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John Kerry, “Remarks at the US-China Meeting on Oceans,” June 6, 2016

Secretary of State Kerry spoke at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. The Oceans meeting was part of this year’s Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
June 7, 2016

John Kerry

Secretary of State

Diaoyutai State Guesthouse

Beijing, China

June 6, 2016

Thank you very much. (Inaudible) extraordinary experience. That’s really wonderful. I’m privileged to be here with everybody. I want to begin by thanking China’s oceanic administrator – Mr. Wang Hong, thank you very, very much for your leadership. I want to thank Cathy Novelli, our under secretary of state, for helping to organize this event together with the administrator. And I particularly want to thank my counterpart, State Councilor Yang, for his partnership on all of what we are working on, which is very considerable, and particularly his partnership on the oceans and many other challenges that go with it on climate change and so forth.

As we have said many times, but particularly over the last 24 hours, the U.S.-China relationship is a top priority, and it is increasingly true, believe it or not, when it comes to the oceans. It’s not an automatic thing that people would think, “Wow, the leaders of two of the largest economies in the world are not just thinking about terrorism and nuclear weapons and various relationships, but they’re thinking about the ocean.” And both countries recognize the urgent need to safeguard our marine resources. We also understand the leading role that our states have to play in addressing various threats to the ocean, particularly the threat of acidification – which comes from what we put up in the atmosphere, as you all know, and then drops down in rain or in deposits – in overfishing, and pollution of various kinds.

So I want you just to consider a few facts for a moment. The same carbon pollution that drives climate change is also altering – actually acidifying the ocean. It changes the basic chemistry of the ocean at a rate 10 times faster than at any other point in human history that we have measured. So on top of that fully – and what happens with the acidification is the CO2 that goes into the water actually turns into carbonic acid. And that carbonic acid can destroy shell-packed entities like clams or fish, mollusks, so forth. And over time, we’re noticing that even where there’s a higher acidity, you have smaller and smaller clams depending on the level of acidity.

Now, you add to the top of the problem of acidification, which is changing coral reefs and habitats of the fish, you see also that fully one-third of all the major fisheries of the world are overfished – overfished. And most of the rest are being harvested right at the top level of what they are able to sustain, which is why it is unsustainable fishing that is taking place.

You also have illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing taking place in vast expanses of the ocean – the high seas, as we call it. And that illegal fishing, pirate fishing, has skyrocketed in its levels so that millions of fish – millions of tons of fish are being taken out of the ocean. Much of it is what you call bycatch, so it just gets thrown overboard for the fish that they’re particularly looking for, and it is a slow attrition – killing, if you will – of the ecosystem itself.

Then you have pollution on top of that. Pollution is choking our waters in many parts of the world. In America, for instance, coming out of the various rivers that feed into the Mississippi River – there are 31 states that feed into one river. But the agricultural runoff of nitrates and chemicals and gasoline from gas stations and so forth pours into the rivers, pours out, empties into the Gulf of Mexico, and there’s a 5,000-square-mile area that is a dead zone. There are now well over 400 dead zones around the world where nothing will live because there’s no oxygen, there’s no capacity for life. So this pollution, much of it you can’t see; some of it you – a lot of it you can. Some of it is the nutrient pollution that you can’t see. But marine biologists now tell us there are about 500 of these so-called dead zones where life simply cannot exist.

And finally, we are dumping into the oceans millions of tons of plastic that entangles creatures, harms habitat, and it breaks down very slowly. And as it breaks down, it is ingested by marine mammals and fish. If we stay on the path that we are on today, experts – ocean experts like the young lady who spoke a little while ago – tell us that by 2050 there may well be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

So my friends, we have to change direction. And the fact that the United States and China are standing together, as we did on climate change, to point in the new direction is really important. We have to save the ocean, because, literally, we cannot live without it. Not only does it play a vital role in generating oxygen – about half the oxygen that human beings use comes from the ocean. Not only does it play a vital role storing carbon dioxide – it’s a huge storage tank for the carbon dioxide that could go up into the atmosphere and warm the Earth at a much faster rate, but it goes into the ocean where it’s stored. It also regulates our climate. It is a key pillar of the global economy. Literally hundreds of millions of people make a living through ocean-related industries, and trillions of dollars in cargo are transported across the ocean every single day.

So the stakes could not be higher. And that is why I’m looking forward to hosting our – what we call Our Ocean Conference in September of this year – it will be the third conference that we are putting on – in order to raise people’s consciousness but also to get countries to commit to actions that will help to preserve the ocean. Last conference we had in Washington, we had $4 billion in pledges to go to efforts to help save the oceans, and we went – we had about 6 million square kilometers of ocean that was set aside as marine protected areas, and this year we plan to add substantially to that record.

So cooperation between the United States and China is absolutely essential. The same leadership that we offered on climate change we now need to offer with respect to this adjunct to the climate issue. We are the two largest economies of the world, we’re two of the world’s top fishing nations, and we are two of the global leaders on ocean science. And just as we’ve been able to do on climate change, the United States and China have a huge ability to have the same impact, the same kind of impact, on ocean conservation provided that we combine our efforts and our policies.

So we hope that China will use this fall’s conference to announce new commitments and initiatives to support sustainable fisheries, to create marine protected areas, to reduce ocean pollution, and to combat climate change. And even as we look ahead to September, my friends, we are not waiting until then to take action. This is the second consecutive year that we have included a separate discussion on ocean issues as part of the Security and Economic Dialogue that we are engaged in for these two days here in Beijing.

And together – let me tell you something – we genuinely are making progress. For example, we have agreed to set up sister marine protected areas in places like the Hainan Sanya Coral Reef and the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa and elsewhere to exchange best practices on MPA science, monitoring, and management. We’ve also identified Xiamen and Weihai and San Francisco and New York to serve as partner cities, helping us to learn from each other in such areas of importance like urban waste collection and recycling, so that we can reduce the flow of garbage and pollutants that go from our shores directly into the ocean.

In addition, China and the United States both support the establishment of a marine protected area in Antarctica’s Ross Sea, one of the world’s last remaining pristine marine environments. And we’re going to be working together to realize this goal as rapidly as we can.

And together we’ve also agreed to develop a process to exchange detailed information on seafood products so that we can better keep illegally obtained fish from making it to the market, and we are working jointly with other governments to complete a legally binding agreement to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the high seas of the central Arctic Ocean.

These are just a few of the steps that we’re taking, and I very much look forward, together with my counterpart – with the State Councilor Yang Jiechi – we very much look forward to building on these efforts at the Ocean Conference in a few months.

So again, I thank State Councilor Yang Jiechi. I thank Administrator Wang and all of you for your commitment to this issue. This really has to be personal to all of us. We’re very grateful that together we’ve been able to make the oceans a shared priority. Some people once half-jokingly suggested it shouldn’t be called Earth; it should be called Ocean, because three-quarters of this planet are oceans. And I hope very much that out of the S&ED in Beijing twice now and out of our efforts in Washington – this is our fourth S&ED – that out of this will come a continuing institutionalized effort that will help join our nations in a united front together with other countries all around the world in order to do what we need to do to make the oceans a centerpiece in our consciousness as we make all kinds of policies that have a profound impact on our lives. And I’m very grateful to all of you, particularly the students who are here – thank you so much for being part of this today. Thank you. Xie Xie. (Applause.)