Dr. Jane Lubchenco: Greenhouse gas pollution is having devastating effects on the communities and economies that rely on a healthy ocean. We are not currently on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement—and the U.S. has not, in recent years, been a voice for a clean energy on the international stage. What is your vision for getting the climate effort on track?
Secretary Kerry: Thank you, Dr. Lubchenco. It’s a great honor to be here among the “Friends of the Ocean and Climate” countries. This is, as Jane has said, a critical conversation. It’s not so much my vision as a shared vision of President Biden and this Administration about where we are and where we need to go. And I appreciate your comments introducing the concept of the summit [the Leaders Summit on Climate]. I want to thank you personally, because we worked together when I was Secretary of State, and I’m so grateful that you’re now back, working at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. You’re the right person to be there, and we’re glad to have you there.
I’m privileged to be the Special Envoy, and it was a privilege to be in Paris. I go back to the first COP, in Rio 1992, and Kyoto, and many COPs in between. And I have to tell you, I come here today as I’m sure some of you do, with not a small amount of frustration about where we find ourselves and with a heightened sense of urgency, because the planet is in a bad place and countries are in a bad place.
We have about 6 months between now and Glasgow, to pull ourselves together and create the effort that this requires. I know many of you have heard people talk about how this crisis is existential. And for many of you in this meeting, you are the representatives of the existential crisis. Some people, or wealthy nations, will fare okay. But there is an unfairness in all of this. Eighty percent of all the emissions that are causing this problem comes from 20 countries. And that is why a lot of countries are feeling an unfairness in this – that they are victimized, and other countries are not doing enough.
Today’s headline, in the Guardian, is “Carbon Emissions To Soar in 2021 by Second Highest Rate in History.” Even with the reductions from COVID, we’re going to be soaring. We can’t have an economic recovery that is self-defeating because it is premised on big additional climate costs. We need a “blue-green” recovery. Let talk for a minute about the green part, and then we’ll have a chance to talk about the other side of it.
If we did everything in the Paris Agreement, we’re still going to have warming of about 3.7 degrees [C]. And we’re not doing everything that we said we would. So we’re actually heading somewhere over 4 degrees. We’re at 1.2 today. And we’re supposed to be stopping at 1.5. Can we get there? The answer is yes. But we can’t wait until 5 years before 2050 to start doing that. The essential decade for action is this decade: 2020 to 2030. And what was significant about the meeting I had in China was the fact that China, for the first time, signed onto a statement that says “U.S.-China Joint Statement Addressing the Climate Crisis.” It’s the first time they’ve called it a crisis. And within the body of the text, they talk about the urgency and the seriousness with which we need to act. And for the first time, rather than just talking about peaking in 2030 and then going out on a plateau, they talk about taking further actions in the 2020s.
The ocean gets in many ways the worst of it. We’re changing its chemistry now more than in millions of years. And we’re seeing things happen that we don’t understand the full implications of. A few weeks ago, I read a story in one of our national newspapers about scientists worried about the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. We’re facing potential tipping points, the consequences of which we’re not certain of. We know that 50% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean, yet we’re playing with the chemistry.
So here’s the bottom line. You can’t solve the climate crisis without addressing the problem of the ocean, because of its criticality to temperature regulation. And you cannot solve the ocean crisis without dealing with climate, because acidification is part of the challenge, and warming is a huge part of the challenge.
So we have to end silos. Climate is ocean, and ocean is climate. We need a major leg of the Glasgow product that is addressing the ocean. And we need to face up to the fact that we have to cut emissions much faster.
The president is holding the summit [Leaders Summit on Climate]. We will have 40 major heads of state from around the world. Sixty nations will take part in listening sessions. I’m proud that the United States is back. President Biden will announce major initiatives, including on finance.
I look forward to working with all of you. The single most important thing for the ocean right now is to have a future that is free from carbon pollution. And I emphasize “pollution.” We used to have a principle of polluter pays. We need more accountability. Thank you for your leadership, and thanks to all of you who are Friends of the Ocean for having this conference and including me.
Dr Lubchenco: Thank you, Special Envoy Kerry. I love your passion and your knowledge. Very briefly, can you zoom in directly on what the U.S. is doing to leverage the power of the ocean?
Secretary Kerry: We’re going to be very focused on it, Jane.
First, on the potential of decarbonizing the shipping sector. The international shipping sector produces a level of greenhouse gas emissions that is equivalent to the emissions of a major national economy. But the technologies that we need to decarbonize shipping are known to us. They need investment, and they need to be scaled up. It is incumbent on all nations to send a clear signal to industry, so they will make the right investments in a clean future. And ultimately, we will reduce emissions and costs for consumers at the same time.
So, to that end, I want to announce that in support of the global effort to keep within reach the 1.5 degree C limit on global average temperature increase—and in support of global efforts to achieve net zero greenhouse emissions no later than 2050—the United States is committing to work with countries in the International Maritime Organization to adopt a goal of achieving zero emissions from international shipping by 2050, and to adopt ambitious measures that will place the entire sector on a pathway to achieve this goal.
Second, on the potential of offshore renewable energy. Just last month, the United States announced a goal to deploy at least 30 gigawatts of offshore wind in the United States by 2030. And I’m pleased that our colleague Secretary Granholm will be joining us this afternoon to speak about the power of offshore renewable energy and its role in bending the emissions curve.
And third, on the potential of nature-based solutions. Our coastal “blue carbon” ecosystems—including seagrass beds and saltmarshes—sequester carbon. They also make us stronger in the face of climate impacts, by protecting our communities and coastlines. So we’re going to work to stop the loss of our coastal wetlands. Here in the United States, we have been working hard to implement the directive to conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.
On the topic of conservation and climate resilience, I want to also add that the United States supports the three marine protected area proposals in the Southern Ocean under CCAMLR. And we are now calling on all CCAMLR members to adopt these MPAs at the next meeting. It’s also a moment to say to ourselves that we’re not just going to set aside these areas, we’re going to enforce.
You know, it is island states that understand—better than anyone—both the challenges of ocean-climate impacts, as well as the solutions. I’m grateful that Fiji, the Marshall Islands, and Seychelles are here today, and I want to note Fiji’s leadership focusing on ocean issues during its COP23 presidency. I am also pleased that we have with us Governor David Ige of Hawaii. Thank you for being here. You launched the first U.S. carbon neutrality target—by 2045, no less. Over the past several years, it has been our states—37 of them plus the District of Columbia—that worked to keep the U.S. in the Paris Agreement.
Today, I’m pleased to announce that the U.S. government will be enhancing its engagement with islands around the world through three mutually reinforcing initiatives. First, as I know Secretary Granholm will highlight, the Department of Energy is expanding its innovative work with island partners to decarbonize and achieve energy self-sufficiency. Second, our National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration will be working to enhance the capacity of island nations to integrate climate data and apply effective coastal and marine resource management strategies to support sustainable development. And third, the Department of State, NOAA, and DOE are supporting the Local2030 Island Network, an innovative peer-to-peer network that connects U.S. islands with their fellow islands around the world to work on local solutions to common challenges in a shared island cultural context.
I end with this: Ambition. Ambition has to be the dominant word we’re all thinking of and working on, through Glasgow and into implementation over the next 10 years. We can do this. COP25 was known as “the Blue COP,” thanks to Chile’s leadership. And I have no doubt that it was only the first of many. We cannot overlook the magnitude of ocean impacts or the promise of ocean solutions. So thank you.