It was a great honor to serve as President Biden’s special climate envoy. As I say goodbye, I’ll share a few parting thoughts.

First, what we do this decade to address the global climate crisis will reverberate for the rest of this century.

Today’s “new anomalies” – droughts, wildfires, floods, extreme heat and other climate impacts – are just a small taste of what lies ahead if we do not dramatically reduce global emissions and build resilience to climate change in the crucial years ahead can strengthen. Without ambitious action, the world may be rapidly approaching tipping points in the Earth system that will have unprecedented impacts across the globe.

Our actions will shape lives, livelihoods, security and geopolitics at home and abroad for generations to come.

If we succeed in this mission – and if we succeed – we will preserve decades of hard-won gains in development and prosperity. We will save hundreds of billions of dollars in future disaster relief, humanitarian funding and recovery efforts. We will improve energy access and security. We will increase U.S. competitiveness in multi-trillion-dollar markets. And we will show our allies and adversaries that the United States can be counted on to lead the world in solving its greatest challenges.

Just this month, the International Energy Agency reported that in 2023, total CO2 emissions from energy combustion in the United States fell 4.1% while the economy grew 2.5%. Those who claim we are jeopardizing our economic security by taking action to reduce pollution couldn’t be further from the truth or science.

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry stands on a stage and holds hands with five people in front of a banner reading
[State Department photo]

Second, we have made incredible progress in three years.

In his first week in office, President Biden called on us to put the climate crisis at the center of our foreign policy. And I am grateful to Secretary Blinken and his team for the progress we have made on the modernization agenda to better marshal the talent, training and tools needed to achieve this. We now have 20 dedicated field climate officer positions in regional offices and in key positions abroad. Led by the Foreign Service Institute, we are expanding our curriculum to build the climate literacy, capacity and expertise of our workforce. And we give local officials access to relevant analysis to drive a data-driven agenda.

On the diplomatic front, we hosted a historic Leaders’ Summit in the East Room of the White House on Earth Day 2021. And President Biden then convened the Major Economies Forum twice more to further increase the climate ambitions of the world’s largest economies. We have achieved successful results at COP 26, COP 27 and COP 28 – and I am convinced that Dubai will be considered one of the most important COPs in history.

We also made tremendous progress toward meeting the President’s ambitious climate finance goals, increasing our support to developing countries from $1.5 billion in 2021 to $9.5 billion in 2023 – the largest such increase ever. And this year we want to complete the work. We have launched major initiatives on adaptation, methane, forests, clean energy and much more. And most importantly, we have given the world a chance to keep a secure future within reach.

We could not have achieved this without our tireless and passionate commitment to this work across the Department and around the world.

President Biden and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry surrounded by people with a banner behind them that reads: “United Nations Climate Change Conference.” [State Department photo]
President Biden and John Kerry attend the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference. [State Department photo]

But there is much more to do.

Despite this progress, the hardest work has just begun. We need the world’s large and emerging economies to reduce the planet-warming pollution at an unprecedented pace and scale. We must strengthen the climate resilience of half a billion people through PREPARE, the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience. We need to innovate and deploy new solutions and technologies at scale. We need to unlock trillions of dollars in climate-friendly investments. And I am confident that we can maintain and further strengthen the diplomatic alliances that make all of this possible.

And we have just begun the project of a new generation of foreign policy leaders tasked with responding to the emerging impact of the climate crisis on America’s role in the world. New threats to climate security are emerging, disrupting stability and defense in real time. The rapid impacts on oceans, forests and biodiversity are quickly becoming global priorities. And intersecting issues, from health to migration, technology to AI to trade, will influence and be influenced by this unfolding crisis in real time.

That’s why we, as our country’s best and brightest diplomats, need your help.

I leave this work in the incredibly capable hands of Rich Verma, John Podesta and a dedicated and capable team. But for them, as for me, we can’t do the job without you.

Every job in this department is connected in some way to the reality of the climate crisis. My parting wish is that you all do everything you can in this crucial decade to “keep 1.5°C alive” so that we protect people’s lives and livelihoods for the rest of the century and beyond ensure greater global stability and prosperity.

Secretary of State Blinken speaks with John Kerry, with a UN flag behind him on the right and a logo with the inscription “COP28 UAE” on the wall. [State Department photo]
Secretary of State Blinken and John Kerry at the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference. [State Department photo]

A final thought that is not about an issue or an office, but about what everyone who is committed to public service achieves.

I love the State Department. I was a child in the Foreign Service and had a father who served overseas. I was 10 when I was issued my first diplomatic passport, and seventy years later I hand over my newest passport with many more stamps, miles and memories.

Next time you look at the State Department seal, remember that Harry S. Truman turned the eagle’s head away from the arrows of war and toward the olive branches because he wanted everyone to remember that We are a nation committed to peace.

John Kerry also served as the 68th Secretary of State from February 1, 2013 to January 20, 2017.

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