(As Prepared)

Good morning, everyone. Today is a genuinely historic event – an Our Ocean Conference held in a Small Island developing nation, where citizens live every day on the front lines of the climate crisis.

We’re proud to be here, and many of you should be congratulated for enduring a 30-hour journey and actually finding Palau at the other end. You are genuine hard asses.

I’m delighted to be here on behalf of the United States and President Joe Biden.

Thank you, President Whipps, for your hospitality here in beautiful Palau.

And I want to thank both of our incredible teams, who worked so hard to set up and organize the week.

There’s no way to gather here without acknowledging the evil unfolding in Ukraine, the courage of the Ukrainian people, and the obligation of all of us to stand up for freedom, for human rights, for sovereignty and independence of nations under the UN, and for the rule of law.

Some have worried that what is happening in Ukraine could divert us from our mission. On the contrary, our mission is even more urgent. Now is the time to accelerate the transition to an independent and clean energy future. And Vladimir Putin cannot control the power of the wind or the sun.

This week, our goal is to shine a spotlight on what is happening to our ocean. I am always moved by the passion and awe of the ocean that brings you here. We are always reminded of Achilles, who tells us in The Iliad, “The ocean is the source of all.”

The ocean is our lifeblood, impacting a $500 billion global economy and the livelihoods of 1 out of every 10 people in the world. Millions of citizens around the world depend on the ocean for their protein and livelihoods, realizing the ocean is a delicate ecosystem that must be protected.

The Our Ocean Conference was created in 2014 because we knew that not enough was being done to demand real commitments or to create the kind of accountability necessary to preserve the delicate and interconnected ecosystem that is this cast expanse of water.

This conference is not about negotiated outcomes or points of order. It’s about real commitments to take action and to make the difference. And it includes not just countries but nonstate actors, the private sector, and NGOs.

From the US to Chile to the EU, Indonesia to Norway to here in Palau, all of you have ensured we made significant progress.

Since 2014, the conference has mobilized more than 1,400 commitments worth more than $90 billion, and protected more than 5 million square miles of ocean.

And this conference has from the outset recognized the link between the ocean and the climate. You above all people understand that you can’t solve the problem of the ocean without dealing with the climate – after all, it is the heat and greenhouse gas pollution that is affecting it — and you can’t solve the problem of the climate without dealing with the ocean because it is the great climate regulator.

But honesty requires us to say we still need more – much more. We gather here in the Pacific, on the front lines of the crisis both in our ocean and our planet. We are making progress, and much is happening around the world. But by any measure, we are not moving fast enough to avoid the worst consequences of the crisis.

We need the full-throated voice of all Island States to help make the difference, because there are big developing nations that are not cutting enough.

I remind you 20 countries are responsible for 80 percent of all emissions. We left Glasgow with 65% of global GDP committed to targets that can keep 1.5 degrees alive. As agreed in Glasgow, this year needs to be about “implementation plus” — we need to implement the plans we made plus bring the other 35% on board – that’s the only way we win the battle.

You all saw the most recent IPCC report. It told us, in one scientist’s words, “our house is already on fire.” And that’s too literal. That none of us are moving fast enough. That without urgent, immediate action, the 1.5 degree goal will slip from our grasp.

Yet too many around the world are pursuing the path of least resistance, giving in to the status quo. All evidence shows that is the path of greatest destruction.

The science tells us that every tenth of a degree of warming matters enormously.

Even with a 1.5-degree temperature rise, we may lose much of the world’s coral reefs, small fisheries, and crustaceans, including here in the western Pacific.

And every day, that danger is compounded by indifference and inaction.

Just think: In the past half century, we have lost half of all marine populations and 90 percent – 90 percent! – of large fish like tuna and swordfish.

The latest facts I saw show that globally — not every fishery but globally — we are down to roughly 5% of the bluefin tuna population in the Pacific, and many of those left are too young to reproduce. It is possible they could be one of the last generations of their species unless we change our behavior.

Astonishingly, and I’ve asked my team again and again, is this really true? And yes, we lose 100 million sharks every year – in many cases, solely to cut their fins off and dump the carcasses overboard. And that practice is dramatically changing the predatory balance of the ocean.

Much of this is due to the modern piracy of the seas: Illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing.

Countries in Asia alone operate distant water fleets of more than 3,000 factory trawlers – mass produced fish catch. Many of the crew are trafficked human beings – abused and barely paid wages for their work.

They stretch illegal driftnets – each one up to 50 kilometers long – across the ocean, indiscriminately smothering to death not just fish but whales and dolphins and sea turtles. The strategy is described as: “Feast today, famine tomorrow.”

Half of this catch is often thrown back into the ocean as “by-catch” – waste. A single illegal factory ship catches as much in a week as a legal ship catches in a year. And when spotted, they often just cut their nets and flee.

To the members of the press who have traveled a great distance to be here, I urge you to help us share these stories. It is imperative that we grow the outrage, that we expose what is happening – and not happening.

None of us can be content to accept that we are prisoners of complacency.

The fact is, we still do have time to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis. We can still secure a healthy ocean. We can create millions of jobs and trillion-dollar new industries. And we can still reach a cleaner, safer, less polluted planet for all of us.

But we cannot do it if people keep pretending and turning away from facts and reality.

President Kennedy, when talking about the challenges of the world in the 1960s, said that our problems were caused by humans, and therefore they may be solved by humans. It remains true today.

We humans are responsible for the crises of the ocean and climate. We know what the solution is. We can’t allow ourselves to be manipulated, lied to by bad actors. We have to fight the status quo. We have to fight the indifference.

We can win that fight, but it requires us to change and change now. It requires us to rock the boat, and refuse to believe we are the captives of the status quo. It’s the only way to win the battle.

I remain convinced we will get to a low carbon – or no carbon – energy future. What we don’t know, and can’t be guaranteed, is will we get there in time? Will we do what the scientists told us we must do to avoid the worst consequences of this crisis?

And mind you, I didn’t say to avoid the crisis, but to avoid the worst consequences. These next two days, we have an opportunity to get ourselves back on track. And we all know there are critical ocean topics front and center on the agenda we must take on.

First:  Shipping.  If shipping were a “country,” it would be the eighth largest emitter in the world. That must change.

Our First Movers Coalition launched at COP26 is helping, with some of the world’s leading companies accelerating the creation of green markets. Maersk – the largest owner of container ships in the world – announced that the next eight ships they will purchase will be carbon free.

The United States is working with countries in the International Maritime Organization to adopt a goal of zero emissions from international shipping no later than 2050.

Second, offshore renewable energy.  We must dramatically scale up on- and off-shore renewable energy, including offshore wind.

President Biden committed the United States to deploy at least 30 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030, and we encourage all others to set similar targets.

Third, marine nature-based solutions. The United States is committed to conserving or protecting 30% of the global ocean.

And at home, we have a goal to conserve at least 30% of U.S. waters by 2030.We encourage all nations to do the same.

Fourth, as mentioned, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.  We need to do more to protect our ocean from being strip mined by criminals.

IUU fishing employs human trafficking, money laundering, and fraud to disregard treaties, invade protected areas, and destroy lives and our ocean – while undercutting honest enterprises.

And finally, we need to get serious about plastic.  We look forward to beginning the negotiation of a new agreement on plastic pollution.

Over the next two days, we will see hundreds of commitments, worth billions of dollars.

For our part, the United States will announce well over 100 commitments worth $2.7 billion, including contributions from at least 13 departments and agencies.

  • On coastal resilience, subject to completion of domestic procedures, the United States intends to provide $1 million to support the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance. The Alliance’s mission is to drive at least $500 million of investment.
  • On shipping, we have worked with Denmark and the Marshall Islands to double the number of signatories to the Declaration on Zero Emission Shipping by 2050. And we have worked with the United Kingdom to add signatories to the Clydebank Declaration.
  • On marine protected areas, we are working with local communities, Indigenous peoples, and states to designate additional national marine sanctuaries, while providing additional protection here in the Pacific to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument by re-designating it as a national marine sanctuary.
  • And on marine pollution, the EPA will provide $350 million in grants over the next five years to improve recycling in the U.S. — and help prevent plastics from ending up in our ocean.

These and other critical announcements will make a concrete difference in protecting our ocean.

This week and beyond, we can do what it takes to ensure future generations a safe, stable, clean planet.

So let’s get to work. Let’s rock the boat. Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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