Thank you for that generous introduction.
To all those of you from King’s College London, President Kapur and the Policy Institute and Fulbright Commission Chair Sara Cerrell – it is wonderful to be back here in London. Thank you for inviting me at this important time.
It is particularly nice to be with all of you who bring to life Senator Fulbright’s vision of “a world in which there are no obstacles to learning, understanding and collaboration” – and I’m especially grateful for the ways you are reimagining the power of this initiative for an age in which climate change is in fact an existential challenge.
I’ve long admired the Fulbright initiative – including as a proud father of a Fulbrighter, my daughter Dr. Vanessa Kerry who found a sense of mission studying on a Fulbright Scholarship, a passion that became her life’s work strengthening global medical systems.
And of course, my own journey as an advocate and as a public citizen was shaped enormously by Chairman Fulbright himself. I was 27 years old and a young veteran home from Vietnam, using my voice to speak out against a war in which America had lost its way. But it was Bill Fulbright who gave my voice a megaphone unlike anything we young vets could’ve imagined: the chance to speak directly to the American people and the world, testifying in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
That, of course, is a fundamental part of Chairman Fulbright’s legacy: speaking the truth even when it was difficult. He could’ve been a Senator for life, comfortably ducking the world’s tough issues. But he came to believe deeply that U.S. foreign policy was misguided, and he chose to use his voice to turn that policy around – despite the critics, and despite the long odds of success.
Today, more than fifty years later, on the issue of the climate crisis, we all face a challenge that is even more deadly, more immediate, to every nation on the planet. The choice for all of us is as clear as it is compelling: we need to again speak the truth, but more importantly the whole world has to act on it together – and at a much faster pace.
The truth is that in the United States, in the first three quarters of this year alone, we suffered fifteen separate billion-dollar extreme weather disasters.
The truth is, this summer, the Arctic was seventy degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The Antarctic was a hundred degrees above normal. And on one single day, for the first time ever, three continents all suffered simultaneous record days of heat.
On this continent, all of you lived the searing truth of the climate crisis with record-breaking heatwaves. Germany’s Rhine River just inches deep paralyzing commerce. In France, the most severe drought on record warmed river water so much that it couldn’t be used to cool the nuclear reactors that the country counts on for 70 percent of its energy.
Devastating flooding in South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands. In Pakistan, 30 million were displaced in one single event.
No country was spared, no matter how large. No economy, no matter how powerful, was immune to this hottest year on record. After a 2021 in which unstoppable rains flooded Zhengzhou and families drowned to death on the subway, this year China suffered skyrocketing temperatures that slowed the Yangtze River to a muddy trickle.
And here’s the most troubling truth of all: based on what scientists are telling us, because of the damage already done to Earth by the emissions already put into the atmosphere, and still increasing global emissions year on year, even this past perilous year may well prove to be better than almost any year ahead of us – unless of course we repair the planet at the pace that science demands and strengthen our adaptive capacity.
It is written in the Bible that the truth will set you free. Well, I am absolutely convinced we are going to free ourselves from the grip of unabated carbon, and we will ultimately get to a low-carbon/no-carbon economy.
But the truth is, given our current pace, it is impossible to be convinced that we will meet the challenge of the scientists to get there in time to avoid the worst consequences of this crisis. That is why they warned us of the dire consequences of a 2-degree world as compared to a 1.5 degree world. And we have to continue to enlist countries that have yet to align their targets with 1.5C to do so.
There’s a reason they chose 1.5 – because of mathematics and physics. Not politics.
That’s what this fight is all about. Because every decimal point beyond the scientific benchmark increases the consequences dramatically.
A little more than two years ago, President-elect Biden asked me to serve as his special envoy for climate. At the time, the world was rushing toward climate chaos. It was a perilous moment. Any hope of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius was slipping further and further away.
From the first day of the Biden Administration, when the President immediately rejoined the Paris Agreement, we’ve been sprinting to make up for lost time. It’s been full steam ahead to confront the crisis, both at home and in partnership around the world.
One year ago, thanks in large measure to the work of Alok Sharma and the UK, we left COP26 in Glasgow with 65 percent of the largest economies of the world committed to 2030 targets in line with 1.5℃. The International Energy Agency calculated that if all the commitments and initiatives put forward by Glasgow were fully implemented, by 2050 we could limit warming to 1.8 degrees. That was a moment of revelation about what is possible, if we do our work.
Now, one year later, we just finished up at COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, and the IEA now tells us that if the new commitments and actions announced are fully implemented, we can in fact now limit warming to 1.7 degrees.
That’s a journey of possibility – from well over 2 degrees to 1.8 to now 1.7 – but we only reach our destination if we implement our commitments.
As we know too well, commitments are not the same as actions. And we need that action today, not tomorrow. The fact is, we have a long way to go to keep our promise to you – to the generation that will live with the rewards of our action or the consequences of our inaction.
What leaps out at me is not that this challenge presents us with impossibilities – we know what we have to do. We have to reduce emissions from unabated fossil fuels, cut methane and other climate superpollutants, and stop deforestation. And we actually know how to do all of this.
The mission now is to double down– to implement real projects and deploy real dollars, which enables us to further enhance global ambition and hold everyone accountable.
Just think about what we can do together.
Over the course of this year, more than 30 countries heeded the call from Glasgow and strengthened their 2030 targets.
In Australia, a new government elected with a climate mandate committed to a 1.5-aligned target. Brazil’s new incoming administration is committed to climate action. In other words, two of the planet’s biggest outliers this year have declared their intent to be global leaders.
Mexico is significantly strengthening its 2030 target and plans to double its renewable energy capacity in order to meet it.
Alongside the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia committed to peak its power sector emissions seven years earlier, by 2030, and to dramatically increase renewable energy deployment.
Egypt, committed to strengthen its 2030 target and quadruple its renewable energy capacity.
In the United States, we have passed the most significant environmental legislation in our history, putting us on track to meet our ambitious goal of reducing emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels in 2030.
What’s more, our historic investments in clean energy and infrastructure will help other countries deliver stronger climate ambition by driving down the cost of clean technologies everywhere.
And the signals being sent by governments are in turn igniting innovation, and providing the promise of a new wave of technologies to help us more deeply decarbonize in the decades to come.
Last year alone, climate-tech companies raised more than $165 billion aimed at technologies ranging from green hydrogen to battery storage to electrolyzers. Bill Gates is exploring smaller, safer, zero-emission nuclear reactors. A number of novel efforts are now creating decarbonized fuels from renewable energy and CO2, literally turning pollution into power. Prince William’s Earthshot Prize is rewarding environmental innovators for the next generation of climate advancements.
The beauty of all of these innovative efforts is that there is no one-size fits all solution, so every country – from major energy importers worried about energy security to petrostates looking beyond the horizon – has a role to play in scaling up new solutions. On climate technology, the possibilities are limitless and so are the benefits.
In Sharm El-Sheikh, we put a number of initiatives on the table which will have major impact and drive action in this critical decade:
In Paris, methane was hardly discussed, and in Glasgow, it was put front and center. Leaving Sharm El-Sheikh, 150 countries – fully three-quarters of the nations of the world – have now joined us in the Global Methane Pledge, to slash global methane emissions 30 percent by 2030. And now 95 percent of countries will include methane in their 2030 NDC targets. Methane is responsible for half of the warming on the planet, and it’s the most destructive gas. Tackling methane is the fastest, most effective way to reduce near-term warming and keep 1.5℃ within reach.
It is also critical we end deforestation, which is depriving us the very lungs of our planet. Along with Ghana, the United States is co-chairing the UK-inspired Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, which will make Glasgow’s forest declaration a reality. By halting and reversing forest loss and land degradation, we can deliver up to 30 percent of the emissions reductions needed to meet our Paris goals.
If shipping were a country, it would be the 8th largest emitter in the world. That is why along with Norway, we launched the Green Shipping Challenge, with countries, ports, and companies announcing more than 40 major steps aimed at decarbonizing international shipping.
We built a First Movers Coalition that now includes 65 companies committing $12 billion toward zero-emission shipping and trucking, and they’re doing this by purchasing green steel, aluminum, cement, and aviation fuels. These companies are paying the green premium in order to scale up technologies in the hardest to abate sectors, and they’re making an incredible contribution to this new market.
Each of these new country commitments – each of these partnerships – brings us a step closer to keeping 1.5℃ within reach.
So my friends, coming out of Glasgow, it was 1.8. Coming out of Sharm, it is 1.7 — if countries take the aggressive action required by their short and long-term goals. And in the all too real world of climate science, math matters: every tenth of a degree of warming averted means less drought, less flooding, less sea-level rise, less extreme weather. It means lives saved and losses avoided.
I’ve spoken about many positive mitigation efforts announced on the road to, and at, Sharm El-Sheikh. I would be remiss, however, if I did not express some disappointment in the mitigation outcome of COP27.
First, the collective decision coming out of Sharm – the one that sends the political message from all the Parties to the Paris Agreement – was not ambitious enough. When we are in the middle of the decisive decade for reducing emissions, we can’t take a one-year holiday on our global mitigation.
Second, some of the top emitters of greenhouse gases did not heed the Glasgow call to strengthen their 2030 targets this year. We cannot continue to have an effective process if countries simply chose to ignore the agreements of a prior COP.
So how do we get where we need to go?
I’m reminded of a story about Senator Fulbright. A freshman Senator named Joe Biden wanted to become a leader on foreign policy. He went to see the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. And Chairman Fulbright told him – “if you want to make a difference on foreign policy, you’re in the wrong place. Go down the hall and see the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee. He controls the money.”
A half century later- not much has changed.
Fulfilling climate commitments, of course, requires finance, and the United States and our partner governments are stepping up – but all of us need to do more, everywhere and every way. We have to excite trillions of private sector dollars needed to affect this transition.
No one has been beating this drum harder over the past few years than his Majesty King Charles III, who together with business leaders founded the Sustainable Markets Initiative, a way of bringing private sector urgently to the table.
In keeping with those goals, we announced at the G20 in Bali Indonesia’s new commitment to an accelerated clean energy transition. The United States and partner countries have pledged $10 billion through a Just Energy Transition Partnership that will leverage an additional $10 billion in private finance.
In Sharm El-Sheikh, we saw Egypt’s new commitment to shut down natural gas plants and scale up renewables, made possible because Germany and the United States committed $250 million to support Egypt’s Country Platform for the Nexus of Food, Water, and Energy – or NWFE. Our support will help unlock $10 billion in commercial investments.
And global philanthropies have pledged half a billion dollars to replicate these energy transition models around the world – driving enhanced implementation and enhanced ambition.
We know there is no substitute for finance from contributor countries and public funds. But we also need a massive infusion of private capital.
That is why the United States, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Bezos Earth Fund have introduced the concept of an Energy Transition Accelerator to speed the transition from dirty to clean power in developing countries. Over the coming year, we’ll engage with governments, companies, and civil society – all the relevant stakeholders – to turn the concept into reality, while building in strong guardrails that ensure both a just transition and full environmental integrity.
As we work to reduce emissions and avert the consequences of runaway warming, we also must help vulnerable countries cope with the impacts they are experiencing today and will in the future.
In Sharm el-Sheikh, we launched a Call to Action to the private sector to mobilize their action and finance supporting adaptation efforts. And we responded to the UN Secretary General’s call for Early Warning for All by committing more than $40 million to help close the early warning gap, including new resources for small island states in the Pacific.
We also contributed to the Global Shield Against Climate Risks, and to two UN funds that provide humanitarian relief and help protect migrants, with a particular focus on climate change.
In Egypt, the Parties also addressed what has understandably become more and more of an issue over the last few years, the issue of loss and damage. The COP specifically focused on setting up a process to establish an array of funding arrangements related to various aspects of loss and damage, including both extreme weather events and slow onset impacts.
We converged on a one-year process, which will look at existing funding arrangements, identify gaps, and come up with recommendations for effective new arrangements, including a fund for the benefit of developing countries particularly vulnerable to climate impacts. We look forward to participating constructively in this important process, which is expressly characterized as one of cooperation and solidarity, as distinct from involving liability or compensation.
But this is just the start.
Yes, there are green shoots of progress on critical issues.
But no one is moving quickly enough.
The question of China looms large. Following President Biden and President Xi’s meeting in Bali, we’ve restarted climate talks with Beijing. Due to the compressed time for our negotiations, we unfortunately were able to make only limited progress at COP27.
China is the worlds largest manufacturer and deployer of renewables. But there are still areas where China and the United States could cooperate to be even more effective and accomplish more in both of our interests. And the world.
But we are back at the table to try and follow through on, and build upon, our mutual commitments in the Joint Glasgow Declaration, including China’s commitments on phasing down coal consumption, taking action to reduce methane emissions in the 2020s, and addressing illegal deforestation. But time is short. I hope that China will ensure its NDC addresses all greenhouse gases, particularly methane, and will align its 2030 target with the Paris temperature goal.
As I’ve said before, the climate crisis is fundamentally a global, not a bilateral, issue. Reducing emissions in time is about math, not ideology. That’s why all nations have a stake in the choices China makes in this critical decade. The United States and China should be able to accelerate progress together, not only for our sake, but for future generations.
My friends, our priorities on the road ahead are straight forward.
First, we must continue pressing for all major economies to align their 2030 targets with 1.5℃, and to fulfill those targets by halting the construction of new coal, accelerating the deployment of clean energy, slashing methane emissions, and halting deforestation.
Second, to deliver finance for climate action at scale, we must press for the multilateral development banks to evolve for the 21st century. This would unlock hundreds of billions of dollars.
The MDBs have already stepped up their work to help countries transition their economies and we need to make sure their operational models are fit for purpose to tackle this crisis.
And third, and most importantly, we need to demand urgency and accountability from everyone, everywhere, every day.
There is no mystery about what we must do. The real mystery is why it remains a fight just to do what common sense and science tell us we must do. We have a roadmap. We just need to follow it. The question is not whether there is a solution. It’s how to more rapidly implement the solution that is staring us in the face. If we do that, we know the future is cleaner, greener, healthier, and safer—if we can get there together, in time. We can if we choose to.
Let’s remember what Nelson Mandela once said: it always seems impossible until it’s done. Let’s get it done. Thank you.