John Kerry was Secretary of State during the Obama administration and he chaired the negotiations about the Paris Accord. He was also a key supporter when the idea about organizing a major Arctic conference in Reykjavik, Iceland was launched.
“Back then he was in Kabul, late at night, thinking about the Arctic Circle and the future of the globe, and he wished us the best of luck. It requires guts to place your name on something that holds no guarantee for success. However, this kind of visionary thinking and the ability to take the long journeys characterized Kerry’s time as Secretary of State”, said Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, Chairman of the Board of the Arctic Circle, when he handed out the award.
Grimsson also pointed to the period when the USA held the chairmanship of the Arctic Council and said Kerry worked to get India, amongst others, onto the Council as an observer, which resulted in a historic agreement about Arctic research.
But most important of all:
“John Kerry was present in the corridors and hallways during the negotiations of the Paris Accord, and he convinced reluctant countries to sign. I believe much of the honor for the creation of this Accord is down to him”, Grimsson said.
The physical award itself is an iceberg sculpture – a symbol of the glaciers, the ocean ice and a reminder about what we risk losing.
The former Secretary of State had caught a bad cold yet entered the stage in Reykjavik to give his acceptance speech. He revealed that he had had to see a doctor in order to regain his voice.
“This is a great honor. Not only because it is a beautiful award and comes with a beautiful statement, but also because I get it at a convention like this from people who are in that battle. Thank you for that”, he said and continued:
“We are facing a threefold threat. Economy, green evolution and the climate changes. But it is all interconnected and we cannot solve one without solving the others”.
Pole to pole
He further told the 2,000 conference attendees from 60 countries about a trip he made to Svalbard with then-Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende:
“The scientists we met at Svalbard told me: “If you really want to understand what is going on, you have to go to Antarctica. So I did, on election day in 2016, actually. I almost chose to stay when I saw how that went”, he said jokingly.
“It was magical and a wilderness like none I have ever seen. I even saw and was taught about alarming evidence of what happens to our globe. Antarctica truly is “Ground Zero” for climate changes.”
He believes that public persons and world leaders carry a special responsibility to serve the people in a good way and to demonstrate the principle of being precautious.
We insure everything, and we should insure the planet too. But we don’t.
“We insure everything, and we should insure the planet too. But we don’t. And it is warming up faster in the Arctic than anywhere else, twice as fast as the global average. The ice melts four times as fast as it did a decade ago. July was the warmest month ever recorded. 2019 will be the warmest year and this decade will be the warmest decade. Urgent action is needed. Future generations are at stake.”
Kick to Trump
He kicked towards the Republicans when he said:
“You do not need a PhD to understand that higher temperatures are bad news to the ocean ice levels. Yet there are climate deniers in the Senate. And a President who says climate changes are a Chinese hoax.”
“You have the right to form your own opinions, but you do not have the right to create your own facts. What is the problem, you ask? Look in the mirror. We are threatening the livelihood of billions of people on the earth. Iceland has understood it: Too much money is chasing too little fish.”
Kerry also addressed the ocean plastic waste issue.
“We cannot handle climate changes without thinking about the oceans. If we do not act now, we will end up with more plastic than fish in the ocean in just a few years. However, this is not just a future challenge, it is a present one, one with forest fires, mudslides, floods, storms, avalanches. This is real and requires solid leadership. How can G20 leaders meet while the Amazonas is burning and not manage more than putting USD 20 million on the table?”, he asked.
We are heading down a slippery road and it makes me angry. I see that rage in Greta.
John Kerry also pointed to Greta Thunberg in his speech.
We are heading down a slippery road and it makes me angry. I see that rage in Greta and in the other youth who are out striking, shouting for action. Sadly, they do not hold a vote, neither in the Senate nor elsewhere.
Nevertheless, John Kerry is an optimist and says there is a solution to the climate crisis:
“We know the arguments, we know the facts, and now we must act; we do not have time to wait for everyone to get onboard. The solution will be brand new energy politics. I believe we can make it happen.”
He revealed that he has brought together Arnold Schwarzenegger and a series of other politicians to declare “World War Zero” against climate deniers.
“We have to fight back, just like we did during WW2. Don’t say that it is impossible, because it isn’t. like Muhammad Ali said: “That something is impossible is not a fact, it’s an opinion. It’s not a declaration. It’s a dare.”
“The fight against climate changes is not impossible. We have to make it inevitable”, he said in closing.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.