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COP21: Strong Words from Secretary Kerry, But Will the US Back Them Up?

John Kerry delivers remarks at the Caring for Climate Business Forum during the COP 21 talks. (Photo: Jonathan Raa/Demotix/Corbis)

John Kerry started his political life as a protestor against the war in Vietnam, and today in Paris he spoke with the energy of an activist, railing against climate deniers, speaking about the moral urgency of action, and thanking people around the world for leading politicians towards a clean energy future.

The speech was a good reminder of how far we've come since the failed 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, when President Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent most of their air time defending a lack of US action. Now, our politicians are swinging for the fences when it comes to their words and rhetoric.

The strongest option on the table here in Paris has been language that says "full decarbonization by 2050."

Sadly, their actions can look more like bunts or singles at best. The big announcement that went along with Kerry's speech was that the US would double our finance for adaptation by 2020 from around $400 million a year to $800 million. That's a lot of money for you and me, but it's still pennies compared to the billions that the US spends every year on subsidies for the fossil fuel industry (or military spending, for that matter).

In his call for "bold ambition," the Secretary was notably vague about what that ambition would actually look like. One of the key fights here in Paris is over the "long term goal," a target that would operationalize global commitments to limit global warming to 2°C, or the stronger 1.5°C target that has emerged here at the talks. Scientists are a clear that meeting those temperature targets will require an all out sprint away from fossil fuels and towards 100% renewables. The strongest option on the table here in Paris has been language that says "full decarbonization by 2050." Decarbonization is a new word, but it's simple to see the ramifications: no fossil fuels, 100% renewable energy, and a fundamental transformation of our economy.

As usual when it comes to climate, numbers speak louder than words. Secretary Kerry's speech had many of the right nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Now let's see the right numbers to back them up: 0% fossils, 100% renewables, by 2050.

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Jamie Henn

Jamie Henn is co-founder and Director of Strategic Communications for the international climate campaign Follow him on Twitter: @Agent350

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