September 28, 2021

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Remarks at World Sustainable Development Summit 2021

23 min read

John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

World Sustainable Development Summit 2021

I really appreciate the invitation to be with you and I want to thank you. You’ve been a terrific partner on the whole issue of advancing global ambition. Glasgow, in a short nine months from now, is going to be the most important meeting I think that we’ve ever had because as you know scientists gave us 12 years to make the critical decisions to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis. That was three years ago, so now we’re down to nine years, and I regret enormously that my country, the United States, and the last administration were completely absent. Not only absent, but working to move in the wrong direction.

You, on the other hand, have been a wonderful partner in advancing global ambition, from the negotiations in Paris to the current efforts that lead up to Glasgow. Your leadership at TERI in charting the path for India for a cleaner, more prosperous future is absolutely essential. I’m glad that we could hear from Minister Jaishankar, notwithstanding that Parliament has called him and he has to be there, we all understand that. I know that the Prime Minister made a very important contribution to this dialogue. I’m honored to follow in their footsteps and I want to thank the Minister of External Affairs. He’s a friend, he was a great collaborator with us during the Obama Administration. I look forward to coming to India before too long, COVID notwithstanding, and be able to plot and plan with the leaders of India how we are going to make Glasgow a success.

Needless to say, India is deeply committed to this challenge and it has been for a considerable number of years. You are indisputably a world leader in the deployment of renewable energy and your leadership of the International Solar Alliance, which Minister Jaishankar referred to, is absolutely critical for not just India, but for other dynamic, growing economies in the world.

Prime Minister Modi’s announcement of a target of 450 gigawatts of renewables by 2030 is a strong, terrific example of how to power a growing economy with clean energy, and it’s going to be one of the most important contributions in the world because India today is already the third largest emitter in the world behind my country, the United States, and of course, China, which is the largest in the world at about thirty percent of all emissions.

Yesterday, I read in the International Energy Agency special report on India, with great interest, the spectacular news that India’s down payment on the clean energy transition puts it on pace to become the global market leader in solar and storage by 2040. And thanks to your rapid scale-up, it’s already cheaper to build solar in India than anywhere else in the world. That kind of urgency is exactly what we need in order to confront the crisis that we confront today.

But I want to emphasize, and this is important I believe, in Paris every country agreed to do what it was willing to do and in many cases that was the best some could do. But it’s not enough to get the job done, and the sad reality is that even if we do everything that we set out to do in Paris, we are still going to see a warming of the Earth’s temperature of somewhere around 3.7 degrees or worse. Because we’re not doing (all of us together) everything we need to do, and we’re actually headed somewhere around four degrees—4.1 to 4.5—you can have different variations on that from different scientists. But it doesn’t matter what the difference is between 4.1 to 4.5 because it’s all catastrophic. It’s just plain catastrophic.

So this notion that we have to transition faster and raise ambition as we go to Glasgow, could not be more important than it is right now. That’s why I was willing to take on this job. It’s why President Biden decided to create the job in the first place because he is deeply, deeply seized of this issue.

This session—on “Rebooting Green Growth”—fits perfectly with the challenge that we face. I want to remind everybody that on Day One, within an hour or so of being sworn in as President of the United States, President Biden rejoined, signed the papers, and sent the instrument to Paris to rejoin and to the U.N. to rejoin the Paris Agreement. But more than that, within days he issued a series of executive orders which now make climate policy a consideration within every facet of our foreign policy, of all of our domestic policy, and all of our members of the Cabinet have been ordered to consider the consequences of climate on every decision that they will make or recommend to the President of the United States.

We do not have a single moment to waste, and President Biden is very, very clearly committed to that, but he also understands that even if the United States or India or any country could go to zero emissions tomorrow, that’s not enough. Roughly ninety percent of the world’s emissions come from somewhere other than our country, and , you know, about seventy percent come from somewhere other than China, even.

So we all are in this together. We all have to come together with new urgency, and domestic action of any one country alone is not enough. We have to always consider this as part of the whole, part of the global contribution. We all rely on each other to get this job done. Failure is simply not an option. So that’s why raising ambition as we go to Glasgow is so important. A zero-emissions future, which more and more countries are now adopting, more and more countries have said ‘we are committed to net-zero emissions by 2050, mid-century’—that’s a critical commitment at this point in time. But as we think about going to Glasgow and as we think about rebuilding better, coming out of the COVID crisis, and we all have that opportunity. There isn’t one economy that hasn’t been hurt as a consequence of COVID. So as we’re thinking about how we’re going to stimulate our economies, how we’re going to globally move to resuscitate the global economy, we need to make certain that we’re not just investing in the same-old same-old, that we’re not making the mistakes we’ve already made even more costly than they already are.

Failure is not an option. We all have to adopt the notion of a zero-emissions future improving many things. First of all, millions of new jobs will be created as we pursue the new technologies. In India, you’ve committed to an entire hydrogen mission. I’m a big believer in the capacity of hydrogen to be one of the great fuels of the future. It is possible, from conversations I’ve had with some of your business leaders in India, that India may be one of the leaders, if not the leader, in the transition to a whole new kind of economy: to a hydrogen-based economy.

India today leads the world with the cheapest solar anywhere on Earth. In most countries of the world, renewables are already cheaper than fossil fuel power plants. Global investment in new clean power capacity is set to exceed ten trillion dollars through mid-century—more than six times the investment in other options. Other clean energy sectors, from hydrogen to electric vehicles, also represent multi-trillion-dollar markets in the decades to come. I hope everyone here involved in this discussion this evening will focus on the fact that the solution to climate crisis is energy policy, and in the choices of energy policy that we all face, we actually are looking at the largest market the world has ever known. It is today already a four-and-a-half to five billion-person user market. It’s a multitrillion-dollar market today, but it’s going to grow to nine billion users over the course of the next 30 years. As we grow, it is imperative that we make certain we’re growing smart, we are growing into this net-zero emission economy.

Now, there’s actually good news on this front, and I think we have reason to actually be optimistic, notwithstanding the trendlines that we see today in terms of emissions. That can be turned around, and the point is that 2020, last year, can mark this transitional moment. The turning point for clean energy technologies, for investments and businesses that move in an entirely new direction. Investments in the energy transition crossed a half a trillion-dollar mark last year for the first time.

For several years following Paris, until unfortunately our President pulled out of the agreement, but until then, we saw about $358 billion move immediately to alternative renewable energy investment—for the first time ever, more money into renewables than into fossil fuels. It is clear that businesses all around the world are making the decision that this is the future. We already see that in 2020, new clean technology companies  reached valuations of more than $100 billion in public stock markets—triple the total of 2019.  In 2021, we absolutely stand on the precipice of a rare opportunity to create new technologies and new markets.

I know India, I know your prime minister is committed to this and seized by it, and I think your businesses are. I was also very heartened to see the recent government budget focus heavily on clean energy and propose a very specific hydrogen energy mission. By 2030, the International Energy Agency forecasts that if India drives even more aggressively towards this clean energy transition, it will create half a million additional jobs than business as usual would create. Indian industry is obviously already stepping up and showing leadership. I was very pleased to hear that dozens of India’s biggest companies recently signed a declaration on climate change, pledging to go carbon neutral.

But just so everybody understands, we have no leeway to believe that what I just cited, each of the instances I just cited, I have to also say to everybody: it’s not enough. To keep us motivated, I just want you to focus on this: in order to meet the standard of what we have set for 2030, to meet the Paris standard and beyond, we have to now phase out coal five times faster than we have been. We have to increase tree cover five times faster than we have been. We have to ramp up renewable energy six times faster than we are. In order to transition to electric vehicles, we have to move at the rate that will meet what we need to do to meet the net-zero standard, we have to transition at a rate 22 times faster than we are today.

Now you may sit there and say, ‘Well how are we going to do that?’ I’m telling you something, folks, it is absolutely doable. There are vast sums of money to be created, to be made by companies, by individuals. The fact is that the people who make a car today with an internal combustion engine can make the car of the future with batteries. The CEO of Ford Motor Company just the other day said publicly that an electric vehicle is a better car—works on less pieces, less parts, easier to construct, easier to maintain, and the fact is, you know, they are going to transition over the next 10, 15 years completely to electric as General Motors announced it would do in the next 15 years. It announced it just a few weeks ago.

Many of you have read, I’m sure, the CEO of Blackrock Larry Fink’s letter last month. It is clear there is a transition taking place within businesses all around the world. ESG is now central in the decisions that are being made in boardrooms. The sustainable development goals of the U.N. are central, and now more and more investors, more and more managers of assets, more and more commercial banks, are making the decision that they need to either decide where they put their own money, those who invest their own, or lend their own. For asset managers, they are having serious conversations with their clients about the kind of investments they think they ought to make. In fact, huge amounts of money were made by those folks who moved their asset investments into clean alternative, renewable, and sustainable energy investments.

India is actually a red-hot investment opportunity for its clean energy transition, and I intend to work very, very closely with Ajay, with External Minister Jaishankar, with the Prime Minister, and others. We believe India can be one of the most critical transitional countries in this entire endeavor. I am confident that just as we have worked very closely on any number of issues in these last years, our two nations—the world’s two biggest democracies—have a great deal to gain from joining hands in our global leadership and confronting the climate crisis to meet this moment.

Thank you for the privilege of sharing some thoughts with you, thank you for your leadership in hosting this important meeting, and we are very much look forward to working with you.

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