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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network Reception

September 24, 2015

Mayor Bill de Blasio: I just flew in from St. Patrick’s Cathedral – boy, are my arms tired.


The Americans in the room will understand that joke.


Thank you very much, [inaudible] – thank you, everyone. Welcome, everyone, welcome – so many wonderful leaders and thinkers and activists from around the world.

I actually did just come here, just moments ago, from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I had the opportunity to hear the first remarks by His Holiness Pope Francis here in New York City. And I will speak about his extraordinary relevance to everything we’re talking about here today, but I will also tell you my favorite line I’ve come up with this week. I said, the greatest voice for justice and morality anywhere in the world, Pope Francis, coming to the greatest city in the world, New York City, is a match made in heaven.


Trying out new material here.


I want to thank all of you for being a part of this extraordinarily important gathering. I have to say thank you – a deep thank you – to Jeff Sachs for all [inaudible].


If Jeffrey Sachs didn’t exist, we would have to invent him –


… because he has a tireless ability to both think of what can be done that was previously believed to be unreachable and to convince the rest of us to do it – and to go to all corners of the earth and spread that message in a thoroughly documented and believable way. So, Jeff, thank you, because we need leaders like you – and we have one. Thank you so much.


I want to thank all the wonderful leaders from around the globe here on the stage. I have to say, as an American, I am very proud that my nation is represented here by two extraordinary leaders, Governor Jerry Brown of California and Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, who both spoke with such passion. And thank them for [inaudible].


And Mitch, when you tell the story of New Orleans, it grips us all, because what your city went through, sadly, was the eye opener and the wakeup call for so many of us, both in terms of climate change and the injustices we face in our economy as well – and the two came together so tragically in your city. Thank you for persevering.

And Governor Brown, thank you for taking a context – and I said this when we were at a gathering together in Rome that His Holiness put together – calling leaders from around the world to speak about these very issues. I said, Governor Brown, with the largest state in the United States of America, set the pace and showed us all that can and must reach higher, in terms of goals for fighting climate change. And if California weren’t doing that – I’d say this – I say this as a New Yorker – I mean, Governor Brown knows it’s hard to find a lot of humility among New Yorkers.


But I will exhibit some here, and say if California weren’t doing it, we wouldn’t be anywhere near as far along as we are as a country. And so many of us in other parts of the country wouldn’t be making the progress we are. So, giving credit where credit is due. Thank you, Governor Brown.


But all that credit – all worthy – I have to say, the most special credit today goes to His Holiness, because Pope Francis has now defined our mission – our common mission – in terms I don’t think we’ve ever seen before. The way he has combined the global fight against inequality with the global fight against the problems of climate change has been so clear, so morally sound, so urgent, that it is changing hearts and minds constantly and rapidly. I think his address to the U.S. Congress today is going to be an example of something that will be looked back on as a moment of change unto itself.

And it is powerful for all of us. I’m sure some of you here today feel, as I have from time to time over the years – sometimes it feels like we’re laboring in the vineyards alone, or we’re voices in the wilderness. But Pope Francis has changed that equation profoundly – arguably the most important moral voice – in my view, absolutely the most important moral voice in the world – pulling people urgently towards these twin missions and looking at how they in fact go together seamlessly.

And that is an amazing moment in history to be doing our work during – that is a wind in our sails that we can only have dreamed of just a few years ago. The papal encyclical, Laudato Si', talks about climate change – I would say – in some of the strongest, clearest, bluntest terms of any document anywhere, and puts it in a moral framework. And I think if anyone hesitated previously to recognize the depth of the challenge, that encyclical puts to rest doubt – puts to rest any impulse to incrementalism or partial solutions. It demands urgent and larger solutions now – and that gives us all a platform in which to succeed in our work.

Look – today is a great example. On the eve of the UN General Assembly and on the eve of such powerful new steps on sustainability goals and on climate change, today – this very day – two crucial steps: the signing of the Under 2 MOU and the gathering of this Urban Partnership for Sustainable Development Goals. Both of these are indicators of progress, are steps that wouldn’t have been easily achieved, again, just a few years ago.

Now, I’m a believer when you – when you have that kind of opening, when you see that progress starting to build unto itself, and real momentum is occurring, the only – the only response to that is to go faster, and be more resolute, and bring more people into the fold. And I’m thrilled that so many cities are answering the call, and I believe that so many of us at the local level – certainly, at the state level here in this country – will be the decisive elements in moving our national governments.

We all know our national governments must go farther and faster. We all know the Paris Conference looms as a deadline, and a deadline of profound urgency for the fate of the globe.  We at the grassroots need more than ever to set the pace. Our actions speak louder than words – our actions change minds by showing what’s possible.

So, I’ll simply say to you today, we in New York City as trying, with every tool we have, to show in a large, complicated, diverse urban environment that many things are possible that were deemed unreachable before. We are living as best we can in the spirit of Pope Francis – redefining what our obligation to each other is. Redefining our common humanity, and talking about and acting on it.

[Inaudible] plan for this city we announced some months ago called OneNYC, and the very concept was a single future for all people – no matter what backgrounds, no matter what their economic status – a single future.

And this plan very clearly integrated the notion that economic sustainability and environmental sustainability had to go hand in hand. It was inconceivable to separate those notions anymore. An environmentalist who doesn’t care about economic justice or someone who fights for the rights of working people and the poor, but doesn’t think the environment matters – those two ends of the spectrum are missing the fact that these two pieces are now inextricable. We can’t create economic opportunity and fairness if we don’t address climate change. We can’t address climate change if we don’t create a world where there’s actually true opportunity for all, and true leadership from the grassroots.

All of these pieces come together. In our plan, they’re fully integrated. And it fits so much of the vision that you see in the sustainable development goals.

We said – as an easy juxtaposition – we said, we would not have a city that was economically strong and environmentally week, or environmentally strong and economically weak. We said, we must achieve a strength on both pieces of the equation.

So for example, in this city, where, sadly, 46 percent of the people in this city of about 8.5 million people live at or near the poverty level – that is what the Great Recession yielded in this city – we said that we wanted to lift fully a tenth of our population out of poverty – 800,000 people out of poverty – over the next ten years. That was necessary to have a truly sustainable city.

And equally, we said that we had to reach the standard of 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050, or we weren’t a sustainable city. But we also believe that if we could take those two bones and bring them to life, we could help put wind in the sails and momentum into the efforts of all our colleagues, just as they do for us. And we would set a new standard, and our national government, and other national governments, eventually would have no choice but to try to keep up, because the people would more and more demand it.

I fundamentally believe this. Every time we make progress, the people lead us. They take that progress, and then they demand more – and they lead the larger society in the right direction.

When we talk in this city about retrofitting all our public buildings in the next ten years, there’s tremendous popular support. When we talk in the city about what we’ve done – doubling the number of solar institutions – excuse me, installations – solar installations in our city, we know that people want it. They understand that we have to be sustainable. They understand what’s happening to the earth. Sadly, extreme weather has taught people all they need to know about climate change, and it’s given them the urgency that some have – national leaders don’t have.

So, I’ll conclude with this. I think it’s a tremendously optimistic moment, despite all we’re up against. I think there’s so much to latch onto now to build our progress. The good work of all my colleagues gives us hope. The fact that we are gathered together in common cause gives us hope. The fact that we are on the verge of great progress at the United Nations gives us hope. The fact that the greatest moral voice in the world, Pope Francis, is calling us to action gives us hope.

It is a profoundly hopeful moment. In that moment, our job is to dig deeper; work harder; to go farther; listen to the voices of the people more intently. Take that urgency, and put it into action.

We’re only a few months from Paris. I know we will look back and say, in these months, so much that would determine the fate of the earth was acted upon. We do our job right – those actions will add up. The sum total will be sufficient. The progress will be enough to take us where we need to go. That is our mandate.

I conclude with a simple, simple statement from one of the greatest leaders we’ve known in many, many decades, Nelson Mandela – a man who epitomized the ability to see what had not yet been conceptualized by the conventional wisdom, and eventually bring it to bear. And he said something simple – he said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

I look forward to greeting you all in December, when it is done.

Thank you.

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