October 21, 2021

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Remarks at the 7th Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue

26 min read

John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

Ernest J. Moniz, President & Chief Executive Officer, Energy Futures Initiative

As Prepared

Thank you, thanks so much, Dr. Crane. Thanks for a very kind introduction and for your role here.

I’m very delighted, I’m really delighted to be with all of you today. I want to begin by thanking my friends, Ministers Heiko Maas and Peter Altmeier. Less than two months in, I’m very confident that all together, with the help of good friends like them and many others around Europe we’re going to be able to make a world of difference for our countries and really for the whole world. Our shared work on climate is absolutely critical needless to say.

I want to congratulate you for hosting the 7th Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue. Germany’s Energiewende is an inspiration, an important moment to exchange ideas. It reflects a long period, really decades of determination to transition away from fossil fuels and pioneer a new path  for our countries to follow.

I also want to acknowledge the role Germany has played, leading efforts to form a consensus among EU members on a more ambitious 2030 climate target and, simultaneously, a COVID-relief package that promises a green recovery. It’s fair to say that you’ve always been a stalwart ally in the climate fight, but in recent years, I personally have been particularly grateful for Germany’s leadership – not only within the EU but also through multilateral fora – the G7, the G20, the UN Security Council where we worked very closely together on the Iran Nuclear Agreement as well as Paris and other things, and obviously as we gear up for COP 26 in Glasgow at the end of the year.

I guess it’s really cliché, and we keep having to reach for the language that adequately conveys the measure of this threat, but it is true that the stakes have literally never been higher than they are now. We’re in what I think is the decisive decade for climate action. Why? Because even if we did everything we’ve laid out in the Paris Agreement, we’re still seeing a warming of the earth’s temperature to about 3.7 degrees, and we’re not doing everything. Because clearly, to hold the earth’s temperature to 1.5 degrees, as well as to get to net zero by 2050, you don’t start in 2030 or 2040. You’re going to start now much more effectively than we have been. So we are in the decade of decision. And the decisions we make right now, leading up to Glasgow and following up through Glasgow, are going to truly write the future.

President Biden understands this, as well as, obviously, many of your leaders and you. And that is why he ran on the single most ambitious, comprehensive climate platform of any presidential candidate in U.S. history.

It’s also why, just hours after being sworn in as president, he rejoined the Paris Agreement. And a few days later he also signed executive orders placing climate squarely at the center of every single decision that we are going to be making in the U.S. government. It is a government-wide initiative, and climate must be front and center in every decision that is made. And the reason for that is pretty simple, I guess you all understand it better than I do, probably, but I’m going to repeat, to some degree anyway, the obvious. Because the obvious is what is going to drive us to actually solved this. And the obvious is that no one country can solve this problem. China is 30% of emissions, we’re 15% of emissions, the EU is somewhere around 9% of emissions, India, following, Russia. Twenty countries equal about 81% of all the emissions on the planet. And that tells you a story, not only about the challenge, but about the responsibility.

We need, absolutely, without any question at all, to forge an international strategy that galvanizes the world, that drives greater ambition from every single country, even the less developed countries that could make a choice not to build a coal-fired power plant and to do what’s necessary to leapfrog, hopefully with the help of the technologically more advanced and financially more advanced countries.

Next month, President Biden is hosting a Leaders Summit on Climate – April 22nd, Earth Day – to ensure that we continue to hit the ground running. The Summit is an opportunity for the United States and others to ensure we are reengaging on the global climate. From our point of view, we really feel a responsibility to be doing that thoughtfully, strategically, and at the highest levels of government. As part of the Summit, President Biden is going to reconvene the Major Economies Forum – those 20 countries I’m referring to, those countries responsible for most of the emissions – and we’re going to do this with a view to trying to make sure we are all pulling hard in the same direction because that decade, the decade of 2020s, has got to be the decade of ambition and the decade of decision and the decade of action. So it’s a sprint. And it’s a sprint towards substantial emission reductions by 2030. Why? Because I’ll tell you if you get to 2030, ask any of your scientists, any of your technical people, the curve that you then, the steepness of the curve that you then have to get on to meet 2050 net zero is pretty impossible to achieve barring a genius/miraculous breakthrough on storage or fission or fusion or direct capture or battery storage, I mean the number of things that obviously we’re pursuing assiduously.

I have said many times that the United States comes to this rejoining, this new effort, with genuine humility as well as ambition. The humility comes from our knowing that because of our country, four years of leadership was lost, four years of effort by our nation in a unified way because of the preceding President pulling out of that agreement. Humility also because we know that no one country is going to make all the difference, no continent alone can get this done.

Ambition is also what brings us to the table. Ambition knowing that at the COP in November, we either all raise our sights at COP26 in Glasgow, or, believe me, we all fail.

I think every one of you would agree that failure is not an option. We hear constant talk about how the climate crisis is existential, and yet I ask you to ask yourself whether you believe we are actually responding as if it was in fact existential. So failure is not an option, and ambition is the only really critical thing that we have to all focus on simultaneously, and come not only to the meeting in Washington in April but to the March 31st meeting which Europe, China, and other will hold, to subsequent, to the G7, to the UN, to the G20, and ultimately to the COP, where we have an opportunity to codify all of these good intentions.

We know that success means tapping into the very best of global ingenuity, the best of creativity, of diplomacy, from brain power to alternative energy power, using every single tool we have to get where we need to go and to accelerate the pace.

We know that a zero-emissions future offers huge opportunity for business, unbelievable opportunity. We’re actually looking at the largest market human beings have ever known. We’re looking at the greatest growth potential we’ve ever known. We’re currently 4.5 to 5 billion users in this market. It’s now already a multi-trillion dollar market. But because of what we’re all going to need to do, it’s going to become an even bigger market, bigger financially and bigger in terms of the returns on investment, and bigger certainly in the challenge. But the truth is that we’re going to go up to 9 billion people from the current users, and we have a billion people without any electricity, and it’s going to be in the double digits of trillions of dollars on an annual basis. So a zero-emissions future offers enormous job creation. I’ll just share with you that the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States recently put out that there are only three jobs in America that are going to have more than 50% growth. The highest is at 62% and that’s wind turbine technician. The second is practicing nurses, registered nurses, and we all know why that’s growing. And then the third is solar panel installer and that’s at 51%, the top at 62%. So enormous growth potential is staring us in the face.

We also know that, for all of you tuning in today, I know that there’s a great deal of commitment, everybody’s among the committed, but the fact is that we have to acknowledge the degree to which we have our work cut out for us. And we have to get beyond some of the happy talk about NDCs when people are putting out a national defined* contribution that clearly is not going to get the job done.

According to the most recent statistics, emissions globally rose over the years since Paris. While 2020 saw a temporary drop in global emissions due to COVID, they are again on the rise — and many analysts are predicting a very quick rebound unless much more stringent incentives or policies are put in place. The science community has given us a very clear picture of the chaos that awaits us if we don’t limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Paris says well below 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees if we can achieve it. But the latest IPCC reports tell us there’s no longer a great variant available to us – we need to try to achieve the 1.5. To be on track to get 1.5, and even have a 66% probability of keeping global temperatures from rising more than that 1.5, we need to cut global emissions in half by 2030. I wasn’t kidding when I said that this is the decisive decade.

Now to get where we need to be, we need to phase out coal five times faster than we have been doing it, based on the comparison with the trend from 2013-2018, increase tree cover about five times faster, ramp up renewable energy about 6 times faster, and transition to electric vehicles at a rate about 22 times faster.

Can you do it? Can we do it? Yes, we can do it. It’s not a question of feasibility, it’s a question of political will. It’s a question of whether or not many corporations, some of whom have been in denial for these past years in our country, are going to turn around and see this economic opportunity staring them in the face. So I believe we can do it. It’s not easy, but the United States and Germany particularly by virtue of the course we are already pursuing, I think ought to give people some confidence.

Our two countries are pretty well aligned in our fundamental goals of leading the world to develop innovative, clean technologies, transforming energy systems across the board, achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions across global economies by 2030 or before that.

And together we have a long history of leadership on the energy transition. Both of our countries are working hard right now to bring about a sustainable energy transition by investing in a clean economy and in the industries of the future to drive economic growth, create good jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. And we’re seeing a lot of examples of this partnership, specifically - Ford announced in February 2021 a one-billion-dollar investment and an ambitious timeline to transform its cologne factory into an electric vehicle production facility. Ford’s first European-built all-electric passenger vehicle will be available by 2023. Tesla is set to open up its “Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg” by the end of the year. And we all ought to note that Tesla, a one brand car, i.e., electric, it’s all they make, is the highest valued automobile company in the world. That’s a sign. The Berlin-Brandenburg factory aims to become the most advanced high-volume electric vehicle production plant in the world. Amazon, which has invested heavily in mobility initiatives in Germany, has deployed part of its new fleet of environmentally friendly vehicles at its newest German hub in Leipzig.

So, this is just honestly the beginning of what is possible. The truth is the global energy transition is gaining momentum every single day, and thanks in no small measure to Germany’s sustained decades-long effort to pioneer the use of clean technologies. Germany’s landmark EEG law at the turn of the 21st century set off a boom in solar and wind power for the next two decades, and by guaranteeing a premium price for renewable energy, Germany created an early market for emerging technologies that has gone on to flourish all around the world.

In fact, we worked hand-in-hand to create that early solar market and after Germany’s EEG law created that rapidly growing solar market, the Obama-Biden Administration harnessed the 2009 recovery act in the United States to support the first five utility-scale solar projects in the world greater than 100 megawatts, launching a utility-scale solar revolution. That is something we should apply as a lesson to what we need to do now. Today, solar is the cheapest and fastest growing power source around the world, and those of you involved in it know that there is new technology changing some of the ingredients of the solar panel that will make a solar panel perhaps as much as 40% more efficient, which will be even a further revolution in the possibilities for countries that need to avoid coal and leapfrog to the future.

So today, countries in every corner of the world watch Germany bring down the cost of renewable energy and solve the technical challenges of integrating intermittent wind and solar onto the grid. And that example has now emboldened countries such as India to even more decisively invest in clean energy transition, and I think that’s a critical lesson.

Germany is also setting examples of how to manage not just the deployment of new technologies but the transition to those new technologies. I think Germany produces 45% of its electricity now from renewables, more than the proportion from fossil fuels, and it has developed tools from virtual power plants to long-distance transmission to maintain power reliability even at the highest penetrations of renewable energy.

It’s also, I think, showing the world a new way to transition from coal power, a tough decision, a big decision, and we all know how brutally politically complicated some of these decisions can be. But it concluded the first round of auctions to retire coal and that’s a creative mechanism that pays plant owners to shut down and it elicits the lowest market price to do so. And the government has developed a 4 billion euro plus compensation package, really critical, a compensation package to help affected companies and workers as the industry transitions by 2038, consistent with its law.

So, my friends, it’s critical that we decarbonize power, and President Biden has now committed, he committed actually during the campaign but he’s now codifying this in the executive orders and in all of the planning that he’s doing, to make sure that we in the United States are completely carbon free in our U.S. power sector by 2035. More broadly, the Administration plans to decarbonize all sectors of the economy not just power by putting the United States on a net zero emissions path by no later, by achieving net zero no later than 2050, and sooner if at all possible.

Now let me share one last thought or a couple thoughts with all of you. Some politicians, demagogues usually, want to try to scare people and say, “oh this transition’s going to mean you’re going to have to give up your lifestyle,” or you know, “you won’t be able to turn on the tv,” or whatever, the scare tactics are quite extraordinary. But quite the opposite.

What I’ve just described is the greatest revolution we’ve seen, as I said, since the industrial revolution. And President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda aligns job creation with the task of slashing emissions with clean energy. For example, we’re going to ramp up public procurement of zero emission vehicles as we clean up the transportation sector, which is the largest source of U.S. emissions. We are going to accelerate clean energy development. We’re going to level a currently tilted playing field, astonishingly even in 2021, still it has been tilted more towards fossil fuel than towards the renewables. We are going, the President has instructed all our federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, to pause new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters, and to speed up clean energy investment. And around the world we’re going to promote fuel-based energy while simultaneously advancing the alternative renewables.

So, my friends, we have a lot to achieve together. Germany has unveiled a very impressive 9-billion-euro national hydrogen strategy. I think there are many other things we can do and there’s certainly a lot of things that we can work on together. We have a chance to transform the way people live for the better. Better health, less disease, much greater job growth, better economy, in the long run more stable, and finally greater security for all of our nations. I think this is a transition worth being excited about and I’m delighted to join you today to talk about that.

*determined

More from: John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Ernest J. Moniz, President & Chief Executive Officer, Energy Futures Initiative

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