Remarks by Chargé d’Affaires, ad interim Philip T. Reeker
The Road to COP26
September 28, 2021
Chargé d’Affaires Reeker:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I guess I’m supposed to say, “my lords and ladies.” It’s really so terrific, such an enormous pleasure and honor, to welcome you all to Winfield House, and it gives me even more pleasure that we can do this in person. We have the confidence, I think now, to be together, and I know how joyous that is for all of us in the embassy to actually see people, even without masks, while being conscious of the protocols and efforts we take. But it’s so important now to come together as we mark the road to COP26 as we prepare – and gear up – for Glasgow. It’s great to see so many people here from so many backgrounds – whether from government, or civil society, or the private sector.
I, by the way, should introduce myself. I am Philip Reeker. I am the Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Mission to the United Kingdom right now. Secretary Blinken asked me to come here after having run the Bureau of European Affairs – all of Europe – and focus on the United Kingdom for a time until we have a newly nominated and confirmed ambassador in the months to come. Partially because this is such a crucial and important time, not only for our special relationship but because of COP26. And I’ve really enjoyed over these seven weeks so far focusing on this issue and getting to meet people – not only government colleagues, but those involved in civil society and the private sector.
But, what we all have in common here tonight, and frankly, I think, all of us have as human beings, is a drive and a commitment: we should have this drive to commit to end the grave climate crisis that we face and win the all-important race to net zero.
We all know what’s at stake if we don’t. John Kerry was just here on Sunday, our Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, former Secretary of State and long-time United States Senator. He and I were talking about this Sunday morning. We hardly even need the warnings from scientists these days – we can see the damage already being done with our own eyes – a range of environmental catastrophes, from floods, to droughts, and wildfires. They are already happening – and it will only get worse from here.
So, I think it could not be clearer how urgently we need to act. When I first joined the State Department almost three decades ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, was already warning us that the world needed to take action. Their first report was back in 1990. We are now on their sixth assessment report, which provides the starkest warning of all. It tells us that this is our last chance to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees – making this the decisive decade to make large-scale and immediate cuts to carbon emissions.
And as President Biden said last week, we really are at an inflection point, not only in the history of the modern age – frankly in the course of human events.
Delay is no longer an option. We need to act with ambition, with imagination, and above all, urgency. And the United States is doing our part in tackling the climate crisis. We are back, as the President has said.
Soon after he took office, President Biden signed an executive order that reinstated the United States into the Paris Agreement. And you’ll recall that, in April, he announced a new target for the United States to achieve a 50 percent reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution by the year 2030 – and then to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050.
Most recently, just last week, President Biden announced that the U.S. will further double its annual climate finance, to over $11 billion in 2024. That, in itself, doubled his April pledge, so we are taking about “double doubling.” Say that a few times fast.
So, truly, I think this represents, in those stark financial terms by which we so often measure things, that the United States is back. We’re leading efforts to tackle climate change – just like the United Kingdom, which has also set ambitious targets to slash emissions.
Because despite all the problems in the world, it is the climate crisis which is foremost in the minds of both President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson – who I joined in the Oval Office just last week. And I won’t be giving away any state secrets to tell you that it was, without doubt, the biggest topic of conversation, and obviously there were plenty of things to talk about.
But both leaders recognize that tackling the climate crisis is the priority of our age.
The United States applauds the United Kingdom for its global leadership in hosting COP26 and taking on the difficult task of coalescing the global commitments we need to “keep 1.5 alive.” Prime Minister Johnson and COP President Designate Alok Sharma, and their teams, have demonstrated stellar climate diplomacy and have led critical work on tackling the climate crisis. We extend our heartfelt thanks for their tireless efforts to summon the global climate action we urgently need.
But we also recognize that the United States and the United Kingdom – even when united in our shared goal – cannot do this alone. Even if we both dropped to zero emissions tomorrow, you’d still have a country like China, which is responsible for 30 percent of global emissions.
So, this calls for unprecedented global coordination – which is why the President, in his speech to the UN General Assembly last week, called this the age of “relentless diplomacy.” To achieve our climate ambitions, we have got to bring all the parties together, and we’re doing exactly that. We’re using every possible platform to bring people to the table pre-COP: in Milan this week, at the G7, G20, Earth Day Summit in April, the Major Economies Forum a couple of weeks ago, and of course – most important of all – the critical COP itself in Glasgow in just over a month’s time: 34 days, 3 hours and 12 minutes.
So, that’s when we want to see ambitious action from all nations, particularly the major economies like ours, to submit enhanced contributions to the Paris Agreement and develop concrete plans to become net-zero economies.
Of course, just as no single country can solve this alone, it’s worth stressing that governments can’t do this alone either. We need a whole-of-society approach. We need change and innovation from our businesses. We need discoveries and new technologies from our universities and our scientists. We need 21st century skills from our workers in industry. We need local – and global – initiatives from our activists. And we need buy-in from consumers and communities.
I think what we need, in short, is partnership. We are all in this crisis together, and as much as we can fly from one corner of the globe to another in a matter of hours or days; as much as we can take off into inner space, as it were, we have one planet and we need to find our way out of this crisis, together, as well. That’s what tonight is all about.
Last week, at the Embassy the day I returned from Washington – straight from the Oval Office – we hosted an amazing U.S.-UK Business Forum on Climate Change to help our businesses work together to find solutions. Our Commercial Service worked with our Economic Section and just every part of our remarkable Embassy to bring together – to convene – people from the private sector and talk about these issues.
Tonight, this is about more than business. I’m pleased to see, again, many of our business partners here, taking part, but this is really about all of society working together. What we really want to do is break down silos: between government, industry, and civil society itself.
So, please, don’t leave here tonight without having spoken to at least – I am going to say ten – different people. I hope you have your business cards handy, or perhaps more efficiently your LinkedIn App in hand – because we have got some amazing people and organizations today.
Like E3G, Nick Mabey, the CEO, are you here? I talked to him earlier. He’s given us a wave. I want everyone to go and ask Nick how they helped build the first-ever public green investment bank, or what their ground-breaking reports have been.
Or go to the Grantham Institute. The Grantham Institute is one of the greatest centers of excellence on climate change in the world, and governments and businesses alike are dependent on the research they are doing.
Or go have a chat with Caterina Brandmayr from the Green Alliance. Caterina, are you here? Let me find her. They bring together businesses, NGOs, and politicians to find out what they’re up to.
Now, this room is full of incredible people, and we are pleased to have a former Prime Minister, Theresa May, here today. Thank you so much for coming, to show the dedication of leadership to making these changes and to working together across the silos as a whole-of-society effort.
Don’t lose those opportunities. Make some new connections. Form new partnerships. That’s the goal of this gathering, because that is ultimately what could tip the balance in this decisive decade to come.
So, I have spoken enough. There is a little more to drink, I think, and nibble on, but there’s a lot to talk about, ideas to share, and a lot of work for us to do ahead. Over to you. Take the opportunity to look around, introduce yourself to someone you don’t know, and thank you for being here.