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Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Kerry’s Remarks in the High-Level Opening of the 8 Our Ocean Conference
March 2, 2023


March 2, 2023

Thank you, Paloma. And good morning, everyone.  

First, let me extend my gratitude to our hosts, Panama.  Thank you for your tireless work to host this conference – and for sharing your historic maritime nation with us.  I can think of no better location for the Eighth Our Ocean Conference.   And I’m delighted to join this session with my friends and colleagues, Minister Tewaney (“te-WAH-nee”), President Whipps (“WIPS”), and Prime Minister Rabuka (“ra-BOO-ka”).  

Presidente Cortizo junto al enviado especial presidencial para el clima John Kerry

We are here to talk about perhaps the most significant challenge humans have ever faced. Again and again, I have said that the climate crisis and the ocean crisis are one and the same. We cannot fully address one without the other.  It is the crisis of the air and the ocean. The crisis of the biome. It comes from unabated emissions from fossil fuels burning in order to produce electricity, power our vehicles, and light our buildings. It’s how we choose to provide energy to our community.  And the truth is that the science tells us that time is running out.  

I ask you to think about this: because of the damage already done to Earth by the emissions already put into the atmosphere, and still increasing global emissions year on year, even this past perilous year may well prove to be better than almost any year ahead of us.  Already, today, we share a world in which more frequent and powerful hurricanes and typhoons destroy homes, businesses, and communities.  A world where the rainforests of the Amazon are burning.   A world where crops no longer grow where they always did before; the chemistry of the oceans changes more and faster than ever before – where millions of people are forced to leave increasingly uninhabitable homelands.  Human actions are threatening the very ability of ocean ecosystems to survive.    

The ocean is facing the scourge of plastic pollution entering our waters that become microplastics that threaten human life.  It is facing the reality that vessels, knowingly sanctioned by their governments, are following a policy of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.   This is why conferences like this, the Our Ocean Conference, are so incredibly important because it is a conference that is focused on action, not on talk. It’s about real commitments and real solutions.  We are nearing the 10-year anniversary of the Our Ocean Conference. Looking back – and taking stock – it’s clear that they have played a unique and valuable role.  

John Kerry, enviado presidencial especial para el clima

Since we began the Our Ocean Conference in 2014, they have now catalyzed more than 1,800 commitments, valued at more than $100 billion.   That legacy is thanks to all of you: the governments, philanthropies, non-governmental organizations, and companies that have come forward to do their part.  Together, we have worked to create and enforce marine protected areas. We have worked to create sustainable fisheries. We have worked to enhance maritime security. And we have worked to implement ocean-based climate solutions, from green shipping to blue carbon.  You should all be incredibly proud of this work. It has had a tangible effect on protecting ocean health and security. But there is still more work to do.

We simply must accelerate the transition to a clean energy future. I cannot stress this enough.  All of us – all of us champions of ocean health – must do everything we can to dramatically reduce emissions and to keep the goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach.  This is the single most important thing we can do for our ocean.  And we must call out the major emitters that are not doing enough – and the countries that are impeding ambition in international fora, from the UNFCCC to the IMO.   We also must adapt to the significant impacts that are upon us – and we must marshal enough finance to get the job done. 

In this critical decade, every moment like this – every moment that catalyzes commitment and momentum – is of great importance.  It provides an opportunity to transcend indifference and inaction.   I’m confident that this Our Ocean Conference will continue the legacy of success.  For our part, the United States is highlighting 77 announcements, from 8 agencies and offices, valued at nearly $6 billion.  This is more than double the commitments we highlighted last year, in terms of dollar value.  And it is thanks in part to the Inflation Reduction Act, which was the most significant piece of climate legislation in U.S. history.  

Our National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, is highlighting millions for ocean resource management and coastal resilience.

  • Our Environmental Protection Agency is highlighting millions to reduce plastic waste entering the marine environment.  
  • Our National Science Foundation and our National Aeronautics and Space Administration are highlighting millions in programs for climate science.  
  • Our U.S. Agency for International Development is highlighting millions to conserve biodiversity and improve management of marine protected areas. 
  • And our Coast Guard is highlighting millions to enhance maritime security and counter IUU fishing.

These are only a few examples.  And – since Panama has rightly underscored their priority on cooperation and joint action – let me note that many of our announcements are collaborations with other countries and with non-state actors.   Just today, for example, we are delighted to announce – both with Panama and with Fiji and the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership – that we are engaging in technical cooperation to help facilitate green shipping corridors in our regions.  Looking ahead, I anticipate more successful conferences to come, as Greece and then the Republic of Korea take the baton.  Throughout history, climate has shaped the rise and fall of civilizations, and we have arrived at a pivotal moment in our own history.  So the mission now is to get more serious, to come together and double down – to pick up the pace to implement real projects and deploy real money which enables us to further enhance global ambition and hold everyone accountable. 

That is the task ahead of us — and I am convinced as I think you are that those who join us in this fight are going to be on the right side of history.