09/23/16 – Ambassador Lippert on the Critical Moment for Global Climate Change


Ambassador Mark Lippert
Republic of Korea
September 23, 2016 :

“The Critical Moment for Global Climate Change Action”


Good morning.  It’s a great honor to be here today to talk about climate change and the Paris Agreement.  It is a critical moment in the global effort to arrest the catastrophic global impact of climate change.  

And we are at a crucial time as we near the threshold for bringing the Paris Agreement into force.   

As folks here know, the United States and China, the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, ratified the agreement on September 3 on the margins of the G20 Summit meeting in Hangzhou, China.  Since then, we have witnessed history in the making.  A number of other countries followed suit and deposited their instruments of ratification to the United Nations.   

In fact, just a few days ago, on September 21 in New York City, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon hosted World Leaders where over 30 countries – including Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina – formally ratified the Paris Agreement.  

Again, this is historic.  And, as a result, the global community is now on the brink of a remarkable achievement of bringing this critical agreement into force.  

With these additional countries, we now have well over 55 countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement, and these countries comprise some 48 percent of global greenhouse emissions.  As you know, the threshold to bring the Paris Agreement into force requires at least 55 countries, comprising 55 percent of global emissions, to formally join the agreement. 

Anyone can do the math: we are now very close. 

Countries that have not yet ratified can play a critical role in reaching this milestone. We applaud President Park’s consistent support for early ratification of the Paris Agreement and the Republic of Korea leadership on the global effort to combat climate change, and are very supportive of the fact that it has been quickly sent to the National Assembly for debate and consideration.  President Park herself said in her video message to the September 21 UN event “I would like to affirm that Korea will exert every possible effort with the aim of ratifying the agreement by the end of this year.”

In addition to these remarkable events on the world stage, I must also stress that climate change and the environment are an essential component of the “New Frontiers” of the bilateral relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea.  

As outlined by our two Presidents, our cooperation on New Frontiers – space, cyber, health, energy, and the environment – will increasingly define and deepen our relationship in the 21st century.   

So, with this as an introduction, what I want to do today is really outline our common efforts and interests on climate change.

I’ll briefly touch on this issue’s significance and importance, outline what the United States is doing domestically, speak in detail about some of the key international efforts, discuss resources issues, and close by talking about this issue in the bilateral context.

Let’s begin.

Importance of Climate Change 

Climate change is a top priority for the United States, for President Obama, for Secretary Kerry, and perhaps most importantly, the American people.  As Americans, we are deeply concerned and we are deeply seized by this issue.

Let me clear: as a nation, we view effective measures to address this critical global challenge as essential for a peaceful and prosperous 21st century.

Even though 97 percent of peer reviewed studies point to the downside effects of climate change, it doesn’t take a scientist to see the effects of climate change already.  These include floods, unprecedented droughts, and higher global temperatures.   

I won’t take the time here today to go over the well documented dangers presented to the international community by climate change.  Rather, I will just say that President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and others deeply understand the significance of these dangerous, growing effects.  They have demonstrated that we have to act now.

In fact, President Obama often invokes Dr. Martin Luther King when he talks about climate change, by saying “There is such a thing as being too late,” and we cannot be too late on this issue.  

U.S. Efforts on Climate Change

The United States is hard at work – domestically, bilaterally and multilaterally – to deal with climate change. 

Domestically, the United States recognizes our role in helping create the downside impacts of climate change, and as a result, very much embraces our responsibility to find remedies, and find lasting solutions.  

And we believe, the world will require a fundamental change in the way we power our planet, and of course, this includes our country – the United States of America.  

Accordingly, the Obama administration is extremely proud of its record, during more than 7.5 years in office.  

Let me give you a few examples: 

• The United States as a whole will emit less than we have two decades previously.  

• We will have doubled the distance cars will travel on one gallon of gas by 2025, and tripled wind power output.   

• The costs of solar power are exponentially down, while its availability is exponentially up.  

• We have stopped public financing for certain kinds of coal and carbon-based power plants.  

• On methane, the United States took four separate actions that will reduce emissions by up to 400,000 short tons by 2025.   

• And through President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and Clean Power Plan, we are on track to slash carbon pollution from the power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.   

I can go on with additional statistics that underscore these significant accomplishments, but in the interests of time, let me just leave you with this: the United States, as a result of these and other actions, will have cut carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth, and that is something of which we are very proud.

But although we recognize that this is a strong record of accomplishment, we also recognize that there is much, much, more work ahead of us – from virtually every part of the U.S. government, industry and society.   

The Critical Importance of the Paris Agreement

Some of this critical work ahead lies in the international arena. While the U.S. and the record of much of the industrialized world has been strong, we also have to recognize that even if all the industrialized countries went to zero on their output, 65 percent of carbon emissions would still come from the developing world.  

Carbon pollution is carbon pollution.  This is a global effort.  We need each and every country to be involved  

Secretary Kerry said that it doesn’t matter if it’s in Beijing, or Bangkok, or Baltimore, or Kolkata, or Cape Town, it still has an impact on this planet.  

And this is precisely why the Paris Agreement is so important.  In remarks marking U.S. ratification of the agreement, President Obama said, “This is the single-best chance that we have to deal with a problem that could end up transforming this planet in a way that makes it very difficult for us to deal with all the other challenges that we may face.”

Let me outline a few reasons why the United States, strongly supports this agreement.

First, it’s ambitious.  The goal is to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius and strive to target 1.5 degrees Celsius.  

Second, it’s global: it covers over 190 countries, more than 95 percent of all emissions.  And in furtherance of the point on global political leadership:  175 heads of state came to New York to sign the agreement and on the margins of UNGA an impressive number of countries have ratified – sending a big signal to the world. 

Third, while it’s ambitious and it’s global, it’s also flexible. This is crucial:  the Agreement recognizes that among the signatories of this agreement, there exist different national capacities, different national economies, different circumstance — and that’s precisely why, in the Paris Agreement, there is a nationally determined target for climate action.  

Having said that, there has been criticism of nationally determined targets.  Critics point out that these targets are non-binding, and because of its non-binding nature, some have asserted that this creates holes in the agreement.  

But that’s why the fourth point, transparency – which is binding – is so important.  It provides for a binding five-year periodic review among the countries to ensure we are making progress toward our shared climate goals.  Out of this binding oversight, also comes opportunities for assistance, and this oversight also provides opportunities for best practices and sharing.  So this “binding transparency” which facilitates accountability and mutual support is an incredibly important piece of Paris.   

Beyond the narrow structure of the agreement itself, the political will that was demonstrated was remarkable.  It showed that we could break through the old arguments that held us up for 20-plus years.  

The Paris Agreement smashed a number of old arguments.  The argument that old divides couldn’t be bridged – such as between developing countries and developed countries.  When the United States and China came together, that argument was shown to the remnant of history and we bridged what was supposed to be an impossible divide.   

Another old myth was that you can’t get the private sector interested.  Well, in Paris, and on the margins of other international meetings, you saw some of the biggest and most influential companies come forth to provide resources, leadership, and expertise – sending a significant market signal to the private sector that will help reinforce the agreement.  

And the final myth that was smashed was the false choice that had become conventional wisdom:  you have to always choose between economic development and responsible stewardship for the planet.   

I will not go through all the economic data, but Secretary Kerry outlined this forcefully in a number of speeches.  He said, “Clean energy is one of the greatest economic opportunities the world has ever known.”  By 2035, the demand for new energy investment will reach nearly 50 trillion dollars – T, trillion with a T – and countless other economic opportunities.  The cost of clean energy is now far cheaper than it was.  It is even cheaper when you measure it against the consequences of climate change.  One other data point on this is that the price of solar power is down 80 percent, and installed capacity is up 500 percent.  In sum, Paris shows there are real economic opportunities here as well.

In the Republic of Korea, President Park herself has said that this will unlock a new market in the neighborhood of 100 billion dollars by 2030, and possibly create 500,000 new jobs in this industry.  In the United States, President Obama said we have driven carbon pollution down to the lowest levels in the United States in two decades while our economic output is at all-time highs.  

Let me close this section by stipulating that no agreement is perfect.  Even if all the first round of targets of Paris were met, we would only be part of the way there.  

But, it does not detract from the significant accomplishments of Paris, which I just outlined.  And it does not detract from the fact that Paris built a platform, a critical global foundation, on which we can build.  All while demonstrating that old paradigms can be broken.   

Real Resources to Back Up These Efforts 

Moving from Paris, I want to discuss the third and penultimate topic:  resources.   

I have already outlined what United States is doing domestically and about our strong support for Paris.   

But, I now want to make a point on resources.  In many respects, resources can be a key indicator for seriousness of purpose.   

The United States and other industrialized countries recognize the need to provide assistance to developing countries, to build capacity and to ensure access to low-cost technology in order to start to solve this problem.   

And, on this score, the U.S. contributions and commitments to this part of the effort are very serious. 

Let’s take Mission Innovation.  Mission Innovation is designed to fund research and development efforts that we will ultimately need to accomplish our goals of rolling back this serious problem that confronts the world.  

We will need technological innovation to get to our targets, our goals to reduce climate change.  But, it’s not enough to hope for this technological change.  We have to back it up with action and resources. That is what Mission Innovation is all about:  it is about putting real resources, real money behind these efforts to promote technological change.   

The United States will double its clean energy research and development spending from 5 billion dollars to 10 billion dollars under this important initiative.

In addition, on the Green Climate Fund, which the Republic of Korea is hosting – the United States has pledged 3 billion dollars.

And, it’s important to note, that in the United States, our average support for climate finance annually totals about 2.7 billion dollars.  Of that, 800 million dollars is grant-assisted.  That is almost one billion dollars in loans and grants.  

And I could go on; there is the Copenhagen Pledge in which developed countries, including the United States, agreed to jointly mobilize 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 for climate change funding from public and private sources.  So that is serious money to address a serious issue.   

Finally a word on the private sector investments on this issue:  financing for climate projects, in our estimation, now is close to 650 billion dollars per year.  Some of the biggest U.S. companies and financial institutions have put their weight behind this effort.  Citibank:  100 billion dollars per year, for the next decade.  Bank of America:  125 billion dollars over the next decade.  Goldman Sachs:  100 billion dollars over the next decade.   

All of this demonstrates seriousness of purpose.  But, at the same time, it sends a big signal to the market that there is significant money for this market, these efforts – that will also help attract even more resources as well as the best and brightest talent to help solve these issues.


Near Term Steps 

Let me conclude quickly by outlining what’s next on our agenda in the short term.   

First, there is the unfinished business of ensuring that Paris does indeed enter into force by the end of the year and that real resources are there to back up this and other critical efforts in this area.  I will not repeat what I have already said on this issue but the United States is very focused on these efforts.   

Second, we are working hard on an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons.  We hope that by mid-October in Kigali, Rwanda, the international community will reach agreement.   This is a key priority for the United States.  We applaud the Republic of Korea’s decision to join in the New York Declaration of the Coalition to Secure an Ambitious Hydrofluorocarbon Amendment.  The declaration is an important statement by more than 100 countries supporting an ambitious phasedown schedule for hydrofluorocarbons. 

And, finally, right here in Korea, our two presidents last October put a huge priority on this set of issues.  As a result, ongoing work that we are already doing, from collaborating on local smart grids, energy storage, and in multilateral settings; has been accelerated and enhanced in priority.  

I think it portends the future of this relationship.  We rolled out five new priority areas for the alliance that we call the New Frontiers of cooperation between our two countries, and two of those areas are energy and environment.  Part of this effort is that we want to get younger expertise involved early so we can have that cadre of leaders well into the future. 

And, you saw that our two leaders, during their last Summit meeting in Laos just a few weeks ago, were able to reaffirm the work in these critical areas – keeping this crucial momentum moving in the right direction.



Let me just say this in closing:  we are very proud of what we are doing domestically, we are proud of what we are doing bilaterally, with great partners in the ROK, we are proud of all the great multinational work.  But much more work needs to be done.  We are ready for the challenge, and we look forward to working with each and every one of you to accomplish these goals.  Thank you.