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John Kerry seeks to calm world leaders after Trump election threatens climate commitments

Kerry looks for hope in his last big climate speech as Secretary of State.

CREDIT: Mark Ralston, Pool Photo via AP
CREDIT: Mark Ralston, Pool Photo via AP

In what is likely to be his final major climate speech as Secretary of State, John Kerry attempted to reassure participants at the U.N. climate conference in Marrakesh that the United States would remain on track to meet its climate commitments, even as President-Elect Donald Trump gets ready to take over the White House.

“The global community is more united than ever, not just in accepting the challenge, but in confronting it with real action,” Kerry said. “No one should doubt the overwhelming majority of citizens of the United States who know climate change is happening, and who are determined to keep our commitments that were made in Paris.”

“No one should doubt the overwhelming majority of citizens of the United States who know climate change is happening, and who are determined to keep our commitments.”

Kerry devoted much of his speech to discussing the market forces that are driving the global transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, arguing that investments in renewable technology — regardless of policy — will help the world move from a carbon-intensive to a carbon-free economy.

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Markets are, indeed, showing signs of an unstoppable move towards renewables. According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy will likely be the world’s primary power source by 2030 — and investments in that future are already breaking records.

Last year, the world invested $286 billion in green energy, with China investing the most of any country in the world. There are more than a million solar installations across the United States, and wind energy has also reached record levels of production. Much of this has been spurred by tax credits, like the Solar Investment Tax Credit and the Wind Production Tax Credit, which Congress — in rare bipartisan fashion — extended for five years last year.

“I can tell you, with confidence, that the United States is right now on our way to meeting all of the international targets that we’ve set, and because of the market decisions that are being made, I do not believe that that can, or will be reversed,” Kerry said.

Trump, for his part, has promised to do everything in his power to undo that progress, from encouraging the extraction of fossil fuels across federal lands and along coasts to rolling back President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which sought to place limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Trump has also promised to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, a pledge that has caused the climate talks in Marrakesh to take on a somber mood.

Kerry attempted to assuage those fears with his speech, telling the audience that the Paris Agreement should appeal to world leaders because it will help participating countries capitalize on the growth promised by clean energy investments.

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“No nation will do well if it sits on the sidelines, handicapping its new businesses from reaping the benefits of the clean-tech explosion,” Kerry said. “Millions around the world are currently employed by the renewable energy and if we make the right choices, millions more people will be put to work. The market is clearly headed towards clean energy and that trend will only become more pronounced.”

Though Kerry did not name Trump directly, he did make a reference to the incoming administration towards the end of his speech.

“No nation will do well if it sits on the sidelines, handicapping its new businesses from reaping the benefits of the clean-tech explosion.”

“I want to acknowledge that since this COP started, obviously an election took place in my country. And I know that it has left some here, and elsewhere, feeling uncertain about the future,” he said. “I obviously understand that uncertainty, and while I can’t stand here and speculate about what policies our president-elect will pursue, I can tell you this: in the time that I have spent in public life, one of the things I have learned is that some issues look a little bit different when you’re actually in office as opposed to on the campaign trail. The truth is that climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue in the first place.”

Indications from Trump’s transition — and the people he has floated as front-runners for positions in the EPA, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Energy — do not signal a softening on his climate denial. The lead of his EPA transition team, Myron Ebell, is a well-known climate denier. And former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who famously used the campaign slogan “Drill, baby, drill,” during the 2008 vice presidential debate, has been suggested as potentially heading up the Department of the Interior.