John Kerry pushes US-China low carbon trade, calling climate change one of the “greatest economic opportunities in history”

Clare Saxon Ghauri
Reading time: 3 minutes
6 November 2014

NEW YORK: US Secretary of State John Kerry shared his support for further US-China collaboration on climate action and low carbon growth, calling climate change one of the “greatest economic opportunities in history”.

John Kerry’s remarks were delivered at an event in Washington, DC, ahead of two important Asian summits focused on economic growth.

Pointing out how businesses in China and the US exchange nearly US$600 billion in goods and services every year with mutual investments edging toward $100 billion, the US Secretary of State said President Obama is aiming to “rebalance” focus on the Asia Pacific, with low carbon growth as one of "four specific opportunities”. He urged Sino-US collaboration to drive "a clean energy revolution that will help us address climate change while simultaneously jumpstarting economies around the world.”

The US Secretary explained these opportunities will be a focus for Obama during his discussions with other world leaders at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Beijing, as well as the East Asia Summit that follows in Burma, promising that the Obama Administration is “absolutely committed to seeing through all of these goals.”

Security concern

John Kerry argued that with the potential for China and the US to share gains of almost half a trillion dollars a year if they’re able to open up trade and investment significantly, the nations now have a “huge stake in the economic health of the other”, and touted climate change as the “perfect example” of a global security concern that directly threatens this compelling bilateral growth.

Warning that while the IPCC climate report released last week is “another wakeup call” and that the “science could not be clearer”, he suggested solutions are within reach, but that they will require "ambitious, decisive, and immediate action.”

Highlighting last year’s US-China Climate Change Working Group and "constant" discussions that are aimed at ensuring “a successful, ambitious climate agreement” at climate talks in Paris next year, the US Secretary urged other countries to follow in the footsteps of the US-China collaboration: “[…] we hope that the partnership between China and the United States can help set an example for global leadership and for the seriousness of purpose on those targets and on the negotiations overall. If the two countries that together are nearing 50% of all the emissions in the world, which happen to be also the two largest economies in the world – if they can come together and show seriousness of purpose, imagine what the impact could be on the rest of the world.”

Indeed, research published last week by Ecofys suggests global emission reduction targets are achievable if China and the US work together to reduce pollution levels.

Economic opportunity

John Kerry was keen to stick to the positive outcomes that can be achieved with urgent climate action, stressing the importance of rebuilding energy policy frameworks in support of clean growth: “The good news is that our shared responsibility to address climate change brings with it one of the greatest economic opportunities in history. With shared responsibility can come shared prosperity. The solution to climate change is as clear as the problem itself. And it’s not somewhere out there, pie in the sky, over the horizon, impossible to grab ahold of; it’s staring us in the face. The solution is energy policy. It’s as simple as that. Make the right choices in your energy policy, you solve the problem of climate change.”

He outlined the clear financial benefits of steering investments into clean energy: “Between now and 2035, investment in the [energy] sector is expected to reach nearly $17 trillion. […] The energy market is a $6 trillion market with four to five billion users today, and it’s going to grow to maybe nine billion users over the next 30, 40, 50 years. Think of that. Seventeen trillion dollars is more than the entire GDP of China and India combined.

"And with a few smart choices, together we can ensure that clean energy is the most attractive investment in the global energy sector and that entrepreneurs around the world can prosper as they help us innovate our way out of this mess and towards a healthier planet.”

US-China global leadership

Closing his speech, the US Secretary reaffirmed the power of bilateral leadership on climate change: “The United States and China comprise one quarter of the global population. We make up one third of the global economy. We generate one fifth of the global trade. And when we are pulling in the same direction on any issue, we can bend the curve in a way that few other nations on Earth can accomplish.”

In an equally inspiring speech this September at Climate Week NYC which was convened by The Climate Group and CDP, John Kerry also warned of the imperative to act swiftly. He said climate change should be grouped with economic, public health and security challenges, controversially linking it with terrorism, and stating it is “one of the most serious problems we face”.

However, he shared his support for a global low carbon economy as a clear solution, calling it a “win-win-win-win-win”, and concluding: “It doesn’t cost more to deal with climate change, it costs more to ignore it.”

Watch John Kerry speak at Climate Week NYC

Read more about the US Climate Action Plan

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