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Public Statements

Kerry Delivers Speech on Post-Bali Climate Change Policy

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Location: Washington, DC

Sen. John Kerry, who represented the United States Senate last week at the international climate negotiations in Bali, delivered a speech, "The Road from Bali" on the future of climate policy, at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Please find his remarks, as prepared, below:

Melody, thanks for that kind introduction. John, thank you for all that you're doing here at the Center to grow and support a vision of progressive politics in this country.

A week ago, I came back from the post-Kyoto climate change negotiations in Bali, where 187 nations gathered to hammer out a new mandate. Thanks to key votes back in the Senate, I had the pleasure of spending about 40 hours in the air for a day and a half in Bali. I knew it would be brief, but I thought it was imperative that the Congressional view be represented and essential we deliver a simple message, in person.

That message: there is real movement on this issue in America, and we are ready to lead again. The United States of America is not going to continue to be the skunk at the party. Obviously, the Administration did its best to hold onto its reputation, but in the end grassroots energy triumphed, within the obvious limits—and I'll talk about that in a minute.

In Bali, I spoke with delegates from seven delegations, including the EU, China, Japan, Australia, and small island states, and spoke at our environmental community's gathering, and everywhere I went, I said the same thing. Over 500 mayors across our country have pledged to "meet or beat" Kyoto commitments in their cities. Five Midwestern states recently joined 10 Northeastern and six western states in launching a regional emissions trading program to cap their output of greenhouse gases. That's over half our economy. The world needs to know: this White House doesn't represent the American people today, and it cannot represent America's policy beyond January 2009.

But today, the executive branch does lead these negotiations, which explains why the final product was much less than it could have been. As I'm sure you've heard, the US delegation was the lone, consistent voice against including any concrete goals for reducing emissions in the final document. If you read Tom Friedman today, you'll see that our delegation in Bali included smart people who understand at the technical level what needs to be done—but the policymakers are holding them back. They repeatedly tried to eliminate any references to the recommendations of the Nobel prize-winning IPCC. Ultimately, the consensus of the entire scientific community was reduced to an obscure, highly technical footnote, which tells you all you need to know about the Administration's attitude.

For those of you who follow the details, we've been here before. We don't need to dwell on the disgraceful denial and delay. Now that the President admits that climate change is real, our policy has moved from "the audacity of ‘nope'" to—and I apologize in advance to Dr. King for this--"the fierce urgency of ‘not now.'"

This will be the verdict of history. But on the plus side, that's exactly what it is: history. The reality is, the Bush White House is increasingly irrelevant to any future agreement. Some may still hold out hope for this Administration to have a ‘deathbed conversion" in its final months— just like their mysterious recent conversion from "deficits don't matter" high-rollers to born-again "deficit hawks" in November 2006. Personally, I'm not counting on it. Absent that conversion, the real work falls to you—non-governmental organizations—to the Congress, and to the next President.

So, did Bali deliver as strong a mandate as we would like? Does it elicit the commitments we hoped it would? Is it as clear a document as we would like? The answer is sadly, "no."

But still, despite this Administration's reluctant participation, the "Bali roadmap" does mark real progress toward a post-Kyoto vision. It lays out a process for future negotiations, recognizes the importance of the four building blocks to fighting climate change—mitigation, adaptation, financing, and technology—and most importantly shows us a path to reach a final agreement in Copenhagen in 2009. It's up to us to make that path productive.

This is the first time we have a truly global road map with a role for developed and developing countries alike. The most important question that will determine the future of climate change is how we give life to the words "shared but differentiated responsibility." The dynamics of Kyoto have changed. In Kyoto people stiff-armed that discussion. Now it can no longer be shunted aside. In fact, one of the most important talks I had was with the Chinese delegation, whom I also met with in Kyoto and in Brazil. Each time, they refused to engage. This time was different and, I believe, a cause for optimism.

What we achieved in Bali was a roadmap that doesn't foreclose our options—it directs the global community to start its work, and preserves the space for the United States to engage when we're ready to. That was far from inevitable, and frankly may be the best roadmap we could hope for under George W. Bush.

What I found in Bali was a world ready to act full of willing partners when the United States finally decides to lead. To a person, almost everyone told me the same thing: ultimately we can't do this without the US, but we won't wait to get started until America comes on board.

And yes, the world is running out of patience. At one point, as the US was insisting on provisions that would've killed the deal, a delegate from Papua New Guinea stood up and told the United States of America that if we weren't willing to lead, we should at least get out of the way. This was a widely prevalent view-really damaging to our international standing. An entire roomful of high-level ministers—otherwise very polite people—actually booed the top US official for almost a full minute.

The rest of the world is ready to get moving. I met with Peter Garrett, Australia's new environment minister. He was representing Prime Minister Rudd- the first national leader to win an election because his opponent ignored climate change. This was an earthquake in Australian politics, and frankly we have to make sure it isn't the last of its kind. Because let me assure you there is no better way than that to get the attention of politicians everywhere than to defeat recalcitrant politicians somewhere. Australia used to be a major holdout—now America is alone among developed nations in refusing to seriously address climate change.

As the Chinese made clear to me, when America is ready to take action, China will join us. There's a destructive caricature out there today that China won't give an inch. Difficult negotiations surely lie ahead, but China grasps the urgency. 83% of the Chinese people support action on climate change, and they're already taking major steps forward: including a 20% cut in energy intensity by 2010. If you wonder whether we're being too hard on Detroit by raising our fuel efficiency standards, remember that China's fleet-wide efficiency will hit 36.7 miles per gallon next year. Our bill hits 35 mpg in 2020.

Despite the Bush Administration's intransigence, we're witnessing the growth of a global consensus on the nature of the threat and the need for global action, which begs the question: how do we build on that momentum? Where does the roadmap lead America post-Bali? The next President will have to sign a treaty, which remains essential to our long-term efforts, and we need to get there by 2009, as we committed to do in Bali. That means we can't afford to let the dust settle on a new Presidency. All of us—politicians, labor unions, activists, think tank fellows--need to make this a voting issue to be ratified by the public on November 4, 2008, and those of you in the policy world need to help us lay the groundwork for a program to be implemented on day one.

In the meantime, the world isn't waiting on George Bush and neither should we. The Council on Foreign Relations recently described US climate policy as "fragmenting"—with mayors, governors, Senators and CEOs each operating in their own sphere. But really it is reaching a level of ferment where I suspect a future President will be surprised by the accumulated momentum just waiting for a President to tap into it.

So admittedly we're in a unique spot. The world has decided that, with or without us, they're moving forward. In terms of an international treaty, we're basically treading water until we have a new President. In the meantime, Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans are fighting to see what we can get done before then.

In Congress, two decades after Al Gore and a few of us held our first Commerce hearings on climate change in 1987, we passed a strong energy bill that includes the first significant increase in fuel economy standards since the Carter Administration. We just passed three bills out of the Commerce Committee that would strengthen our government's climate science research program, dedicate serious resources to studying and understanding the acidification of our oceans, and prepare communities at high risk to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The Environment and Public Works Committee also passed a major piece legislation to cap carbon emissions, which Senator Reid has committed to bringing to the floor in early 2008. We have a long way to go, but these have been important and historic steps.

But we'd be fooling ourselves if we thought this was enough—or that we can do this without taking part in a global effort. We have to work to ensure that clean, green energy is accessible and affordable everywhere. Because when the rubber hits the road, regardless of their promises, 3 billion people in developing countries won't sacrifice their economic future for the sake of a treaty. It would be wrong to ask them to, when close to half the world's population lives on less than $2 a day. That's why we need a massive new Manhattan project for alternative energy, because that's where the change will really come from.

No area of research is more compelling than clean coal technology. CAP has been a strong advocate of clean coal policy. Coal is cheap, dirty, and abundant not only here at home, but also in countries like China. Coal accounts for 80% of China's emissions today and they're building the equivalent of one new dirty coal-fired power plant per week.

We should be putting billions of dollars into developing real "clean coal" on an industrial scale. Scientists today are working capture and sequestration technology that can collect all the carbon emissions from a coal plant and gasify and bury them safely underground. Ted Stevens has joined me in sponsoring a bill for 3-5 commercial demonstration projects in sequestration and 3-5 more in capture. We should run, not walk, to do this—and we should ensure that as we develop clean coal technology, we also put it affordably into the hands of the people we hope will use it.

Also, there is a great deal we can do right now to put a green thumb on the scale of the economic decision-making of billions of people. We should be reducing tariffs on green producers, as we're working to do today with the EU. We should be rewarding countries that meet emissions goals and helping US companies sell green products overseas.

We also need to make sure we keep winning the argument domestically and building consensus. I was impressed by the article John Podesta and Peter Ogden published in the January 2008 issue of The Washington Quarterly, drilling down on the national security implications of climate change. Going forward, this has to become an essential part of our foreign policy and also of our progressive message.

As we gather momentum, we can expect increasingly loud and desperate objections from the naysayers. With the IPCC report, they lost the war over the science, now they're arguing that it's simply too expensive to fix. But the question is not whether or not we pay for climate change--if there was a cost-free way forward, of course we'd take it. No, the real question is whether we pay it now in a way that helps us break our addiction to oil, or later on a massive, unpredictable scale in the currency of environmental devastation and human suffering.

The IPCC says that stringent efforts would cost 0.12% of average annual economic growth until 2050. Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank, says that an investment of 1% of GDP can stave off a 5-20% loss of GDP, as much as $9 trillion per year. Now others, like Bill Nordhaus at Yale or Robert Samuelson in The Washington Post, might take issue with his methods—but the larger point is there. Warren Buffet famously says that when he sees a good investment, he doesn't need to reach for his calculator—and I believe that's the case with green economics today.

Historically we've overestimated the costs of reducing emissions of air pollutants—as we did when we regulated sulfur dioxide. But it comes down to a variation on Pascal's wager. If we're wrong, we still have global development, clean air, a stronger economy here at home, healthier citizens, and no more addiction to the foreign oil that funds despots and terrorists. If they're wrong, we face catastrophe.

We also need to drive home the reality that we risk losing our competitive advantage if we ignore the opportunities offered by clean energy technologies. Other countries are building infrastructure today that could become an enduring competitive advantage for decades to come. China is on track to invest $10 billion in renewable energy this year, second only to Germany.

This is a test of our leadership in the century ahead. Americans want this country to be what Lincoln called "the last best hope of earth"—not a White House to be the last place on earth to get serious about climate change. We don't have all the answers yet, but we do have momentum, we have science, and we have an emerging consensus worldwide. We should all be glad that time is not on this President's side—but time isn't on our side either. We can't wait for a new President, we can't wait for new technology, and we can't wait for a treaty, we have to start now.

In Bali I saw a world community waiting for America to lead on a threat that waits for no one. Today we are the missing ingredient, so let's get to work. Thank you.


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