NEW YORK -- Clean energy is the biggest economic opportunity the world has ever seen, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday.
Compared to the initial phase of the tech revolution, he added, clean energy offers far bigger rewards -- with a value of many trillions of dollars and billions of potential customers.
But money aside, there's a human cost to ignoring issues like rising sea levels, the harm to human health from burning coal, and disruptions to food and water supplies, Kerry told the audience at Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance conference.
“Unless we harness the power of the sun, the wind and the oceans, the consequences will be devastating,” he said.
In introductory remarks for the annual gathering, which draws attendees like the energy and mining ministers of Argentina and Chile, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stressed the importance of business investment in addressing climate change. "The single biggest reason the Paris [climate change] conference was successful was economics,” he said.
Renewable energy is a far better investment than fossil fuels, in both financial and social terms, both men said. The record $330 billion global investment in renewable energy last year makes it clear that “the world is already moving straight to the low-carbon world we need,” Kerry said. “The only question is will we get there fast enough.”
Citing the many issues tied to a changing climate, Kerry said that “what can seem like the cheapest energy in the short-term actually has insurmountable cost in the long-term.” To address this, Kerry called for government policy to account for the true costs of burning fossil fuels. While he did not directly propose a single policy to achieve this, he pointed to his own past support for a market to trade carbon, and to the Obama administration's regulations to reduce pollution from power plants.
Kerry singled out politicians who deny that climate change is real for particular ridicule. The science on the issue is clear, and each of the last three decades has set a new record for the hottest 10 years on record.
"You’d think that people in positions of public responsibility would understand it.," he said. “Politics -- sheer politics -- keeps them from admitting it.”
Despite resistance -- the Supreme Court put the Obama’s administration’s signature climate regulation on hold in February -- Kerry was optimistic that because it made clear economic sense, progress towards a low-carbon world would not be derailed by any single lawsuit or election.