MODERATOR: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing. Today we are very honored to be joined by John Kerry, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and Monica Medina, the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
We will try to get to as many questions as possible in the 30 minutes that we have allotted for this call today, so please show your support and like the questions you’d most like us to cover. You can notify us of any technical difficulties at TheBrusselsHub – one word – @state.gov.
Finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record. And with that, let’s get started. Special Envoy Kerry, can I turn it over to you for opening remarks?
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thanks for your organizing this, and we appreciate everybody joining us and participating in this – what do you call it? There’s a formal word.
PARTICIPANT: Hub call.
SECRETARY KERRY: What?
PARTICIPANT: Hub call.
SECRETARY KERRY: Hub call, that’s the right thing. I’m dying under all the acronyms and not titles and names. (Laughter.) So folks, thanks for joining us. Let me sort of begin at the beginning here. This is the eighth Our Ocean Conference that the United States has been proud to be part of. We started this process back in 2014 in the State Department. And since we began the Our Ocean Conferences in 2014, we have catalyzed, in clearly definable terms, more than 1,800 overall commitments from countries around the world valued at more than $100 billion across the six themes of the Our Ocean Conference.
And those six themes are: the climate crisis/climate change; sustainable fisheries; sustainable blue economies; maritime security; marine pollution; and marine protected areas. Swept into those, when you get into climate crisis, sustainable fisheries, marine protected areas, you obviously get into the question of illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing, which is a serious threat around the planet, and other issues.
But let me make one principle very clear at the outset. The climate crisis and the oceans are inextricably linked, and even one and the same. You cannot solve the problem of the climate crisis without solving problem of the oceans, because it’s the heat that comes from the warming of the planet that goes into the ocean. Ninety percent of that heat goes into the ocean. That is responsible for warming, for increased moisture, for increased intensity in our winds and storms. And that is where the floods come from that you see dropping all around the world and taking lives.
Secondly, it is the emissions from fossil fuel that fall into the ocean in rainfall and raise the acidity of the ocean. And we have been, over the years, changing the chemistry of the ocean, more than it has been changed in millions of years. That is a scientific conclusion by oceanographer – ocean marine biologists and others.
So this conference has been an effort over these eight – a little more than eight years because we had a delay because of COVID. But over these years, this conference has been mobilizing nations around the world to deal with ocean-related issues and, obviously, as I said, therefore with climate-related issues. The fact is that ocean-based solutions could provide up to one fifth of the emissions reductions that we need in order to keep the 1.5 degree limit on the increase of the Earth’s temperature.
So I said 1,800 commitments and $100 billion. Last year we had the conference in Palau, the first time ever that a Pacific Island state has hosted a conference of this size and importance, and that produced over 400 overall commitments valued at more than $16 billion, and commitments from the U.S. Government at that particular conference were valued at about $2.6 billion. At this conference, I announced that we have put forward about 77 announcements, but they are valued at more than what we did in Palau. They are – the 77 announcements are valued at nearly $6 billion.
Let me give you an example. NOAA highlighted millions of dollars that are going to go into ocean resource management and coastal resilience, critical to reducing the storm impact, hurricane impact, and so forth. The EPA highlighted millions that will go in to reduce plastic waste. Obviously that’s a global scourge, is the plastic that winds up in the ocean and breaks down into microplastics, which then is imbibed into fish through the food chain but also into human beings. And those who eat a lot of fish or in fish area where protein from fish is very important to them, they unknowingly, unfortunately, are digesting microplastics worth about the size of a credit card on a weekly basis. It’s pretty intimidating when you realize that.
In addition, NSF, the National Science Foundation, NASA, highlighted millions for climate science because we need to know what we’re doing. We need to know the cause and effect; we need to know the impacts. We need to know the solutions. And in addition, USAID highlighted millions that will go to conserve biodiversity and improve the marine protected areas management. We have these marine protected areas we’ve created around the planet in order to try to protect fish stocks and biodiversity, but tragically, we have not had all the enforcement necessary to make those MPAs, those marine protected areas, as meaningful as we want them to be.
In addition, the Coast Guard – which is here and present with the admiral in command of the region, as well as the Navy – is here, and the Secretary of the Navy is here, because the military plays a very key role in helping to enforce and manage around the planet, and they believe there is much more that they can be doing.
In addition, after this conference, the next conference will fall to Greece. Greece is here, obviously, and represented. They will be hosting next year’s conference. And the conference after that will be held by Korea, and Korea, also here and a part of this conference. They’ll host the anniversary 10th conference in 2025.
So let me just stress a couple of other things. We have been pushing a number of initiatives on the ocean through the Glasgow COP, through the Sharm el-Sheikh COP, and even in Paris with, again, this focus. And it’s very clear that we have succeeded in energizing certain sectors. Let me be specific. We launched the Green Shipping Challenge with Norway, which features more than 40 announcements from countries, from ports, and from companies on the steps that they are taking to create a shipping sector that is aligned with the 1.5 degrees.
And the – Maersk, one of the largest container shipping companies in the world, initially announced a couple years ago that they were going to – of the next ships they buy and build, that eight – nine of them, excuse me, were going to be carbon free. Now they’re up to 18 already, and they announced today that there is fuel now being produced – methanol – that they didn’t have any production capacity for until this initiative began.
So what’s happening is we’re sending the marketplace demand signals. That’s the purpose. And this conference later today, I think Panama will announce what they have succeeded in putting together in terms of announcements and the value of that and where it will take us.
So I will look forward in a few moments to your questions, but I believe Monica Medina is going to share some thoughts with you first, Assistant Secretary Monica Medina.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: Thank you so much. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, buenos días and gracias a todos. Thank you especially Secretary Kerry for all your leadership over the years on oceans and ocean conservation. I am delighted to join you to discuss the Our Ocean Conference. These numbers bear repeating. They are remarkable. Since 2014, Our Ocean Conferences have mobilized more than 1,800 commitments worth nearly $108 billion to address climate change, support sustainable fisheries, advance sustainable blue economies, expand marine protected areas, improve maritime security, and address marine pollution.
This year I am so proud to share that the United States is announcing 77 commitments, totaling nearly $6 billion. This is more than double the value of our commitments from last year’s Our Ocean Conference. This includes substantial commitments to promote climate resilience in fisheries and fight illegal, unreported, and unregulated or IUU fishing; support for global efforts to reduce marine pollution, including plastic pollution; billions to support ocean climate-based solutions, including promoting green shipping, as the Secretary just mentioned; offshore renewable energy and supporting the resilience of coastal communities globally; support for marine protected areas domestically and in the waters of partner nations; funding for sustainable and inclusive blue economic activities to provide pathways to long-term blue economic development; and support for maritime security efforts and strengthening maritime law enforcement.
The Our Ocean Conferences have been a special place to draw attention to and find solutions for the many, many threats facing our ocean. These threats endanger not only marine biodiversity and the health of the ocean but the global climate and human health and human life itself. With these significant commitments, the United States is taking action to address these threats.
As the Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Special Envoy for Biodiversity and Water Resources, I have also been focusing on critical negotiations that are taking place right now at the United Nations in New York City. Negotiators are working to create a new international agreement that will promote the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas in the ocean that are beyond any nation’s jurisdiction. It’s called the BBNJ agreement. This agreement will create a coordinated approach to establishing marine protected areas on the high seas which will be critical to meeting our shared goal of conserving or protecting at least 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030.
Biodiversity is declining at a catastrophic rate. Conserving at least 30 percent of the Earth – its land, inland waters, and ocean – is vitally important to supporting nature’s ability to sustain people, economies, and the planet. With the successful conclusion of the BBNJ negotiations, we will have the tools we need to protect biodiversity on the high seas.
We also call on all nations and partners to be ambitious, creative, and proactive in their ocean commitments. That includes all fisheries managers, including regional fishery management organizations that govern high seas fishing. They also need to help us meet that 30 percent target by beginning the work of creating long-lasting high seas marine protected areas in their areas of jurisdiction.
At this year’s Our Ocean Conference, together with our allies, the United States is mobilizing countries around the world to enhance marine conservation efforts in their waters under their jurisdiction through the Ocean Conservation Pledge – and I congratulate Estonia and the UK for their announcements endorsing the Ocean Conservation Pledge; advance and support the establishment, implementation, and enforcement of marine protected areas like the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, or CMAR; advance marine nature-based solutions, such as the protection and restoration of blue carbon ecosystems which sequester carbon and protect coastlines; combat illegal unreported, and unregulated or IUU fishing through persistent and coordinated government action, including through the IUU Fishing Action Alliance; support sustainable fishing practices that protect our oceans’ ecosystems and support people and local communities; and advance efforts to reduce marine plastic pollution and protect the ocean from pollutants.
Now is our moment to protect the ocean. We must meet it together. The U.S. is doing its part – we are dedicated to the cause of oceans and climate and resilience, and thank you all for being here to cover this very important topic today. Over – back over to you, Secretary Kerry.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary, and thank you so much, Special Envoy Kerry, for your opening remarks. We will now turn to the question and answer portion of today’s briefing. We don’t have any hands raised right now, so we’ll go ahead and go to a pre-submitted question. Ana Rosa Alves from O Globo in Brazil asks Special Presidential Envoy Kerry, “You were just in Brazil having meetings with Vice President Alckmin and a variety of ministers. You have indicated that the U.S. is committed to the Amazon Fund, but in which form? Have financial contributions already been discussed, and how does the U.S. receive the first measures taken by the new Brazilian administration to fight deforestation and preserve the environment?”
Over to you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you. The meetings that we had in Brazil were the most constructive that I’ve had in a long time, and I want to thank the Lula administration and Marina Silva, Minister Silva, for the serious way in which they engaged on – in this effort with a clear message that the Lula administration is going to make up for what has not been happening in these last years and is deadly serious about stopping deforestation fully by 2030 and beginning to engage immediately in steps to resuscitate efforts to enforce, to reclaim some land, but also to increase productivity of people who are farming and be able to help the farmers even do more and do better without the need to be cutting down forest in order to do that. And there are ways to do that.
We are determined to work on the agricultural front, to work on the various ways in which this next effort by Brazil is going to be met with equal effort, if not more, from countries around the world. The forest is a great asset of Brazil. It belongs to the Brazilian people, and they respect it and love it, and there is great folklore and great dependency in Brazil among indigenous peoples who live there and who need to be fully part of this process as we determine sort of the road ahead. So President Biden has made it very clear this is one of his passions. He’s deeply committed to the forest, talked about it during his campaign, and now wants to help produce money that will assist in being able to undertake these programs that can help save the forest.
And so the Amazon Fund is one ingredient of that. It’s an important one. We have great respect for it and for its credibility and for its history. We are talking with Norway and with Germany and with others in order to make sure that all of us are coordinated as we go forward, and we’re going to continue to work with Brazil and listen to the Brazilians – to the Brazilian people and to the government that represents them, because this is not something that can be imposed from outside or should be. This is something that has to be done because the people of Brazil believe in it and they want to do it, and we want to live up to our responsibilities as a developed country and one of the 20 developed countries that contributes significant emissions, though we are reducing and reducing rapidly. But our goal is to make certain that our efforts are coordinated and that there will be enough money to do the job.
That means more than just probably the Amazon Fund. We’re going to look to other ways to be able to create funding, including a strictly accountable, well-managed, defined voluntary carbon market, which can be part of the solution with environmental integrity and guard rails. And we have to make sure that all of that exists.
So very much committed to building out this partnership. I agreed I will come back to Brazil somewhere in the next months, and Marina Silva agreed. She wants to take me down to the Amazon and I want to go with her, and we’re going to spend some time down there talking with folks and learning firsthand how we can proceed together to win this battle.
This is, in my judgment, the last chance really to pull people together where you have a ready, willing government and you have people externally who want to be helpful. We’ve got to end the deforestation not just in Brazil but in many other parts of the world – in the Congo Basin, in the Indonesian forest, in the Central American forest. We all have a responsibility, including at home in the United States. So we will do our part and we look forward to working with the Government of Brazil, which has indicated such commitment to this effort.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Special Envoy Kerry. We’ll go now to a question from Michelle Soto from Ojo al Clima in Costa Rica. She has two questions, actually. The first one is, “How relevant is having a treaty on the high seas, currently under discussion, to advance all of these ocean efforts?” Assistant Secretary Medina, can I direct that at you?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: Yes, of course. It’s incredibly important. It has been under development for more than a decade. We have every country of the world here in New York working hard to get to the finish of this important negotiation, and without it, the areas beyond national jurisdiction – the high seas – there is no mechanism for creating marine protected areas; there’s no legal way to do that. And we know that we need to conserve 30 percent of the planet by 2030, including the nearly half of the planet that is the area of the ocean beyond national jurisdictions – the high seas. So it couldn’t be more important, which is why we’re working very, very hard to do – as President Biden would say, finish the job.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. And actually, the second question is directed to you as well. “When the decade of the oceans was declared, the goal was to increase scientific knowledge that humanity had about the ocean. What are the three major scientific findings achieved in these 10 years that would help us address the six challenges mentioned by Secretary Kerry for a healthier and more resilient ocean?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: Gosh, we’ve only just begun that. We’re two years into that decade, so I would hate to say what we haven’t yet – I mean, I think there’s so much that we haven’t yet discovered. But I will say that in recent years, thanks to the efforts of NGOs and academic institutions, I think we understand the tremendous impact that climate is having, climate change is having on our oceans – the negative impact in the way that it – we see the distribution of fisheries changing, and we appreciate greater – even – in an even greater way the threats to oceans like ocean plastic pollution when we can see those giant gyres and we’re starting – excuse me – to study them more and to understand that the impacts of that pollution isn’t just localized in those gyres or where the pollution enters the ocean; it spreads everywhere.
So we’re just getting going. I think there’s so much more exploration and science to be done. We know more about the Moon than we do about our deep ocean spaces on Earth, and we need them more than ever now. So it’s important that we continue to work hard through this decade of ocean science and action.
And I don’t know, Secretary Kerry, you may have a thought on that too.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Monica. I really appreciate that. I do indeed.
The latest science on the ocean is extraordinarily disturbing. We are hearing from scientists that the rate of acidification and the flow of very cold water from the ice that’s melting in the Antarctic and the Arctic is flowing into other currents and other parts of the ocean and changing the location of fish stocks and changing the biology. But equally importantly, the – those scientists have said to me and to others publicly – particularly, say, Johan Rockström, if you were to call him at the Potsdam Institute in Berlin – he will tell you that there is a certain amount of evidence and possibility, not certainty yet, but real possibility based on what they are seeing that we may have already passed five tipping points.
The first being the Barents Sea and the sea ice disappearing; the second being the coral reefs bleaching around and dying around the world – pollution and warming; and the third is permafrost that has been thawing around the planet and is producing massive amounts of methane that is leaking out as a result; but the fourth and fifth are the most frightening of all, and that is the Arctic and the Antarctic may be past tipping points.
Last year, in the summer – in their summer, the Arctic was measured at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit above normal; the Antarctic, 100 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. And the rate of melting is threatening enough that over a century or more, if the Greenland ice sheet were to disappear – which you can’t reverse; that’s the point of the tipping point – and if you are over the tipping point, then you’re looking at perhaps seven meters of sea-level rise.
So people have to stop and really get serious about this. This is science speaking. Mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry. And not ideology and pet projects or denialism, but it’s the interpretation of the facts that we’re dealing with. And there’s a great deal more of scientific evidence that is available regarding the ocean seafloor, the – what’s happening to some of these currents, El Niña and El Niño, and the – La Niña and El Niño. La Niña is the current – is the air currents that control the climate and temperature, and in the last year, two years, we’ve seen La Niña off the coast of California, which has helped produce the intensity of storms. But normally we have El Niño, and so the scientists know that this switch-off that’s taken place between these two dominant currents is creating massive disruption in what we’re seeing in our own weather in the United States of America.
So we need to heed the science carefully, and we can win this battle, but only if we undertake steps like those being worked on here at the Our Ocean Conference and in the COP process and so forth.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir, and thank you both for your responses. We’ll go to another submitted question, this time from Valerie Volcovici from Reuters in the U.S. Valerie asks, “Does the United States support Vanuatu’s effort to get the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on the responsibility of states to address climate change?” Special Envoy Kerry, can I direct that at you?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the United States has concerns with the language and the way it’s been written. It’s not a question of support, not support; it’s a question of whether or not this is drawn up in a way that is going to produce some – if it were to produce a decision, if it is taken up by the court, if it – that it produces something that’s going to be constructive and fair. And I think we have very real concerns about the language. We have not expressed opposition or support, but we do express some concerns about the process which we think could – we’re dealing with that within the COP process where we last year went over – I mean, really stepped out and up in order to be supportive of trying to resolve the issue of loss and damage. And we agreed that that would be on the agenda as an agenda item in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, because being on the agenda means that there must be an outcome.
So we bought into the idea of an outcome. We supported that. And in the end we supported the idea of trying to formulate some sort of loss/damage structure that will make sense for everybody, and that’s the responsibility this year.
But with respect to Vanuatu sort of just jumping ahead and going to the court, we do think that the process presents some challenges and we’re going to have to continue to evaluate that very carefully.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. I think we have time for a couple more questions, so we’ll go to Marta Montojo for Agencia EFE. Marta asks, “As the BBNJ negotiations come to an end, does the U.S. envision an agreement that is ambitious enough to effectively protect 30 percent of the oceans? Does the U.S. new plastics policy envision any measure addressed to consumption, something similar to the EU plastics directive in terms of stopping commercializing single-use plastics?” Assistant Secretary Medina, can I direct that to you?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: Yes, absolutely. Thank you for the question; it’s a really good one. I do think that we are working very hard to get to an agreement where we can conserve 30 percent of the areas beyond national jurisdiction, but just having an agreement that we want to do that isn’t enough. We will have to work very hard to make sure that we can create those marine protected areas, particularly in sensitive sea areas and in particular environments where we know they’re under stress, like coral reefs around the world.
So we are working very, very hard to get to a place where we can have the legal ability to create those marine protected areas, but actually making them is going to be an action, or it’s going to take more action on everyone’s part, and that’s why it’s so important that we take this first step. Because without it, we really can’t do that legally.
With respect to plastic pollution, I think we are working very, very hard in the U.S. on the plastic agreement. The next negotiating session is in a couple of months in France, and we in the U.S. are on the cusp of some very exciting announcements there, I believe, and we are working hard on our own domestic plastic policies. We don’t have a comprehensive law, a federal law dealing with plastic. We leave that to our states and municipal governments. But we are working very hard to galvanize U.S. action and to create an ambitious and very crucial agreement on plastic pollution as well.
So we’re working hard on both these agreements right now, and they couldn’t be more important.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Can I possibly – can I jump in just for 30 seconds?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: Oh, please.
SECRETARY KERRY: I just want to thank Monica Medina and her team for their persistent efforts to get this treaty done, and emphasize the degree to which we all feel impacted by it in terms of what we’re doing for the oceans and otherwise. The world is not living sustainably, and if you look at history, civilizations have disappeared due to that reality that they don’t respect – you go back to Incas and Mayas and others who kept destroying the forest around them until they had to move because there was no way to find wood anymore. I mean, basics of our relationship to nature are critical. And this treaty, though it doesn’t get all the focus of the world, it really should because we’ve lost half the species on the planet and we’re not heading in a good direction. We need a treaty, and Monica Medina and company are really trying to bring that forward, and it’s got great importance.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Our next question, we’re going to Ariel Alberto Jara Acosta from Coronel Oviedo in Paraguay. He asks, “Can you please tell me what was the most important achievement from the Our Ocean Conference in Panama City this year?” Secretary Kerry, can we start with you and then we’ll go to the Assistant Secretary?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t think there’s any one thing that I would say is, quote – sort of the most important. I mean, Panama, as the host country of the Panama Canal, sees a remarkable amount of shipping coming through it, and Panama has declared its intent to be very clear about reducing the carbon footprint, decarbonizing those activities and holding – working with the International Maritime Organization and individual countries to make sure we’re creating greater accountability globally.
And I think writ large, that’s one of the biggest things to come out of here that you have Maersk and MSC and Yara and these other shipping companies stepping up and being proactive. It is really a sea change. It’s a turnaround completely. And it’s exactly the kind of example we need to other industries, to heavy industry in our country and elsewhere regarding aluminum and steel, where there’s also a lot of wakeup going on. But I think what Panama has pulled together here is a very significant effort.
I would also comment that Panama announced a cooperative effort together with Costa Rica and Ecuador and Colombia, where these four nations are coming together spontaneously in order to create an eastern tropical Pacific zone where they’re going to protect those zones. So when you talk about getting to biodiversity, a protection and so forth, it’s happening. And when four countries can do that together, and co-manage, that’s multilateralism at its best and I think that’s a great message to come out of this conference.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Assistant Secretary, do you have anything to add?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: I think he said it so well. These conferences focus the world on oceans and they bring commitments. That’s, to me, what defines the Our Ocean Conference year in and year out, is the commitments that are brought from all the various sectors, whether it’s the fishing sector or the shipping sector or from NGOs and philanthropic organizations and governments who are all learning forward, leaning hard into ocean conservation and sustainable blue economies. And it’s just remarkable what’s been accomplished over the years of the conference, and it will continue, which is, I think, its most important result – is that it’s not just this year, it’s not a one-off. There will be one next year and the year after that, and commitments will keep flowing in – because we need them.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. Speaking of those commitments, we have another question from Milagro Vallecillos from Reuters. Milagro asks, “What are the programs in which the majority of the $6 billion that were announced will be invested at the conference?” So where will most of that money go?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s going into a diverse – I mean, there’s no way to sort of just pinpoint – for instance, it is spread out between climate change, where there are about 30 announcements which total probably about $5 billion of the amount that I mentioned earlier. And then you have – and that goes down to something like $25 million for the National Science Foundation and $7.5 million for climate justice initiatives, some to formalize the interdisciplinary climate training so that we’re getting people who are able to go out and enforce these things. Then you have sustainable fisheries where there are seven announcements that are totaling more than $665 million, and that’s for a combination of research, enforcement. You have the sustainable blue economies where there are 11 announcements that equal about $73 million.
So I guess in answering this, I’ve sort of made it clear that the climate focus is the biggest of all. There are 30 announcements; most of the money is going to be on dealing with getting our emissions down, changing the shipping industry, being more responsible in terms of decarbonization. And we will have a full fact sheet of every single one of these programs. Every single initiative will be fully listed by the end of today, and that’ll be posted up on the website.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: I’d like to jump in and add one thing to this, to Secretary Kerry’s amazing sort of summary of the commitments. Many, many of them – hundreds of millions of dollars – are commitments that are global. These are really critical for climate change, for resilience, for adaptation in developing countries. We are really in the U.S. putting our commitments on the table here. We have brought an awful lot of funding to ocean conservation, to things like creating marine protected areas and helping to understand the shifts in fisheries, and helping countries to create sustainable blue economies. This is an incredibly important and really unprecedented amount of U.S. spending to help conserve our oceans globally, because we know we’re connected by them. And our work in other countries makes the oceans more resilient and the ocean more sustainable, and that benefits U.S. citizens everywhere as well as the citizens of the countries where we’re working.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. I think we have time for one more question. We’ll go to Isaías Cedeño from TVN Noticias in Panama. They ask, “Yesterday you announced the installation or creation of a technical team to explore the possibility of creating an ecological maritime transport corridor. What objectives do you hope to achieve with Panama through this initiative?” Assistant Secretary Medina, can we direct that at you?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: I believe that – I’m not sure. Could you – could you restate the question? I’m not – because I’m not there, I wasn’t at the announcement, go —
SECRETARY KERRY: I am here and I had the same challenge on the question. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: Sorry.
MODERATOR: No, I apologize. I wasn’t – I wasn’t sure if it was a – it was something of common knowledge. I can go to one more question that’s a bit more general, from Ray Hanania. Ray asks, “Is the Arab world participating in the effort to tackle climate change, and are they doing enough?” Special Envoy Kerry, can I direct that to you?
SECRETARY KERRY: That’s a great question and a very appropriate one at this moment in time. The answer is that different countries in the region are doing different things, but all of them are doing something and are moving their economies and their – particularly in the oil and gas countries, they are taking steps.
Let me be specific. I don’t want to be general on this, because it’s too important. This year – last year, the UAE held the first-ever regional conference on the climate crisis and the issues of fossil fuel. And we had 11 countries there from the region. I was there, and the president of – the new president, newly appointed president of the COP, Dr. Al Jaber, hosted that conference. And countries – we had a joint statement that came out from it, very forward-leaning, very strong statement about the necessity of keeping 1.5 degrees, about the necessity of reducing emissions, doing what we need to do by 2030 because if you don’t do enough by 2030, you can’t get to net zero by 2050.
All those principles have been accepted. And I know I am going to be meeting personally with Dr. Jaber in Houston, Texas in the next days where we are attending the big oil and gas industry meeting, the CERA meeting, which is about a week long. He will be speaking – Dr. Jaber will be speaking, and I know he is planning to sort of lay out thoughts about what needs to be achieved in this next COP in Dubai, which includes doing everything possible to keep 1.5 degrees alive, and which includes beginning the transition with greater earnest effort in order to effect that transition.
The UAE also, by the way, has deployed a massive amount of renewables themselves. I think they’re spending a very significant portion of their current efforts on R&D, renewable research, also on carbon capture, sequestration, and utilization, recognizing that they’ve got to reduce emissions.
So how much, where that’s going, those are the things that’ll be determined in the next days and weeks. We’ll be working, all of us, with countries around the world to make COP28 a success. But this COP has to go further than the last few have on the issue of mitigation. We are not reducing emissions fast enough. We must renew all efforts to meet that target. And certainly the U.S. position under President Biden is very clear. And President Biden is hosting a summit somewhere in the next months – the date, I don’t think, is public yet but he’s working on that date – which will have the 20 largest economies of the world coming together, together with a few other voices like vulnerable states and Pacific islands, in order to raise ambition, in order to get everybody focused on how it is we’re going to do more.
So we’re all seized of that issue. I know that Saudi Arabia has plans for a very large solar field that’s going to produce green hydrogen, and Bahrain and Kuwait and others are all trying to figure out exactly where they’re going to go. And one of the virtues, I think, conceivably, it’s – obviously, the proof will be in the pudding, in the eating of the pudding – but that’s the question of does it help us to have a country that is familiar with the oil and gas that has leverage within that community that is committed to do these things that I’ve just described. And my view is that it has the potential of being extremely important to our steps.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY MEDINA: Can I jump in and answer the previous question? I think I understand it. I didn’t want to leave that reporter in the lurch.
I believe it is really important for countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Panama, who created the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, to continue to work together to build broader areas of ocean protection that even enter the high seas area. So I think these are – they are to be commended for their groundbreaking, or “oceanbreaking,” work, for doing something different and new. And we need to build on that and find other countries that are willing to do similar things, work together to create connections, protected areas that are connected within the ocean so that the protections that we create in the ocean in both domestic waters and in international waters make sense and work together to do the conservation job we really need to hit that 30 by 30 and to preserve biodiversity on Earth.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for that, ma’am. Unfortunately, that is all the time that we have for today. Thank you for your questions, and a special thanks, obviously, to Special Envoy Kerry and Assistant Secretary Medina for joining us. Shortly we will send the audio recording of the briefing to all participating journalists, and provide a transcript as soon as it is available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub – one word – @state.gov. Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another press briefing soon.
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