What is Required

U.S. climate action commitments are the overwhelming will of the people. Nation will follow through and lead global transition. 

Today at the COP22 in Marrakech, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry just gave a sweeping, detailed, and high-energy final address to the global climate negotiations. He told a global audience “No one should doubt the overwhelming majority of the American people who know that climate change is happening and who are committed to fulfilling and going beyond our commitments.”

Kerry noted that, from decades of experience in public service, there are issues of such gravity, complexity and geopolitical relevance that they “look different when you are in office than they do on the campaign trail.” He expects the incoming administration, despite campaign rhetoric, will learn that undoing the Paris Agreement and related U.S. commitments would be far too disruptive to geopolitical relations and future prospects for sustained cooperative economic development.

He noted the Paris Agreement brings all nations into a cooperative framework of mutual support, saying “It leaves no country to weather the storm of climate change alone.” The outgoing Secretary of State stressed the fact that solving climate change is the biggest investment opportunity in the history of the world, that action is already well underway, and that the transition to thriving low-carbon economies is unstoppable.

Far from being a burden to the people of the U.S. or to international banks and businesses, global climate action is a deep and long-running future opportunity for correcting much of what is wrong with the current state of the macroeconomy. For those looking to rebuild small town American businesses, the Main Street economy, there is no faster way to do this than to innovate, invest, implement and go beyond Paris commitments.

He urged those who would pick up the work of negotiating the best outcome for the US and for the climate to speak to leaders in business, banking, insurance, at the community level, on the front lines in coastal areas and farm country, to scientists and to senior military leaders and experts, who have identified climate change as a “threat multiplier”—to understand the cost and threat, and to be better prepared to face such a daunting challenge.

kerry-paris-signingKerry spoke with pride of the moment when he signed the Paris Agreement, with his granddaughter on his lap, in the United Nations General Assembly Hall, in April 2016. His voice broke as he described the feeling he had of deep service to her and to future generations. He said the response from people around the country and around the world was overwhelming; the image spoke to their belief that they should leave a better world to their grandchildren.

“If we fall short,” he said, “it will be the single greatest instance in modern times of a generation abdicating its responsibility,” and added that there is no reason climate change should be a partisan political issue. It is a challenge we must face, and the world is facing it. “Only those nations that step up” to lead on solving climate change, “can legitimately wear the mantle of global leadership.”

Mr. Kerry spoke beyond politics, as a statesman. He pointed to the ways in which this ambitious global cooperative endeavor serves the people of the United States and the obligations the government has to its people. He spoke of what needs to be healed in the national and global economy, whether climate change is faced or not. Central to his message was advice to those who will now take the reins of US foreign policy: the climate is beyond politics, and leadership means getting the response right.

He quoted Winston Churchill who said “Sometimes doing your best is not enough; you have to do what is required.” This anecdote was woven through the speech. His voice broke when he remembered signing the Paris Agreement with his granddaughter on his lap in the UN General Assembly. And he ended by urging everyone to commit that “We will do not only our best, but as Winston Churchill suggested: We. Will. Do. What. Is. Required.

That final word, “required”, Kerry said in a tone that you rarely if ever hear a person use—suggesting a deep, sacred, moral challenge, one that cannot be put aside under any circumstances, and one where the speaker believes what is best about human beings must come to the surface and be made real in the world, if we are to have hope, and yes, that he believes with the same solemn confidence with which he speaks of this challenge, that we will succeed.