Remarks by Ambassador Jess Baily
June 8, 2015
Mr. Minister, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Slavkovski, distinguished participants:
I’m delighted to see all of you here, coming together to address climate change, one of the most critical challenges facing our planet. You gather in this beautiful town at an auspicious time, as later this year the world’s leaders will gather in Paris to develop a new global strategy to address climate change.
My message today is simple: you play an important role in resolving this global problem. Your engagement spurs action. Your experience creates practical solutions and sound policies. Your leadership builds the political will to make hard decisions. And the United States stands behind your efforts.
Why? To put it simply, climate change doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, young or old. It doesn’t care about race, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, or nationality. It affects every single person on the planet.
Nor is climate change waiting for us to believe in it, or get ready for it. Already, on every continent, people are experiencing weather that is both increasingly intense and more frequent — weather that involves destructive wind, rain, and hail; prolonged drought, sudden flooding, and erratic and atypical temperature extremes. The resulting disruptions on human health and safety, infrastructure, trade, and agriculture don’t just harm the economic security and safety of a few. Scientists warn that water and food shortages are on the horizon in many areas. That alone would be a disaster, but imagine also the exponential effect food and water shortages would have on areas already troubled by political, economic, religious, ideological, or sectarian disputes.
In a recent address to the Atlantic Council on Climate Change, Secretary of State John Kerry noted, “Measured against the array of global threats we face today – and there are many: terrorism, extremism, epidemics, poverty, nuclear proliferation, all challenges that respect no borders – climate change belongs on that very same list. It is, indeed, one of the biggest threats facing our planet today.”
Thus, it is one of the U.S. Government’s top priorities. Around the world, the United States works to build resilience in the face of climate change while mitigating its impact. Here in Macedonia we address the issue through a range of projects.
We’re working to make it easier to invest in renewable energy across the board. We’re helping industries better manage their energy consumption and reduce their carbon footprints. And we’ve helped improve energy efficiency in the residential sector, too.
We’re helping farmers, agricultural organizations and associations improve their understanding of the negative effects of climate change on crops and livestock and how to defend their investments against them.
We’re tapping the expertise of entrepreneurs and activists who can help us make a difference with technological innovations.
And in municipalities – through the project that brings us here today – we’re bringing citizens, local authorities, and civil society organizations together to identify and prepare for the specific climate change challenges facing their communities.
At home, the United States has taken historic steps to sharply reduce its emissions. In March, we announced a target to reduce climate pollution 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels within the next 10 years. As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, we have tripled electricity generation from wind and increased solar energy generation by more than twenty fold. We have established tough fuel economy standards that call for doubling fuel efficiency in cars by 2025. We have set stringent new energy conservation standards for home appliances and industrial equipment. And, we are investing in renewable energy technologies.
But, as I said, this is a global crisis, and not one that will be solved just by what is done here in Macedonia, in this region, or in the U.S.
With the United Nations Convention on Climate Change convening in Paris in December, this is the year to make global progress. We’re reaching out to bring other nations into the fold. Last November, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China made an historic joint announcement of our intended targets, with China agreeing to decrease emissions in substantial ways and to work with us going forward. It sent a powerful signal that the world’s two largest economies and carbon emitters are serious about addressing climate change, and are willing to work through differences to reach common ground.
Yes, I did just refer to the United States as one of the largest carbon emitters. We recognize our historic role in the production of greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. and other industrialized countries certainly emitted early, but we must also consider this: the world is now emitting almost as much every decade as all the cumulative emissions that occurred before 1970; developing countries now account for over 60 percent of current global emissions; and cumulative emissions from developing countries will surpass those of developed countries in the next five years. Clearly, we all have an unmistakable responsibility to combat climate change.
It’s hard to fathom, but even if the U.S. or China were somehow able to eliminate all of our domestic greenhouse gas emissions, that still wouldn’t be enough to offset the carbon pollution coming from the rest of the world. All nations have to be smart about the way they use energy, invest in energy, and regulate it. We need leaders around the world with the political courage to make tough policy choices — policies that will get at the largest sources of emissions like power generation, industry, and transportation. And while governments need to act, we need citizens who will compel them to do so. In short, no one gets to wait around for others to do something. It’s time for everyone to act.
The good news – and there is good news – is that clean energy is not only one of the keys to addressing climate change, it’s also one of the greatest economic opportunities available today. New energy policies and investments would require a green workforce and who doesn’t want to put people to work? Creating new jobs is actually an easy political proposition, so this is a good place to start.
The Paris meeting presents an opportunity to take an historic step in combatting climate change. We have the chance to establish, for the first time, an ambitious, durable climate regime that applies to all countries, is fair, focuses both on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building resilience, includes strong accountability measures, and ensures ongoing financial and technical assistance to those in need.
We have to seize this opportunity. We can put ourselves on a path to creating a low-carbon, sustainable, global economy, but we have to pull together, we have to be ambitious, and we have to get this done. The deal can be a reality if we are smart, willing to compromise, put aside our differences, and work together.
Though this conference, organized by USAID’s Municipal Climate Change Strategies project, is on a much smaller scale than Paris will be, it is nevertheless important. Over the next three days you will be focused on many aspects of climate change including issues of grass roots capacity building, national imperatives, adaptation, and resilience efforts. Though part of the program includes listening to presentations, the heart of this gathering is in the active participation of each of you, and in your engagement going forward to translate the ideas you’ll hear into concrete actions. The challenge we face is global, but it is the steps each of us take in our own communities that make us part of the solution. I wish you a productive exchange of ideas and hope that each of you returns home with renewed energy to make a difference for your communities, for your countries, and for the planet.