REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS AT THE PARIS PEACE FORUM
La Grande Halle de la Villette
5:31 P.M. CET
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, President Macron, for hosting this forum and for the warm welcome.
Today, we stand together at the start of a new era in our world, inspired by the possibility of our shared future, united by the bold ambition of our shared ideals. And so, it is an honor to be here today, to join leaders from nations around the world in discussing one such ideal: equality.
To reach this ideal, we must acknowledge that inequality has always existed in our world. The gaps between the rich and poor, men and women, the Global North and South have existed throughout history.
To be sure, there are moments in which these gaps have narrowed and moments in which they’ve widened.
Most recently, and throughout this pandemic, the gaps have undoubtedly become much larger. Globally, extreme poverty is on the rise, as is extreme wealth.
The progress we have made on gender equality is under threat. Experts suggest it will now take decades longer for women to achieve parity with men.
And with school closures worldwide, the struggle to ensure that every child has access to a quality education has become that much more difficult.
By virtually every measure, the gaps have grown.
As the leaders of today, we are being confronted with this challenge which is immense in both size and scale.
At times like this, there are some who see what is happening and accept it. They accept it as something that has always existed and always will. But there are others who see what is happening and ask, “Why?”
When I arrived in Paris, I visited the Institut Pasteur and reflected on the work of my mother. My mother, you see, had two goals in her life: to raise her two daughters and to end breast cancer.
At the age of 19, my mother arrived in the United States from India to study science. Throughout her career as a breast cancer researcher, she collaborated with scientists worldwide, including right here in Paris at the Institut Pasteur.
And you see, when you’re a daughter of a scientist, science has a way of shaping how you think. My mother and her work taught me the power of a short and very important question — that question being: “Why?”
History is full of leaders — leaders in science, in politics, in business, in the arts, in education — leaders who refused to accept the status quo, who asked why, who took action. And because they did, they changed our world.
Well, today, we face a dramatic rise in inequality, and we must rise to meet this moment. I believe that we, as leaders, must ask why this inequality persists.
We all know that this is a pivotal moment in the history of our world.
We are nearly two years into a global pandemic — 5 million lives lost, countless livelihoods have been lost. But the pandemic has also presented us with an opportunity — an opportunity, because many in our world, who perhaps did not see, now clearly see the gaps.
And the call for leaders to bridge the gaps is rightfully growing more urgent and more insistent.
In this moment, leaders must reckon with the magnitude of this challenge by asking:
Why is it that 1 percent of the world now owns 45 percent of the world’s wealth?
Why is it that one in four people in the world lack access to clean drinking water at home?
Why is it that one in three women in the world experience sexual or physical violence during her lifetime?
Why is it that only half of the world has access to the Internet?
Why have we allowed so many of the world’s children to go hungry, when we know that we produce enough food to feed the entire world?
We cannot be aware of these gaps and simply resign ourselves to them. We cannot accept them by thinking simply: This is what has always been or what will always be.
We must instead agree that these growing gaps are unacceptable. And we must agree to work together to bridge them.
And here, I want to be clear: This is not about charity. This is about our duty and what we owe to each other as human beings. This is also a strategic imperative.
As I have said many times, our world is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before. A virus can spread globally in a matter of months. A hacker in one nation can shut down the critical infrastructure of another. Emissions anywhere can increase air pollution everywhere.
In the 21st century, our fates are linked, as is our future. In the 21st century, our nations are interconnected and our people are interconnected.
And so, in the 21st century, addressing inequality is a strategic imperative for each of us — for our security and our health, our shared prosperity and our collective future.
All of which brings me back to this very moment. As we recover from this pandemic, from this crisis, we must challenge the status quo and build something better.
As leaders of our world, we must rise to meet this moment. To get at the root of this challenge, we must look critically at the norms that are holding people back from achieving all that they can.
To get at the root of this challenge, we must look critically at the longstanding systems and structures that are fractured and fissured. And we must fix them: First, by taking action at home, and second, by showing solidarity as a global community.
For our part, the United States is committed to addressing our own systemic gaps. In fact, it has been a priority of our administration.
Just before I traveled here, our Congress passed a landmark piece of legislation to make an historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure.
Another bill that will support our nation’s workers and families and help us meet our climate commitment is poised to pass soon.
Together, these bills are designed to lift people out of poverty, to put people to work in good jobs, and to help bridge the gaps that persist in our nation.
And as we make progress at home, we recognize our obligation to other nations around the world.
To that end, we are doubling our climate funding for those nations hardest hit, pledging more than 1 billion vaccines worldwide and sending development assistance to nations throughout the world.
And we know there is more we can do and more we must do.
But the fact remains: No single nation can take on inequality alone. A challenge this sizeable and seismic demands that our world work together in solidarity. And we have seen what is possible when we do.
Less than two weeks ago, our world joined together at the G20 Summit in Italy. And there, leaders from nations that comprise 80 percent of global GDP agreed to the Global Minimum Tax.
This agreement will ensure that corporations — no matter how large, no matter how global — will no longer be able to avoid paying their fair share.
And in so doing, it will give countries a greater ability to invest in their people.
Now, to be sure, this is just one step. But it shows us what is possible when the world joins together.
And we all remember: When the world joined together to issue a Universal Declaration on Human Rights, we saw what is possible. When the world joined together to launch the International Space Station, we saw what is possible. When the world, together, eradicated small pox, we saw what is possible.
And I believe that, in this pivotal moment, if we join together, there is no challenge that is too big for us to take on.
So, I will conclude with this: When we acknowledge what is happening in our world — what is actually happening in our world — and then ask ourselves “why,” we open ourselves up to the possibility that the future can be different, that the future can be better. And, in that way, this question is a key to any progress and it is critical to our shared future.
So, I challenge all of us here today — government leaders, business leaders, community leaders — let’s continue to ask why. And, then, let’s take action.
There is the power of the people, and there are the people who are in power. And it will take all of us to meet this challenge.
So, as we go forward from this place, let us not be burdened by what has been. Let us focus on what can be. And let us realize a better future together.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 5:44 P.M. CET