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Tackling the crisis and seizing the opportunity: America's global climate leadership

By Antony Blinken

The Chesapeake Bay was formed nearly 12,000 years ago by melting glaciers. Today, it stretches 200 miles and is home to over 3,600 species of plants and animals. More than 18 million people live in the watershed, and many rely on it for their livelihood. The local seafood industry alone provides some 34,000 jobs and nearly $900 million in annual income.

And yet, warming temperatures caused by human activity are transforming the Bay. Its water is rising. And the land—including where I stand right now—is sinking due to the melting of the glaciers that formed the Bay. If this continues at the current pace, in just 80 years the Bay will extend inland for miles, overtaking the homes of three million people, destroying roads, bridges, farms. Many of the Bay's plants and animals will die out. So will the fishing industry.

We have to stop this from happening while we still can.

That's why President Biden took steps to rejoin the Paris Agreement right after taking office, and named John Kerry as our nation's first Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, to lead our efforts around the world.

And it's why the Biden-Harris administration will do more than any in history to meet our climate crisis. This is already an all-hands-on-deck effort across our government and across our nation. Our future depends on the choices we make today.

If America fails to lead the world on addressing the climate crisis, we won't have much of a world left. If we succeed, we will capitalize on the greatest opportunity to create quality jobs in generations; we'll build a more equitable, healthy, and sustainable society; and we'll protect this magnificent planet. That's the test we face right now.

Not too long ago, we had to imagine the impact of climate change. No one has to imagine it anymore. For the last 60 years, every decade has been hotter than the one that came before it.

Weather events are becoming more extreme. During the cold wave this past February, temperatures from Nebraska to Texas were more than 40 degrees below normal. In Texas alone, thousands were left homeless, over four million people went without heat and electricity, and more than 125 people died. It may seem counterintuitive that global warming leads to cold weather. But as the Arctic warms, cold weather gets pushed south. And that can contribute to record cold spells like the one in Texas.

The 2020 wildfire season burned more than 10 million acres. That's more than the entire state of Maryland. We saw five of the six biggest wildfires in California's history, and the single biggest wildfire in Colorado's history.

More frequent and more intense storms; longer dry spells; bigger floods; more extreme heat and more extreme cold; faster sea level rise; more people displaced; more pollution; more asthma.

Every country on the planet now has to do two things-reduce emissions and prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change. American innovation and industry can be at the forefront of both. This is what President Biden means when he says, and I quote, "When I think of climate change, I think jobs," end quote.

To give you a sense of scale, consider that by 2040, the world will face a $4.6 trillion infrastructure gap. The United States has a big stake in how that infrastructure is built. Not only whether it creates opportunities for American workers and businesses, but also whether it's green and sustainable, and done in a way that's transparent; respects workers' rights; gives the local population a say; and doesn't mire developing countries and communities in debt. That's an opportunity for us.

Goal number one of our climate policy is preventing catastrophe. We're rooting for every country, business, and community to get better at cutting emissions and building resilience.

But that doesn't mean we don't have a stake in America developing these innovations and exporting them to the world. And it doesn't mean we don't want to shape the way countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. So how can we do that?

We can start with leading by the power of our example.

We will significantly increase our investment in clean energy research and development, because it's how we will catalyze breakthroughs that benefit American communities and create American jobs.

We will use all the tools in our kit to make U.S. clean energy innovators more competitive in the global market. That includes leveraging instruments like the financing provided by the Export-Import Bank to incentivize renewable energy exports; the proposed expansion of tax credits for clean energy generation and storage in the President's American Jobs Plan; and the Administration's ongoing efforts to level the global playing field for American-made products and services.

The climate crisis we face is profound. The consequences of not meeting it would be cataclysmic. But if we lead by the power of our example—if we use our foreign policy not only to get other countries to commit to the changes necessary, but to make America their partner in implementing those changes—we can turn the greatest challenge in generations into the greatest opportunity for generations to come.

For the Record is an excerpt of secretary of State Antony Blinken's speech to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland in April, 2021.