Ambassador Victoria Reggie Kennedy
Lower Austria Youth Climate Conference
October 7, 2022
Good afternoon. Thank you, Governor Mikl-Leitner and Deputy Governor Pernkopf for inviting me to be part of this special event. And thank you for your leadership on the existential issue of climate change.
It is so great to be back in Lower Austria. This was the first province outside of Vienna that I visited as U.S. Ambassador, and I happily have been here several times since then. But I have to say that this is the first time I’ve ever been in a nuclear power plant – non-nuclear or otherwise – and I admit — it’s a very cool experience. And it’s an amazing place to discuss the important issue of climate change.
Combatting climate change is a top priority for both the United States and Austria. And as this conference reminds us, it is not just nations that have a role to play in this vital effort, but also regional governments like Lower Austria, as well as individuals like all of you.
Just a few minutes ago, Governor Mikl-Leitner signed the 2021 Global Climate Leadership Memorandum of Understanding, committing Lower Austria to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. In signing this MOU, Lower Austria joins regions, provinces, states, and cities from around the world in setting ambitious climate goals. I am proud that my home state of Massachusetts is also a signatory to this current Memorandum of Understanding.
I am so thrilled to see so many of you here today, also showing your commitment to combatting climate change. You are part of the largest generation of youth in history. Indeed, there are 1.8 billion young people in the world between the ages of 10 and 24 – think of all that energy, enthusiasm and innovation. You are agents of change who are part of a historic global mobilization by youth to hold decision-makers accountable. By your actions and your words, you show the world that you refuse to be victims of climate change; you instead are valuable contributors to climate action.
Throughout history, young people have been the spark that ignited action to protect our environment.
Just one example…a half century ago, the United States faced an acute environmental crisis: rivers were catching fire due to chemicals dumped in them. Oil spills covered swaths of ocean. Pollution from factories was causing illness and death in nearby communities.
Faced with these challenges, young people in the United States broke down barriers and came together to fight for a more just, sustainable future. They shattered the status quo and launched the modern environmental movement. The first Earth Day, in 1970, was largely organized and attended by young people inspired to lead the charge and raise awareness.
That same spirit of action brings all of you here today.
You understand that it is not enough simply to talk the talk about saving our planet. We must walk the walk – we must live our convictions. Individual actions like the ones you are discussing today — biking instead of driving, supporting sustainable food choices, protecting the soil around your home from contamination — help create a culture of more eco-friendly behaviors. Even more important: you are using individual motivation as a launchpad for collective action.
Here in Lower Austria, your leaders, like Governor Mikl Leitner and Deputy Governor Pernkopf share your commitment. Leaders across the spectrum in the federal government and across Europe share your commitment – and they value your opinion. They hear you. We all do.
The same kind of action by youth is happening in the United States. President Biden entered office with the votes of Americans demanding climate action. On his first day in office, he made sure that the United States rejoined the Paris climate agreement.
The Paris Agreement is an unprecedented framework for global action. Its purpose is both simple and expansive: to help us avoid catastrophic planetary warming and to build resilience around the world to the impacts from climate change we already see.
And just this summer, President Biden signed legislation authorizing the single-largest investment in climate action in the history of the United States.
Here are just a few of the highlights of that new, historic law:
- United States will be on a path to path to a 40 percent reduction in national emissions by 2030.
- There are incentives for a new “race to the top” in the clean energy economy, including
- incentives for carbon capture and sequestration,
- support for the expanded manufacture and purchase of electric vehicles, and
- $27 billion for a clean energy technology accelerator to support deployment of technologies to reduce emissions, especially in disadvantaged communities.
- The U.S. will invest in climate-smart agriculture, forest restoration, and land conservation.
- And, at the household level, Americans will have access to tax credits and rebate programs to help them more easily afford rooftop solar panels, electric vehicles, and other clean energy solutions.
Of course, combating climate change is not something that one country – or even many governments working together – can do alone. All the resources of government and all the legislation our countries may pass cannot equal what citizens can do when they are willing to act.
The earth is our only home, and everyone has a role to play in in protecting it. While I do what I can on a personal level – eating less meat, reducing waste, conserving energy – I am also proud to champion environmental initiatives at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna. For example, our cafeteria has eliminated all single-use containers and utensils and we are adding more electric vehicles for official use. We have a Green Team at the Embassy that regularly shares energy conservation tips with our community and challenges us all to make small changes that have a big impact.
U.S. Embassy Vienna also is sponsoring an Austria-to-America Youth & Climate Entrepreneurship Program, a people-to-people exchange program that will send Austrian university students Boston, MA to collaborate with climate activists and investors. We recognize that young people are – as with past calls to action – at the heart of the environmental movement and we have high hopes for this program.
Since coming to Austria, I’ve met and spoken with many of your peers, learned about what is on their minds, and listened to their visions for the future. I feel fortunate to have been able to hear from some of you here today about what brought you here, and what you hope to take from this experience. We have common interests and shared values. Programs like today’s conference strengthen these values, encourage the exchange of ideas, and instill a commitment to active citizenship.
The theme for this session – “Climate Change Needs Your Action” – captures the importance of this moment. We are looking to all of you to be leaders who will propel our world to a brighter future.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said these words: “My generation has largely failed until now to preserve both justice in the world and to preserve the planet. It is your generation that must make us be accountable to make sure that we don’t betray the future of humankind.”
Thank you for holding us accountable. And thank you for your energy and commitment. Your capacity to change the world is limitless.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here with you today.