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Kerry on climate: leaders need greater urgency

John Kerry, United States Special Envoy for Climate

by John Kerry, United States Special Envoy for Climate

Filed under Climate Emergency / Leadership case studies

At TTU we highlight cutting edge thinking that helps leaders make the big changes needed on the Climate Emergency.

John Kerry is US President Biden’s Special Envoy on Climate. He uses every opportunity to hammer home in person his message to leaders. They are doing more to ensure the relentless rise in temperatures is capped. But it is nothing like what is needed. Addressing climate change even more radically is doable. It must now be part of every business and political decision.

These are his lightly edited remarks to business leaders at the Delphi Economic Forum in Athens, Greece on 12 May 2021.

The climate crisis is integral to many of the other themes that you’re all discussing this week: geopolitics and security, the global economy, the future of Europe, people organisations and society, the future of technology and sustainable growth.

The climate crisis is inextricably linked to every single one of those issues. It will be impossible to make progress on those issues without addressing the climate crisis.

What the scientists are telling us, though, is that what we are currently doing to address the climate crisis is just not enough. It is not getting the job done.

Why every leader must do more

If we want to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis, we need to limit the Earth’s warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s what the scientists and experts tell us. But where we are today - even if everyone in the world: national governments, multilateral institutions, companies - even if they all hit their existing targets on climate, and they do so on time, that will still not be enough to hold the global warming to only 1.5 degrees.

The fact is, that it is possible to hold it there. We can do it. And the doing of it is critical. But it is going to mean that all of us - not just governments, but individuals, institutions, private companies, banks, everyone - must do more.

Urgency of new ambitions

We have to set more ambitious goals. And we have to do so urgently. And we have to act on them. That was why President Biden convened the leaders summit on climate last month to get the leaders of the world’s major economies to set out how we are in fact going to get this done.

President Biden knows that the stakes on the climate crisis had never been as high as they are today. What happens in this decade will determine whether or not we can keep the global warming to our target of 1.5 degrees. And that means commitments that we make this year in this decade are critical.

That’s why just after being sworn in, President Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement. He signed a series of executive orders to direct the US government to take bold action at home and abroad in order to tackle this crisis. That’s why at last month’s summit, he announced a new and more ambitious emissions target for the United States to do our part in keeping the Earth’s temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The United States will reduce our greenhouse gas pollution by 50 to 52% economy wide over these next 10 years. We welcome the EU’s moved to put more ambitious European targets into law ahead of the summit. And I was pleased to see Greece during the ministerial roundtables at the summit showcase its commitment to becoming a clean energy leader.

By the end of the summit, we saw new commitments from countries that put 55% of the world’s GDP - 55% of the world’s economies - on track to keep the Earth’s warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Only halfway to commitments needed

But my friends, we still need the other 45% at the table, especially those in Asia.

We need more than just government commitments. The fact is that government action alone is not going to solve this crisis. That’s why ahead of the summit, we worked with six leading US banks to pledge to mobilise $4.15 trillion of capital by 2030. We also secured commitments from the three largest US asset managers to move the $19 trillion in assets that they manage into a low carbon status by 2050.

But we still need more, and we need all of you to help.

The summit was a first step. And as we prepare for the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow in November, and in the years ahead, we’re going to need to work closely with our partners.

Great new business openings

When I talk about climate, I use the term crisis in order to underscore the urgency of action. But my friends, it is not just an image or a prospect of a future of doom and gloom. This is doable. And it’s not only doable.

But it’s one of the world’s greatest opportunities for partnership and for prosperity. It is in fact, I think, the greatest economic transformation staring us in the face that we have seen since the Industrial Revolution.

The UN report on finance estimates we need one to $2 trillion globally every year to deliver on our climate goals just for the energy transition. If you consider the needs for other sectors, then it really does become clear that we’re going to need to capitalise trillions upon trillions of dollars in the years ahead.

Seize the new opportunity

This is indeed the greatest market opportunity since the Industrial Revolution. But it is also an opportunity that has to be seized.

We know that those who act first, we’ll be best positioned to benefit. And we need therefore to focus on this new economy like a laser.

So I would to ask all of you to consider what more can your organisation, your industry or your government do to resolve the climate crisis? How can we work together to make tangible Net Zero commitments?

Because the United States government obviously can’t do this alone. No country can. This is going to require a global, all of society effort. If we’re to successfully resolve the climate crisis, we will need your innovation, your leadership, your partnership, and we look forward to sharing that together.

Greece: example of what is doable

Thankfully, we do have great partners in Greece, especially under Prime Minister Mitsotakis, and Minister Shrikas and their leadership, and we also have great partners in Europe. Greece is proving in fact to the world, how individual countries can aim higher, how they can do better, and even how they can exceed their Paris commitments. Greece was among the first to support the EU’s revised agenda to cut emissions.

I commend Prime Minister Mitsotakis. His decision to retire all lignite fired power plants years ahead of schedule. It’s also great to see Greece positioned to be among Europe’s major generators of wind and solar power. The United States is genuinely proud to work with Greece on a range of climate related issues. I couldn’t be happier to see US companies bringing American technology and expertise to the Greek clean energy market, and to see US investments in Greek wind energy, electric vehicle companies, sustainable supply chains, and circular economies creating jobs and prosperity for both Greeks and Americans.

I commend Greece for leading a new initiative on protecting our cultural and natural heritage from the impacts of the climate crisis. Our new bilateral science and technology agreement with Greece sets the stage for even more collaboration in climate science and environmental fields.

The agreement allows us to more easily launch joint research initiatives and to convene experts from our governments, from academia and the private sector. The cutting edge solar PV research being done in Greek universities is just one promising example. And as Greece explores new frontiers, such as low carbon hydrogen, and decarbonize shipping, the opportunities for US Greece cooperation will expand even further.

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