Secretary of State John Kerry Addresses COP20


John Kerry made a somewhat unexpected appearance at COP20 today. I say “somewhat expected” because Secretary Kerry hasn’t missed a Conferences of the Parties to date and even attended the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro when he was a Senator for Massachusetts. Secretary Kerry was introduced by Todd Stern (the White House’s Special Envoy for Climate Change) to an audience of about 300 individuals, some of whom were quite notable attendees including Former Vice President Al Gore, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres, U.S. Ambassador to Peru, Brian A. Nichols, and Peru’s Minister of the Environment (and UNFCCC COP 20 President) Manuel Pulgar-Vidal.

The speech has three major themes: the scientific consensus for climate change, international collaboration for a global solution, and United States environmental and energy policies.

The Secretary of State first cited that 97% of peer reviewed studies have confirmed that anthropogenic climate change is real and that with over twenty years of “such a dramatic statement of fact, no one of good conscience or faith” could ignore the issue any longer. The audience could sense Secretary Kerry’s frustration over the fact that with such expert consensus on the issue, dangerous and uninformed opinions regarding climate change still need to be addressed further setting back productive negotiations domestically.

Secretary Kerry made a second strong statement when he declared that no country can “legitimately lay claim to global leadership in any capacity” until that nation takes appropriate environmental responsibility. This was certainly an opportune time for United States to make such a proclamation because of the $3 billion USD commitment to the Green Climate Fund the U.S. made in November and due to the recent Joint U.S.-China Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation. The United States is demonstrating to the international community that it is prepared to walk the talk. Four laggards that many delegates at COP20 perceived as not pulling their weight – Australia, Belgium, Colombia, and Peru – were praised by Secretary Kerry for their pledges to the CGF which brought the fund, intended to assist overburdened nations respond to changes in climate, to over the $10 billion USD initial goal.

Domestically, Secretary Kerry cited the strides the United States is taking to reduce its national carbon footprint. The Clean Power Plan targets 60% of the United States’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by promulgating regulations to reduce carbon emissions from transportation and power sources. With these policies, the U.S. is well on its way to meeting international commitments and the administration thinks that it is time for other nations, including developing countries which account for more than half of all global GHG emissions, to step up. While it is not politically popular to call out developing countries at venues like the COP, Secretary Kerry made an interesting point, asking developing nations if they want the economy that industrialized countries had over 100 years ago, or commit to alternative energies and facilitate their transition into the economy of the future.

Secretary Kerry finished up his speech with another question which I will paraphrase below:

What’s the worst thing that can happen if the international community makes environmentally conscious decisions and adopts more sustainable policies and practices but climate change doesn’t transpire to the projected degree?:
healthier people; a more secure world; job creation.

That’s the worst thing that can happen to us under that scenario.

But what happens if we do nothing and the climate skeptics are wrong?