John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
Well, Madam Ambassador, Elizabeth, thank you so much for the introduction, the generous introduction.
Thanks for your tremendous work, what you’re doing at the UN Foundation, and what you’ve always done and I greatly, greatly appreciate your stewardship.
My former Senate colleague Tim Wirth, and one of the Senators I traveled with to Rio for the very first Earth Summit, has invested years in making the Foundation the extraordinary leader that it is, and did so at the very start of the fight on climate. And I know you have invested really enormous leadership now at a time when we have to finish the job.
Thank you also for letting me poach mightily from the UN Foundation’s expertise as we built our team in the Biden Administration. I’ve been able to rob from you, so I owe you, deeply.
I’m also delighted to be with everybody, but particularly my friend and a great leader, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. And I’m delighted to mark this important day with him.
I think every word he said, I completely agree with and I hope all of you do. He has been tireless in running around the world and helping to energize people to focus on the enormous challenge that we face.
And I thank him for reminding me, and perhaps some of you, of the presence of my granddaughter when I signed the Paris Agreement at the United Nations. And I will share with you all that when I finished, my granddaughter was on my knee and I took her back and handed her to her mother. And my granddaughter turned to both her mother and me and said, “Mommy I no sign paper!”
So I owe my granddaughter a new piece of paper to sign, if you get the drift.
The United Nations Association has always been a leading edge advocate for the most principled, pragmatic, multilateral cooperation here and around the world. It’s been obviously tested over the last four years. And in the course of the test of the last four years, the Association’s membership has stood up and fought hard. And that’s in the great tradition of course of an early champion, Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, “Alone we cannot keep the peace of the world, but, in cooperation with others, we have to achieve security.”
She couldn’t be more right, and the same could be said and should be said about climate change. I really, I think we have to end the word “climate change” and own up to the fact it is the “climate crisis” now. And that’s why President Biden submitted the paperwork to immediately rejoin the Paris Agreement, as soon as he could, hours after he was sworn in.
Today as you heard and as you know, it is absolutely official: The United States is, once again, a party to the Paris Agreement. And I’m proud and pleased with that fact but it also places on us a special responsibility.
We rejoin the international climate effort with humility and with ambition. Humility knowing that we lost four years during which America was absent from the table. And humility in knowing that today no country and no continent is getting the job done.
But also with ambition, knowing that Paris alone will not do what science tells us we must do together. At the COP in November, this November, when we go to Glasgow, all nations must raise our sights, must raise ambition together, or we will all fail together.
Needless to say for all of us here partaking in this, in this moment failure is not an option. And that’s why raising the ambition is so vitally important. According to the most recent statistics, and you’ve heard Antonio talk about the evidence that we’re seeing in various parts of the world, but we know from the measurements, from the statistics, from the science that emissions, globally, rose over the years since Paris.
2020 saw a drop in global emissions due to Covid, but already they’re again on the rise. And many analysts expect a very quick rebound to where we were, rising even more unless very stringent policies are put in place.
So to be on track, to keep even a 66 percent probability of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees, to do that we need to cut global emissions in half by 2030.
So that means we need to phase out coal five times faster than we have been.
We need to increase tree cover five times faster. We need to ramp up renewable energy six times faster. We need to transition to electric vehicles at a rate 22 times faster. You get the drift?
Everything has to be done with a greater sense of urgency, with the determination that we have to win this fight. Can we do that? Can we win it?
Absolutely, my friends, we can. We need the United States and every country to determine they will get on a path toward net zero emissions by 2050. That is not something we will do by countries just stepping up and saying, “Hey! We commit, here we are. Yeah, we’ll do it by 2050.”
That doesn’t cut it. That is not the way that we get to go to Glasgow. We go to Glasgow, all of us, being real about exactly what we need to do starting now. What steps will we take in the next 10 years? And the truth is that everybody has to do that. China, which is the largest emitter in the world, needs to be part of the 2020 to 2030 effort.
India needs to be part of it. Russia needs to be part of it. Japan, all the big emitting countries of the world, the major emitters, 17 nations need to really step up and begin to lower those emissions.
This challenge means that all countries, setting bold and achievable targets, have to do so here at home, and in the course of their Declaration of their national determined contributions, their NDCs.
We have to drive investment toward climate solutions and innovations in resilience. We need to get the entire world on a path towards net zero emissions, and we need to absolutely make certain that happens no later than 2050 and sooner, if possible.
Ultimately, keeping alive the possibility of limiting the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is critical because we now know that anything more than that will have catastrophic implications around the globe.
So my friends, we have to make every month count, every day count, on the road to the UN Climate Conference, COP 26, this November in Glasgow. It is the Leaders Summit that we’re going to hold on April 22nd, that we believe will be an important opportunity to begin to put the down payments on the table, to advance the work of Glasgow.
And we’re planning to take advantage of every opportunity we have in the coming months, including the G7, the G20, the Arctic Council, as well as the UN General Assembly, and other UN opportunities.
So this is a packed year. This is the most important year in many ways. We’re all in and we’re deeply grateful to have a strong partner in Secretary-General Guterres.
I will say to you that after many years of doing this, going back to Jim Hansen and his first announcements to us in Congress in 1988 that climate was happening, that climate was changing. From then until today, I’ve been to many, many of these meetings as many of you have. I believe that Glasgow is our last best hope to get the world to pony up, to deliver, to get us on a safer path to determine that we will do the things necessary in the next decade to keep alive the prospect of limiting the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees and we will keep alive, in fact, create a better vision, for what we can do by 2050 with net zero.
That is what we intend to do as we head to Glasgow. And I hope every single one of you will be hand-in-hand with us, as you were during the last four years to keep us in the Paris Agreement, even though we had a president who got out.
The majority of Americans are committed to this task. So let’s get the job done.
Thank you very much.
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