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Transcript Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at U.S. Center COP26 - Leading the Way to the Future of Flight

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Thank you. Thanks very much. Thanks Kim to you, and your colleagues, for your work on this and your leadership. Ryan, to you and RMI, Fred Krupp with EDF who’s helped provide very important context, and everybody here who's offering the leadership that is really going to be needed to make sure that private sector collaboration on public goals of global importance continues to accelerate. 

I'll be very brief, because you have a very substantive discussion ahead. But I want to make sure to convey—first of all, with so many players and partners from aviation here—our awareness of how challenging a couple of years this has been for the sector, and our eagerness to see the kind of, not just recovery, but advancement, that has been happening. 

I was reflecting, with great pleasure, on the fact that the plane that brought me over here on Monday was going to return back to the U.S. full of international travelers—and we're celebrating that milestone as well. I don't know if you've seen some of the images from arrival halls back in the U.S., as people have been reunited, but it's so moving. It's like something out of Love Actually. And we're glad that we've been able to get to that point—even recognizing that we've got a long way to go economically, and certainly with regard to the sustainability of this sector. 

Thanks for pointing out why that 2% is a bigger deal than it appears. And to put it in context in a different, but related, way: we're thinking about it in terms of the share that it represents of U.S. transportation emissions. 

It's so fitting, perhaps belated, that we're having transport day at COP, given that in the U.S. economy it is the single biggest sector contributing greenhouse gas emissions. And in most economies, it is in the top few, for sure. Right now, 11% of U.S. transportation sector emissions are coming from aviation. And for the reasons that were described a moment ago, that share will grow in the business-as-usual scenario. 

Now, these were a good few days for U.S. transportation infrastructure. We are so delighted that Congress has passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal. It truly represents a generational investment in the future of how we get around in our country. How people and goods move for the rest of the century. A lot of focus, rightly, is on things like roads and bridges. But we're also proud of the investment in airports, and want to make sure—as much as is possible within the context of this legislation—that we are tuning those Investments to benefit sustainability, including the infrastructure that will support airports and carriers that are working toward more adoption of sustainable aviation fuels. 

I was very pleased earlier today to announce the U.S. Aviation Climate Action Plan, which lays out our vision for the future and our commitment on a strategy to get to that Net Zero by 2050 target, not just nationally, but within that sector. And I want you to know that we are working this issue on an interagency basis. So, our Department, together with our friends and colleagues at the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture, are leading a government-wide effort to reduce costs, increase sustainability, and expand production of sustainable foods. And we of course are working to make sure that they meet the highest safety standards for existing aircraft, that they meet the highest sustainability requirements. And we're working with Congress to pass a tax credit for sustainable aviation fuels, that helps us to see the scale effects that are really going to help us answer the cost questions of how this can become a much bigger share. 

In September, we were pleased to announce the SAF Grand Challenge and initiative to increase U.S. production to three billion gallons annually by 2030. That represents about 10% of estimated consumption. And in the spirit of friendly competition, we welcome the many international commitments that have been made and that are underway. 

We also announced, at that time, an investment of more than $200 million, including matching private funds, to advance aviation technologies that reduce fuel use emissions and noise across the board. And I think it's another example of the importance of the partnerships between the public and private sector that we see reflected here. 

And I just want to lift up the ways that that SABA is helping not just to acknowledge or set ambitious targets, but to actually reach them. And that's what it's going to take. 

I think it's never been more urgent for us to demonstrate our capacity—in our political and economic systems that have been fraying at the seams—to actually deliver change at an accelerated basis. I think both inside and outside the halls of this gathering, we're seeing that sense of mounting urgency. 

Every new parent can't resist mentioning being a new parent when it happens, but I'm now experiencing what I had seen others say so often that I took it to be a cliché—which is that when you look into the eyes of your little one, and think about the future that they're going to inherit, you feel just how important this will be. 

Now, actuarially, I stand a decent chance of being able, personally, to assess whether we met our goals by 2050. But I have a new spring in my step and a new fire in my belly in terms of getting it done, when I think about what it means for our next generation. 

So, with that, I will turn it over to your much more substantive and expert panel to come. But I want to thank all of the players for their commitments, and challenge everybody to go even further—in the months ahead, as we look to that ICAO convening—and in the years ahead, as we really put to the test our commitment to meet these ambitious goals. Thank you again, for the chance to be with you today.