News & Events

15 December 2022

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry delivers the 2022 Fulbright Distinguished Lecture

“We will get to a low carbon economy, but will we get there in time?”


This question, poised tautly between hope and existential urgency, set the tone of the 2022 Fulbright Distinguished Lecture, delivered at King’s College London by US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry on Friday December 9. 

Established 12 years ago by the US-UK Fulbright Commission in partnership with the University of Oxford’s Pembroke College and Department of Politics and International Relations, King’s College London, the University of Edinburgh and the Lois Roth Foundation, the Lecture is an opportunity for a leading thinker or doer to share their perspective on a matter of international importance with a wider audience.  

The talk was supported by new research by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and Ipsos about the British and US publics' perceptions of climate change, and how they should respond. The lecture was introduced by Professor Shitij Kapur, President of King's College London.

Kerry who was Secretary of State under President Barack Obama and a senator from Massachusetts for 28 years, pulled no punches in his description of the deadly impact of climate change which is already affecting every single nation on earth. And yet his message offered hope because, as he underlined on a number of occasions, “we know what we have to do…there is no mystery: we have a road map, we need to follow it.”  

In support of this argument, he spoke of the concrete commitments individual countries have made to cut emissions and of the innovations in, among other things, alternative energy generation and storage that can wean the globe off carbon. There are “green shoots of progress” – to make them grow, he called for cooperative action on implementing national commitments and the release of trillions of private capital.    

Responding to Secretary Kerry with a UK perspective was Baroness Helene Hayman, former Speaker of the House of Lords and co-chair of the cross parliamentary group, Peers for the Planet. For her, the challenge is how every country persuades their populations that it is in people’s long-term interest to take action now – how, in other words, to change the focus from short term politics to the long term? And how to translate the rhetoric of climate action to the “day to day slog” of making sure considerations of climate change permeate every policy and law – from pensions to procurement.  

At the end of a riveting hour and a half, the message from Secretary Kerry to the audience in the hall and online was clear and personal: “We need to demand urgency and accountability from everyone, everywhere and every day…the question is not whether there is a solution, it’s how to more rapidly implement the solution that is staring us in the face. And if we do that we actually know that the future is cleaner, greener, healthier and safer. If we can get there together in time.”  

Account by Maria Balinska, Executive Director, US-UK Fulbright Commission


Climate change: How the UK and US public perceive the challenge – and how they think we should respond by Ipsos and The Policy Institute. Read the survey results here.