December 5, 2021

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Remarks at Munich Security Conference Special Session

12 min read

John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

Wolfgang – thank you very, very much. Thank you for the great introduction. Thank you for importantly making sure that climate change is front and center at the Munich Security Conference, which is exactly where it belongs today. Climate change, as we just heard from Jens Stoltenberg, is a security issue – and the fact is – it’s among the most complex security issues we’ve ever faced.

What we do – or don’t do – in the coming months and years will make all the difference. But for millions of people, Wolfgang, they don’t have to look into a distant future to see the impacts of climate change now, they just have to look out the window.

This week, in the state of Texas, we’ve seen unprecedented extreme cold related to climate because the polar vortex penetrates further south because of the weakening of the jet stream related to warming. Last year, the U.S. saw a record thirty named tropical cyclones. Europe is warming even faster than the global average, and the melting Arctic ice has changed geostrategic and military calculations for every country on the planet, from Russia to China and obviously for NATO.

What these extreme weather events translate to on the ground should concern every single one of us.  Climate change is, again as Jens said, it’s a threat multiplier. When tensions are already high somewhere, and resources are increasingly scarce, the embers of conflict just burn brighter. And when farmers can no longer make a living because the weather is so extreme and unpredictable, they become increasingly desperate. Many, according to some studies, hundreds of millions of people, will be forced from their homes, forced from their habitat, from the place they’ve lived a lifetime. And not only can mass migration drive humanitarian crisis, but as Europe knows only too well - as we saw with Turkey’s manipulation of the numbers of people being released and people being pushed out of Syria - if it is not managed well, it can literally begin to undermine countries, homes, peace and stability. And we’ve seen dramatic change in politics in a lot of places because of this.

So, when we talk about the impacts of climate change, we’re talking about security — energy security, economic security, food security, even physical security.

And the question now is pregnantly, what will the world do about it?

Three years ago, scientists warned that if we want to prevent the worst consequences of the climate crisis, we have to limit the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s the magic number by consensus among most scientists. The same group of scientists told us that we had, three years ago, about twelve years. So now three years later, three years wasted – sadly, largely because of our President in the United States - around 2030 is the date in which we have to get the world now on the right path in order to cap the warming at that level of 1.5.

So we are absolutely, clearly, without question, now inside the decisive decade. It is simply not acceptable, Wolfgang, for countries to think they can go to Glasgow – the meeting we will have, the COP, in November – and simply put big numbers out for projections – thirty or forty years from now or longer. It’s what people will do in the next ten years that matter. That‘s what we have to talk about. What are we going to do starting now, going to 2030, for the simple reason, that if we do not sufficiently reduce our emissions – and that is true for the United States as it is true for other major emitting countries like China, India, Russia and Japan, and so forth, and the EU as a whole. If we don’t reduce it, then we simply have not any longer got the possibility of holding the temperature at 1.5 degrees or of having net-zero by 2050.

And unfortunately, today, the day the Untied States formally re-enters the Paris Agreement, today the fact is that only one or two countries are actually meeting what they said they’d do for Paris. And even if we did everything we said we’d do in Paris, the Earth’s temperature would rise about to 3.7 degrees.

So we have to raise ambition. That is why President Biden moved to rejoin the Paris Agreement hours after he was sworn in on day one. It is a process that takes 30 days, that means that as of today we are officially back in again.

But in rejoining, we got to be really honest with each other, we have to be humble, and – most of all – we have to be ambitious.

We have to be honest that as a global community, we’re not close to where we need to be.

We have to be humble, because we know the United States was inexcusably absent for four years.

And most of all, we have to be ambitious – all of us – because we have to get the job done.

In November, when we convene in Glasgow for the UN Climate Conference – COP 26 –  I believe it is our last, best hope to get all of our nations on the right road to keep us at the 1.5 and achieve the net-zero by 2050. We all need to develop not just a number, but a roadmap for how we will actually make the dramatic progress we need to make over the next ten years – and what we will specifically do to get to net-zero by no later than 2050.

We need to be working hand in hand with the private and public sector to provide the finance, which will be critical – finance in the trillions – in order so that countries can do what they have to do.

We are already hard at work on this. We will spend the coming weeks and months working very closely with our European allies – at the Leaders’ Summit that President Biden will host in April, at the gatherings like the G7,  the G20, at CCAMLR, at Our Oceans conference, and in the Arctic Council – anywhere and everywhere we can – leading in to the United Nations meeting in New York in September, and then Glasgow.

Wolfgang, there is simply no faking it at this moment. Failure is really not an option if we expect to pass the Earth on in the shape that it needs to be to future generations. So we all need to determine what success looks like, how to achieve it, and commit ourselves, above all, to get this job done.

Thank you. I’m happy to take a couple of questions.

More from: John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

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