Professor Guzzella, Professor Zuber, esteemed members of academia and members of the business community,
I couldn’t be more grateful for today’s invitation and the opportunity to address you here, and to learn from you as our two nations work together to address one of the greatest challenges in human history: climate change.
As many of you know, President Obama made protection of the environment a key part of his administration, and has pledged that by 2020, America would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels. Today, thanks to the efforts of both the U.S. public and private sectors, that commitment has been translated into action on a remarkable scale. Over the past eight years alone, the United States has doubled its use of geothermal energy, tripled electricity generation from wind, and increased solar electricity generation more than twenty-fold. America’s net oil imports are now at their lowest level in 20 years, while carbon emissions from the energy sector have also fallen to their lowest level in two decades.
As a result of this transition, the U.S. has created thousands of new jobs, built innovative new industries, greatly reduced dangerous carbon pollution, and made the United States more energy secure than at any time in our recent history. As proof of this dramatic shift, one needn’t look further than the American automobile industry, which, a few short years ago, was on the brink of collapse. Today, our auto industry is one of the world’s leading producers of electric, hybrid, plug-in vehicles, many of which are made with Swiss and European parts.
While that progress is remarkable, science continues to demonstrate that globally, we have much more to do on the issue of climate change. Last year in the United States we experienced our warmest year on record, with about one-third of our country experiencing 10 days or more of 100-degree heat. The 12 hottest years on record in the U.S. have all come in the last 15 years.
These changes come with far-reaching consequences and real economic costs. In 2015, there were 10 weather and climate related disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. These events included a drought, two floods, five severe storms, a wildfire, and a deadly winter storm. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 155 people and had significant economic effects across our entire country, putting thousands of farmers out of business and dramatically raising global food prices. Statistics like these are deeply worrying, and should be of particular concern to global insurance and banking interests such as those headquartered right here in Switzerland.
As we move into the next century, it is important to note that climate change will increasingly evolve from an environmental and economic issue into an issue of national security. Across the globe, we are already seeing security threats such as resource scarcity, disease, and displacement amplified by climate change. As we’ve seen in the recent wave of “climate refugees” to both Switzerland and the United States, threat multipliers like climate change have the greatest impact in the regions least equipped to handle new and complex problems. A perfect example is Syria, where a devastating drought clearly made a bad situation much, much worse. As was the case in Syria, we often find that the countries and regions that are the most vulnerable to climate change are the same countries and regions that are most susceptible to the spread of extremism. And that extremism is increasingly finding its way to places like New York City, and Brussels, and Paris, and Winterthur.
Whether from an environmental, economic, or national security perspective, climate change is clearly a global challenge, and neither the United States nor Switzerland will be able to bend the climate curve if we keep our efforts contained within our borders. That is part of why the United States is working so diligently with partners like Switzerland to help the poorest, most vulnerable nations on earth adapt to and fight climate change.
During his landmark visit to Kenya late last year, President Obama said “we have not inherited this land from our forebears; we have borrowed it from our children.” That belief is at the core of the initiatives outlined in the U.S. Government’s ambitious “Climate Action Plan,” and central to the climate discussions that took place in Paris for COP21 just a few short months ago. By establishing an enduring, global framework to solve the climate crisis in an effective and realistic way, the Paris agreement truly gives us the best chance we have to save the one planet we’ve got.
But it will only be through steady, responsible, and collective action that we will be able to protect our children’s health, security, and well-being. If we are able to take concrete steps, and to cut carbon pollution in a significant way in the coming decades, we will undoubtedly leave behind a cleaner, safer, more stable, and more prosperous world for generations to come – and what could possibly be more important than that?