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August 11, 2021

John Kerry to ABA: “You are all climate lawyers now”

“You are all climate lawyers now,” John Kerry told the General Assembly of the 2021 ABA Hybrid Annual Meeting in Chicago. The U.S. special presidential envoy for climate was the keynote speaker at the Aug. 4 virtual gathering.

With the deadly heatwaves in several parts of the world, the California drought and several other high-profile climate change-related disasters in just the last year, Kerry explained that we can no longer ignore the impact of global warming.

Despite efforts to mitigate the problem, it’s just not enough.

Kerry said the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which established the goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, was “making a difference today,” but he said if the agreed-to limits are not met, “life on our planet will become increasingly unrecognizable.”

If we don’t change course, we will be “just coping with disasters” and therefore limited in “our ability to invest in tomorrow.” No country, no matter how rich, will be spared, said the former Massachusetts senator.

Everything scientists told us would happen is happening, Kerry said, but “bigger and faster than was predicted.”

Climate can no longer be treated as a discreet issue, he said, and that law, economies and culture will all develop within the context of climate “in this century.”

Lawyers will be key to the solutions, Kerry said, including:

  • Lawyers will aid those displaced by storms, fires and other disasters.
  • Bankruptcy lawyers will be needed to assess the infrastructure risk to their clients and to advise about safer planning.
  • Lawyers will be crucial to expediting the energy transition and innovative solutions for decarbonization, which will include questions of financing, land use and procurement.

Kerry noted the ABA’s commitment, citing a 2019 resolution passed by the House of Delegates urging all levels of government to recognize their obligation to address climate change and take action.

Although the world needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45% by 2030 “not just in some countries, in some regions” but all over the world, Kerry said, “the good news …is that we can do it.”

“There is still time… but we cannot procrastinate.”