In the waning days of the Obama administration, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited MIT for his last major speech on climate change. Kerry called the effort to limit global warming a “race against time” and urged quick action “to avoid the catastrophe we will inevitably see if we allow carbon emissions to go up and up and up.” He also touted the benefits of a prospective clean-energy revolution, referencing the falling prices of wind and solar power and observing that by making renewable energy a major growth industry, “we can put millions of people to work.”
Kerry’s remarks highlighted the State Department’s extensive work on the topic and hailed the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which more than 190 countries agreed to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. He also contended that the bilateral U.S.-China climate negotiations, leading to a 2014 announcement of climate coöperation, “changed the whole playing field.”
The Paris Agreement also signaled to entrepreneurs, innovators, and investors that the renewable-energy sector would remain a growth industry, Kerry said, and he called on his audience to help build it.
“Brilliant minds trained at MIT are behind some of the most transformative innovations in history,” he said, suggesting that the Institute’s students and entrepreneurs could help mitigate climate change while developing “the greatest economic opportunity the world has ever known.”
Solar energy costs have dropped by 62 percent since 2009, Kerry noted, while the number of jobs in the U.S. solar industry has grown by over 20 percent in each of the last three years. He cited a World Bank study stating that every $1 million of investment in renewable energy yields as many jobs as the same amount of investment in fossil fuels.
This means that “market-based forces are already beginning to shift” in the direction of clean energy, Kerry said, while adding that as a matter of governance, “very few public policy choices present as much upside.”
Before his speech, Kerry met with MIT president L. Rafael Reif and discussed MIT climate initiatives. Kerry and deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken also met for a roundtable discussion with about 20 MIT faculty members and industry and government experts.
In his public remarks, Kerry, the son of a diplomat, called the position of secretary of state “about the best job anybody could imagine” and said he would remain engaged and active as a private citizen on many civic matters, including climate change.
“What we do right now, today, matters,” Kerry told the audience. “We don’t get a second chance on this one.”