Remarks by John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, at a UN Security Council High-Level Open Debate on Climate, Peace, and Security

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June 13, 2023

Madam President. Thank you, very, very much. And let me begin by thanking as others have, Under-Secretary-General Lacroix, and His Excellency, my friend, President Santos. And also, Ms. Salma Kadry, thank you very much for setting the stage for this important discussion. And thank you, Minister and Madam President for UAE’s leadership in calling this really critical meeting on the security implications of the climate crisis.

I particularly take note of the comments of the representative from Mozambique, who really described the unfairness of the impacts, and in effect defined one of the threats that will come out of this crisis that we all face as a consequence of the unfair distribution of the impacts and the unfair distribution of the causes. And I will say more about that in a moment.

Let me just begin by saying to everybody that it’s now indisputable – indisputable – that the climate crisis is one of the top security threats, not just to the developed world but to the entire planet, to life on the planet itself. And it is a crisis that already today costs countries billions of dollars each year, which we spend not even to prevent at this point, but just to clean up the mess. And most importantly, it costs the world millions of lives. It’s an active threat against the livelihoods and the peace of people everywhere on this planet.

So we see with our naked eyes – and the observations that are now coming more rapidly in larger amounts than were predicted by the scientists, a greater speed than was predicted by the scientists – we see that there’s really very little security against the most severe consequences of the crisis, of extreme temperatures. Millions of people actually die every year now from extreme heat.

We see the impacts of the spread of disease, the infestation of insects that live longer and now attack trees and forests of countries that depend on them, in greater fashion than before the loss of food, the chaos of mass migration, which has hardly reached what we are being predicted it will reach if we continue to have the bio-destruction that is taking place on a global basis. I don’t think there’s one country that now lives sustainably. And not necessarily because of their choice, but because certain processes are forced on them, just by virtue of the global economy.

There’s no finding peace for the 7 million people a year who die around the world from the impact of greenhouse gas pollution. Pollution. We failed to call it pollution as frequently as we should, I think because that’s what it is. And without action, the climate crisis destruction, costs will go up, and the spread of its impacts will grow. It is fair to say that that the world we experienced last year will be a better world than the one we’re going to experience this year or for the foreseeable future, unless we do a better job of attacking the crisis itself. And the cost will rival the cost of many wars, even those being fought today.

Last year – we heard from the Minister of Mozambique – double cyclones hit Mozambique to Vanuatu. The United States, we saw death and destruction in the wake of those intensive cyclones. Not cyclones. In our case, it was tornadoes. In the U.S. alone, three storms several years ago were responsible for about $265 billion worth of damage. Yet we don’t find the $100 billion. This year we will find the $100 billion. This year we will have the $100 billion. But think how long it’s taken since Paris. And we obviously had a president who regrettably pulled out of the agreement and set us back for those four years without any money in the budget.

Today, the Horn of Africa is experiencing the worst droughts on record, driving crop failures and food shortages that make keeping peace difficult, as we heard from the Under-Secretary-General. And last October, UN Peacekeepers in South Sudan were dealt some of the worst floods the area ever experienced, worsening an already terrible period of conflict.

And you all unfortunately had the experience of dealing with the quality of air, as we all inhaled smoke – tasted – you literally could taste the impact of the fires in Canada, fueled significantly by drought and heat. I’m not saying exclusively created, but fueled very significantly to a certainty.

My friends, there is no legitimate debate. There is no space for procrastination. And how many issues that the Security Council considers can you say that of? There is no room for debate on the science here. The crisis is growing, it’s undermining our collective peace and security. And without concerted action from this body, and every single governmental entity that deals with this, without that effort, the world’s impact is going to get worse, and it will continue to threaten our peace, our lives, our security, in greater fashion, every day, every year that we do not do what we know we need to do.

Now, one should not minimize the degree to which the droughts, the floods, the fires that we are experiencing are driving mass economic, social, political and environmental disruptions and the displacement of human beings around the world which in its own way creates chaos. No one here would deny the way the politics of certain countries have changed dramatically, and not for the better as a consequence of the movement of people, and of the conflict that we face, and the disruptions to our economies. Last year, we saw in Pakistan 30 million people displaced by just one event.

So without action, the instability produced by climate disruptions is only going to grow, and climate driven events will increasingly stress our peacekeepers and our countries’ militaries. A number of years ago our military came to the conclusion at the highest level with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and they articulated that the climate crisis is a threat multiplier. All of the other forces that created wars or created conflict are multiplied as a consequence of what happens with this struggle.

So we welcome the peace and security issue, the COP, that has been announced by the president here in her capacity as Minister. And obviously if we are going to resolve this, the Security Council, the UN have to step up. And I think be heard from even more than they have to date. Certainly, the Secretary-General, we hear the frustration that he feels for the lack of action that he has been constantly reminding us about.

We need to pledge our resources to the Secretary-General’s ‘Early Warning for All’ initiative and we need to make sure that it integrates the needs of the most vulnerable people. And we have to integrate those threats in the New Agenda for Peace and reimagine how the UN system itself can best address the growing impact of this crisis on the world’s security. Specifically, we have to ensure that the climate crisis is included in the conflict prevention and mediation of UN Peacekeeping Missions worldwide, and we all need to help make that happen.

I remind folks that here in the U.S., President Biden – after we finally got the IRA, the Inflation Reduction Act passed, it’s the most important legislation we’ve ever passed – it’s already having a dramatic impact on choices. And the President has created the Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience, the PREPARE plan, which is now helping half a billion people in developing countries to adapt to and manage the impacts of the climate crisis by 2030.

Now obviously, it’s been mentioned by several speakers. In a few months – five and a half, six months – many of us are going to gather in Dubai for COP28. There are already three mandated outcomes: One is winning the challenge of adaptation, there will be an adaptation report delivered. Two, addressing loss and damage, which we’ve changed the dynamic on successfully, but not completely in Sharm El-Sheikh. And three, the global stock take, which will be a stark assessment of where we are – nobody will be particularly pleased – but which also must be more than that. It needs to show what the roadmap is going forward. That is the best stock take we could deliver to the world. And we need to make sure we try to do that.

And we must respond to reality folks. And here’s the way we see the reality. 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa equal 0.55% of all the emissions. And the challenge that we face is not coming externally from some threat, it’s not a nation that is trying to grab more territory, it’s not the politics of or even the drive of one authoritarian leader or another to dominate. It’s us. It’s everybody. It’s the way we choose to heat our homes, it’s the way we light our factories, it’s the way we propel our vehicles, it’s the burning of fossil fuels unabated that is creating the problem. And the issue is whether or not we are going to move all of us to do enough about it. 48 countries equal 0.55% of emissions, 20 countries equal 76% of all the emissions. And we’ve all pledged in Paris, and in Glasgow, and in Sharm El-Sheikh to get on a glide path to 1.5 degrees. But we’re not all doing it.

So I’m not here to point fingers. I don’t want to start – we need to work together. Every one of our countries need to work together. We have technologies, we can do the things. We have great universities, we have great laboratories. We can do more to be able to bring ourselves together to deal with this crisis. And in the end, only one thing is going to save us from ourselves. Meeting the target the scientists are giving us with respect to the reduction of emissions. And even if we get to net zero by 2050, we still have to suck 1.6 or so trillion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, which means we have to have some carbon capture or we can’t do that.

So the goal ahead of us is absolutely clear, we need to end the permitting of new unabated coal plants now – unabated, folks – that means you’re not capturing any emissions. And we need to pull the finance together and that means the trillions. And I’m glad to say that next week in Paris President Macron’s Climate Finance Summit will take place and hopefully we will expand the ideas for blended finance and for the terms we need to achieve this goal.

No country should be bringing online new sources of pollution wherever it comes from, knowing what we know about this crisis. So we have to recommit ourselves to our 2030 goals and please note not just our 2030 goals, because if we don’t do enough by 2030, there is no net zero by 2050. It’s gone. There is no keeping the 1.5 degrees. It will be gone. The decisive decade is now. And we need folks to step up with better plans and real plans with respect to 2050. So these are the things we have to do to ensure the safety of our citizens and – no small objective – to assure the security of the planet worldwide.

So I emphasize one observation that obviously the time for talk is well behind us. We have the tools and technologies we need to achieve a 45% reduction by 2030. We’re just not all of us applying it. And we can avoid the worse effects of the climate crisis according to what the IPCC said in 2018 and their warning to us, but the time and clock are ticking.


So my friends, this is not a matter of building capacity, this is a matter of living up to the promises that we made. We made promises in Paris. We made promises in Glasgow. We reiterated those promises in Sharm El-Sheikh. And we cannot just go to Dubai, and reiterate them yet again.

So the Security Council – every member, permanent and otherwise – has to renew ambition and resolve what is necessary to win this fight, that is in all of our security interests spread evenly among us. And it’s only by working together that we can repair the planet and defend all nations against one of the greatest threats the world has ever known. We still can win this fight. And I hope the Security Council is going to be given plenty of opportunities in the next months in order to help do that.

Thank you, Madam President.

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