John Kerry at COP22

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave an excellent and truly inspiring speech on Wednesday at COP22. His message included both optimism for global cooperation and progress on emission reduction 

John Kerry: Paris Agreement, Built to Last

November 16, 2016

John Kerry at COP22

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave an excellent and truly inspiring speech on Wednesday at COP22. His message included both optimism for global cooperation and progress on emission reduction, and a warning of the consequences of inaction. He has been deeply involved in climate action for a long time. I didn’t know that he met his wife Teresa at the 1992 Rio Summit that negotiated the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that led to all of the COP meetings.

Douglas MacMartinDouglas MacMartin, Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at Cornell, is a member of Cornell's COP22 delegation (watch his video)

The recent backdrop to his speech was obvious to all. With regards to the Paris Agreement, he said “I can tell you with confidence that the U.S. is on its way to meeting all international targets because of market forces. I believe that this cannot and will not be reversed by government.” He said the “framework is built to last,” providing global accountability. Pointing to the costs of climate change, the costs of asthma visits to hospitals, the costs of adapting to rising sea levels, of extreme weather, he argued that carbon-intensive energy is the most expensive when the final invoice comes. Real cost accounting considers the downstream consequences, and “citizens in the long run will not accept phony accounting.”

John Kerry did not shy away from acknowledging the recent U.S. election, noting that it “left some here and elsewhere uncertain about future,” but pointing out that “some issues look a little bit different when you’re actually in office versus on the campaign trail” and that “climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue in the first place.” On the latter point, he went on to note that it isn’t a partisan issue for the Pentagon, which sees it as a threat multiplier, that military leaders are aware that it exacerbates conflicts and represents a threat to military readiness. It also isn’t a partisan issue for the intelligence community that just issued a report detailing risks for national security, increasing tensions, impacting food prices, and health. And it isn’t a partisan issues for mayors across the United States or for business leaders, and there is nothing partisan about climate change for the world’s scientists who are near unanimous about the challenge."

Secretary Kerry concluded with a call to action for nations around the world: "Whether we are able to meet this moment is a big test – probably as big a test of courage and vision as you’ll ever find. Every nation has a responsibility to do its part if we are going to pass that test – and only those nations who step up and respond to this threat can legitimately lay claim to a mantle of global leadership.”

Read the full transcript of John Kerry's climate summit speech.