Secretary Kerry: Paris Is Where We Begin To Save The Planet

CREDIT: Mandel Ngan/Pool Photo via AP

US Secretary of State John Kerry steps out of a plane upon his arrival at Le Bourget airport in the outskirts of Paris, Monday, Dec. 7, 2015.

PARIS, FRANCE — On Monday, the stage at the Earth to Paris forum held at Le Petit Palais in central Paris was host to a number of high-profile guests, from Alec Baldwin to Jane Goodall. But as the event stretched into the afternoon, two key guests earned standing ovations from the crowd for their remarks on climate change and the potential of an international agreement: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“This is a whole new paradigm in Paris,” Kerry said during an interview with Mashable’s Andrew Freedman. “We are going to make Paris a demarcation point where we begin to get the job done to save the planet. Period.”

On the issue of limiting global warming to a target more stringent than 2°C — many small nations and island nation-states have called for a target of 1.5° C to be included in the agreement — Kerry was less optimistic.

“You bet I sympathize with it,” he said when asked about whether he feels for the countries calling for a 1.5° C target. “I feel very strongly that when human activity that is a choice is potentially putting whole nation states at risk, we’ve got to care about it,” he continued, adding that he is “conceptually” and “aspirationally” in favor of a target set well below 2°C.

“My instinct would be, however, in the context of this agreement, we have already agreed previously that 2°C is the target,” Kerry said. “I don’t think it’s wise to embrace as the principal target of this agreement that kind of a goal.”

Kerry also suggested that private industry would spur much of the global action on climate in the next 10 years, adding that he has “absolute confidence in capital to move where the signal says to go after Paris.”

In defining what the United States sees as a successful deal in Paris, Kerry said that the two most important points would be transparency and accountability.

“Success is getting an ambitious agreement that is durable, that has transparency and accountability on the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs),” Kerry said. “I don’t want to see us lose the opportunity to see us have 184 countries that have put their INDCs on the table and not be able to follow up on it.”

He also said that a successful agreement would include mandatory five-year reviews for countries to strengthen their commitments. Kerry said he hoped an agreement would do away with rigid definitions of “developed” and “developing,” saying that while he supports the United States contributing $100 billion to developing countries by 2020, the United States also “[feels] very strongly…that in 2015, it is time to get rid of this rigid differentiation between developed and developing in a way that prevents us from maximizing our way forward.”

In a separate interview, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered his own requirements for a successful deal in Paris.

“This agreement should have a long term ambitious vision,” Ban said. “Unfortunately, our world has a fever. The prescription should have a 2°C limit.” Ban offered that a successful agreement would also consider limiting warming to well-below 2°C.

He also said that the agreement should be able to adapt to changing economic conditions, express solidarity with communities most impacted by climate change, mobilize $100 billion by 2020, and include five-year reviews to ensure that governments are living up to their commitments.

“We are living in a world of peril,” Ban said. “This climate change, even if it is not visible, is the worst threat to human beings.”

Still, he said that he was optimistic that a strong agreement would come out of the Paris talks, citing a change in atmosphere from previous negotiations.

“As Secretary General, I have been attending many national conferences,” he said. “Never in the past during one day at one time in one place, did 150 world leaders gather.”

He also said that civil society, youth activists, and others have furthered climate awareness around the world.

“This is a huge trend,” Ban said. “Nobody can go against this wave. I’m sure that they will come out with an ambitious agreement.”