Kerry: Climate Change ‘Biggest Challenge of All That We Face Right Now’

Patrick Goodenough | August 14, 2014 | 4:52am EDT
Font Size

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii on Wednesday, August 13, 2014. (Screenshot: State Department video)

( – The global impact of climate change is “the biggest challenge of all that we face right now,” Secretary of State John Kerry told an audience in Hawaii Wednesday, putting an issue he feels passionately about at the center of a speech entitled “U.S. Vision for Asia-Pacific Engagement.”

“The science is screaming at us,” he said. “Ask any kid in school. They understand what a greenhouse is, how it works, why we call it the greenhouse effect. They get it.”

“If you accept the science,” Kerry continued. “If you accept that the science is causing climate to change, you have to heed what those same scientists are telling us about how you prevent the inevitable consequences and impacts.”

“That’s why President Obama has made climate change a top priority. He’s doing by executive authority what we’re not able to get the Congress to do.”

Kerry said climate change was not some future crisis.

“Climate change is here now. It’s happening, happening all over the world. It’s not a challenge that’s somehow remote and that people can’t grab onto.”

He cited “unprecedented storms, unprecedented typhoons, unprecedented hurricanes, unprecedented droughts, unprecedented fires, major damage, billions and billions of dollars of damage being done that we’re paying for instead of investing those billions of dollars in avoiding this in the first place.”

The speech at the East-West Center, a Honolulu-based think tank, came at the end of a trip to Asia. Kerry used it to give an assurance that Obama’s touted “pivot” – or as the administration prefers to call it, “rebalance” – to Asia has not been moved to the back-burner because of pressing crises in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Both the speech and the trip, he said, “are meant to underscore that even as we focus on those crises that I’ve just listed and on conflicts that dominate the headlines on a daily basis and demand our leadership – even as we do that, we will never forget the long-term strategic imperatives for American interests.”

Kerry observed that it was his sixth trip to Asia in 18 months as secretary of state, and said Obama had asked him “to redouble my own efforts in the region over the next two and half years.”

He highlighted climate change as a key area where the U.S. and China can work together. Such cooperation on shared challenges, he said, was critical to building a constructive relationship between the two powers, which would in turn contribute to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.

“No two nations can have a greater impact or influence on this debate or this challenge than China and the United States,” he said.

Kerry recalled that when he and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew were in Beijing last month for annual bilateral meetings known as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, “we and China together sent a clear message.”

“The world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the United States and China, are committed to advancing a low-carbon economic growth pattern and significantly reduce our countries’ greenhouse gases.”

He outlined several decisions taken during the Beijing talks, including the adoption of stronger vehicle fuel efficiency standards and work on carbon capture, utilization and storage projects.

“We’re advancing a new initiative on climate change and forests, because we know that the threat of deforestation and its implications of a changing climate are real and they’re grave and they’re growing,” he said.

“And I’ll just say to you this is not an issue on which you can be half-pregnant. No such issue. If you accept the science, you have to accept that you have to do these things about it.”

mrc merch