday, and we will listen to more of them tomorrow morning early before the session opens. And it’s really been impressive to hear a combination of commitment and the combination of concern.

So I think it’s important for all of us to close out the first day recognizing that despite all the announcements, which are significant, we had more than 50 percent of global GDP today commit to take emissions cuts and measures that will put their country on track to hold 1.5 degrees. That’s pretty impressive. But 50 percent doesn’t do it for the rest of the planet or any of us. We have to get every nation involved in this challenge. We particularly need to rely on the 20 most developed countries. Twenty countries equal 81 percent of all the emissions. And as a matter of environmental justice and equity, fairness, we obviously need to work – all of us – in those – in that 20. And we’re number two in emissions. We know it. And I think President Biden today put us online to move rapidly, as rapidly as we can, to lower our emissions.

But today, all of you have genuinely helped us to envision a world that is powered by clean energy, that has good-paying jobs, that has empowered our younger generations, that has thriving ecosystems, a world that is resilient to the climate impacts that we can no longer avoid, and a world that supports communities that have been marginalized and overburdened for generations.

So I thank all of our participants in all time zones. This is not easy. I don’t know if some of you have run a tag team and somebody got out of bed and someone else went to bed. But we greatly appreciate everybody’s participation. And thank you to all of you who have tuned in around the world. I hope you’ve been encouraged and inspired, even, as we know, as Xiye said in her vibrant comments of frustration with we adults – alleged adults, we need to get the job done.

So tomorrow, we’re going to dig deeper into the solutions and, excitingly, into the benefits of the solutions. This is the greatest economic opportunity the world has known since the Industrial Revolution. Four and a half to five billion users of energy today rising to nine billion in the next 30 years, almost a billion of whom – 860,000,000 – don’t have electricity today. Folks, that’s a problem, but it’s also a hell of an opportunity. And if we will seize the opportunity to go clean, we’re going to make our economies hum, as President Biden said, and we’re going to reach out for the better future that we want to leave future generations.

So tomorrow, we look forward to seeing you. It’s not as long as today. It’ll be briefer for everybody. But thank you for being part of this day, and we look forward to continuing the conversation in the morning. Take care. Sleep well. God bless.

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