John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
Good morning, everybody. I want to thank the Oceanographic Institute and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation for inviting me to share a few thoughts during the 12th edition of the Monaco Blue Initiative. More broadly, I want to thank them for their partnership and for providing this forum to discuss some of the most pressing issues of our time.
I’m proud to be President Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, now spending my days exclusively focused on the climate crisis and working hard to ensure that the United States and the global community are able to put the world on a safe path before it is too late.
Advancing climate action has been a personal passion of mine for decades. But, from the time I was a little boy, I was always in awe of the ocean, and I have made it central to my life’s work to protect the bodies of water that cover three quarters of our planet.
The truth is, these passions are actually not distinct. Ocean stewardship and climate stewardship are really two sides of a single coin.
We cannot protect the ocean without confronting the climate crisis. Greenhouse gas pollution is already having a devastating effect on the ocean, which is quite literally dying from impacts such as warming and acidification.
And it pains me to say, but we are heading towards an even more catastrophic future. Because right now we are heading towards more than 3 degrees Celsius of warming across the planet. Make no mistake, nobody is getting the job done on what we set out to do in Paris. In order to protect the ocean and the planet, it is absolutely essential to try to hold warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Now, I recognize—and I deeply regret—that the United States, at the national level, has been absent in the global climate fight in recent years. But even as I say that, I can tell you that governors in America and mayors in America stayed in the Paris Agreement, and I can tell you that rejoining the Paris Agreement was a “Day 1” priority, and we are now doing everything in our power, in an all-of-government initiative, to make up for lost time.
Second, we cannot fight the climate crisis without the power of the ocean. The ocean is a source of sustainable climate solutions—and frankly we are not in a position to leave any climate solution on the table.
On the mitigation side, we have to tap the potential of sustainably sited offshore renewable energy, we have to protect and restore our coastal blue carbon ecosystems, and we have to decarbonize the international shipping sector, which currently produces as much greenhouse gas pollution as a G7 country.
Just think of the jobs that this work will create. The fact is that we are looking at the possibilities of the greatest economic transformation the world has seen since the industrial revolution. That’s not an exaggeration. The climate market, the effort to change our energy policy, will be the largest market the world has ever known. And climate and ocean actions are not inconsistent with a thriving economic recovery—in fact, they are foundational to it.
On the adaptation side, we have to work to create resilience in the face of the climate crisis. It is already affecting individual species and entire ecosystems. Only five percent of the ocean today has any form of protection, and only two percent is strongly protected. I was very proud of the work we did during the Obama Administration in this vein, including the creation of the record-breaking Ross Sea marine protected area. But we have so much more to do globally.
The fact is that fishing is now a major crisis. And I hate to say it, but individual countries have chosen to put big fleets of fishing vessels out on the ocean, on the high seas, without observation, and they are literally strip-mining the ocean of fish and fauna.
So we face a monumental task. But I am heartened by the leadership of everybody here today, and I can promise you that the United States is working and will continue to work in our all-of government-effort; we’ll do everything we can to do our part.
For example, we’re working to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 to protect biodiversity and natural carbon storage; we’re working to scale up offshore wind energy in order to help support our goal to achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2035; and we will be working to reduce carbon emissions from the global shipping sector as well.
In the coming weeks, we look forward to announcing our new Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC as we call it, our emissions reduction target through the Paris Agreement for the Glasgow meeting in November.
Both the climate crisis and the dire state of our ocean absolutely require us to work not as individual countries but as a global community. And there will be no shortage of opportunities for us to work together this year to protect our ocean—from BBNJ to COP26—we have the chance to do it and there’s no time to waste.
We have to apply every lever to create a future for the ocean that is biodiverse, climate-resilient, and free from carbon pollution. Because the health of our ocean is central to our economies, our ecosystems, our communities, and to life itself on this planet.
Thank you for all you are doing in this fight, and I look forward to working with you on the road to Glasgow and beyond.