John Palfrey at Energy Foundation China 20th Anniversary Celebration
November 20, 2019 | Speech

This speech was delivered by John Palfrey at the Forum on Philanthropy for a Prosperous China as part of the 20th Anniversary Celebration of Energy Foundation China.


Thank you Mr. Orr for that kind introduction.

While I have traveled to China many times, this is my first time as the leader of the MacArthur Foundation. My job this week is to learn how to help strengthen the existing cooperation between the United States and China. The potential and power of this collaboration is obvious and is evidenced by the work of the Energy Foundation China. I congratulate them on this momentous occasion.

To begin this process, I will share with you my thoughts about how a philanthropy based in Chicago can help improve and expand the cooperation between our two countries on climate change.

I want to thank Cole Wilbur for his remarks and Minister Xie for his dedication to addressing the climate crisis. I look forward to hearing from Mr. Dang. I am grateful to Professor Zou for inviting me to address this group.
Right now, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change in all corners of the world. This July was the warmest month in history. The last five years were the warmest ever recorded.

America’s top scientists have been very clear: they say climate change is already affecting every sector and region of our country. They say it’s threatening millions of people’s health, homes, and jobs. This month, 11,000 global scientists warned of ‘untold suffering’ if climate change goes unchecked.

Without bold action, climate change will cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars per year by century’s end. And climate disasters have already cost us more than $400 billion since 2014.

China faces similar climate impacts, with risks from sea-level rise, drought, flooding, and more. And many other countries face even more severe risks. Meeting the future demand for basic food production will be a challenge across Asia and around the world.

The decisions China and the United States make now will determine whether climate change is a challenge we overcome or one that engulfs us all.

In China, we hear President Xi and many others say that green is gold. At the MacArthur Foundation, we have a similar view. We believe that clean energy and fighting climate change is the economic growth opportunity of the 21st century.

Don’t just take our word for it - let me share with you some numbers that show the enormous opportunity that lies ahead.

Climate action can deliver tens of trillions of dollars in economic benefits through 2030.  Last year in the United States: clean energy investment was a record $64 billion and 17% of electricity generation came from renewables.

Meanwhile, 270 coal-fired power plants closed this decade in the United States. This has improved air quality and saved more than 7,000 lives.

This shift also benefits workers. In total, more than 3 million Americans work in wind, solar, and energy efficiency. There are now twice as many solar jobs as coal jobs.

Clean energy growth in China is even more impressive. China is the leading producer of solar panels and has more jobs in renewable energy than any other country on earth.

I believe the United States and China, working together, can build the foundations of a new global clean energy economy. By joining forces, we can help the world avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

We don’t have to look too far to find examples of how this could be done. Right now, the Paris Agreement is the world’s best hope for dealing with climate change. And the Paris Agreement was built on the bedrock of a partnership between our two countries.

I’d like to acknowledge the many people in this room who worked to make that partnership a reality, especially Minister Xie.

As President Obama said: America and China “have a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change.” This is because we are the world’s two largest economies and emitters of greenhouse gases.

It’s difficult for an American to be talking about global leadership on climate change at this moment in time. But the current political situation does not absolve us of our responsibility to act.

In fact, our responsibility is even greater - if we want to avoid dangerous climate change, we must do more. We must do more to rapidly build a clean energy economy. We must do more to prepare for rising seas and coming storms.

So, as our national government is stepping away from climate leadership, MacArthur is leaning in. We understand and accept our responsibilities.

The MacArthur Foundation’s mission is to help build a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. Central to achieving this mission is supporting climate solutions that make a difference now.

For example, we believe that carbon pricing is absolutely essential to lower greenhouse gas emissions and encourage innovation. It’s why we support two U.S. groups, the Environmental Defense Fund and Resources for the Future, that are working on tomorrow’s carbon pricing schemes all over the world, including here in China.

In the absence of climate leadership from President Trump, we’re working with other levels of government. National governments set direction and negotiate, but it’s often state and local governments where the real work happens. And at that level, all across the country, there is an appetite for clean energy and a recognition of the need for climate solutions.

This is why we fund groups like the National Audubon Society, which is using their members’ love of birds to turn them into climate advocates.

They just released a new report finding that two-thirds of North American bird species may face extinction from climate change. Audubon’s advocacy helped pass solar laws this year in South Carolina and Arkansas, two conservative states.

Investors and businesses also have a crucial role to play. That’s why we fund Ceres, which has assembled one of the world’s largest coalitions of investors acting on climate.

These investors manage more than $26 trillion in assets. Right now, they’re pushing the most polluting businesses to change. And they’re shifting investment toward businesses that take climate change seriously and are doing something about it.

Action across states, cities, investors, and business adds up. Research shows that U.S. subnational actors could get us two-thirds of the way to our Paris climate targets.

All of this action can be built-upon when our national government re- engages.

This renewed emphasis on state and local action creates opportunities for cooperation between the United States and China.

The launch of your national emissions trading system is an important step. It is also an opportunity to share information with American carbon trading systems in California and our northeastern states, which have multiple years of experience.

California is already showing us what this sort of collaboration can look like. In September, Minister Xie and former California Gov. Jerry Brown launched the California-China Climate Institute. This center will advance research on electric cars, climate-smart agriculture, and other low-carbon technologies.

As China prioritizes nature-based climate solutions, there are more opportunities for our countries to work together. Groups like The Nature Conservancy, which we also support, and the Paulson Institute are doing important work on national parks, coastal wetlands, and reforestation.

Preserving and restoring nature has many benefits. And it helps offset carbon emissions and can reduce the impact climate change has on our planet and people.

Cooperation between the United States and China is essential. But, it’s not just about what happens within our respective borders. Development patterns around the world, including development supported by our investments in other countries, will determine whether we hit global climate targets.

That’s why we want to support you to achieve your goal of building a green Belt and Road.

The Belt and Road Initiative is astonishing in its scale - encompassing more than120 countries and tens of billions of dollars in Chinese overseas investments. Belt and Road countries account for over two-thirds of the global population.

This massive mobilization of infrastructure investment will shape the world we live in decades from now - how we produce goods, what our cities look like, what powers our businesses, and what happens to our climate.

It’s an opportunity for China to continue to play a global leadership role by investing in renewable energy and exporting low-carbon technologies.

The world-changing potential of the Belt and Road Initiative can be seen in the Cauchari project in Argentina, the largest solar plant in Latin America, created with Chinese investment. The development of similar clean energy projects is now essential.

It is encouraging to see that Chinese investment in renewable energy as part of the Belt and Road Initiative has grown exponentially in the last five years.

The global demand for Chinese infrastructure investments provides China with a distinct opportunity to chart a new path forward.

Chinese investment can improve the livelihoods of those who remain impoverished. China’s story about alleviating so much of its own poverty offers inspiration and lessons.

At MacArthur, we have a long history of using philanthropic dollars to incentivize innovation and to find new approaches to very challenging problems.  We have spent the last five years supporting climate solutions in the U.S. and India.

We are eager to make a difference here in China.

As well as supporting the Energy Foundation, we have in the last year made initial grants to organizations which have demonstrated their commitment to helping China achieve a prosperous, sustainable future, including Rocky Mountain Institute, World Resources Institute, ClientEarth, and Environmental Defense Fund.

But we want to do more. We invite the distinguished guests here today to help inform our decision-making and strengthen our work here in China.

With this in mind, MacArthur will continue our support to the Energy Foundation China. This organization has already proven instrumental in helping China set and achieve ambitious climate goals. We believe it will continue to play a critical role in the future as China continues its comprehensive transition to a low carbon economy, including through building out its carbon market and making renewable energy investments at home and abroad.

We will find new ways to support and deepen the collaboration between China and US states. For example, California is a leader in the United States on policies that boost renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions.

Deeper cooperation between the two governments will be mutually beneficial. And it will help prepare for when the U.S. national government re-engages on climate change.

We will support efforts to re-invigorate the Track II dialogue between China and India on air quality. This is crucial as both countries tackle the challenge of air pollution in their biggest cities.

Finally, we think it’s important to share China’s story of climate action with the rest of the world. The MacArthur Foundation will seek new ways to share stories about climate change impacts and solutions in China to media markets in the United States, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. By doing so, we believe China can inspire other nations to do more on climate change.

The MacArthur Foundation has over its 40-year history prioritized evidence- based policymaking, independent research, and the dissemination of innovative, yet pragmatic solutions to some of our most difficult challenges.

We are eager to bring this approach to China.

It’s in our shared interest to stop dangerous climate change. It’s also our shared responsibility. We can do more. We must do more. We will do more.

Looking around this room I have hope. I’m inspired by what many of you have already achieved. I’m excited by what we can achieve together.

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