"And so it is clear that if people are getting in small boats and drowning in the Mediterranean or moving across borders and running into conflict zones that cost them their lives. There are so many different ways in which what is unfolding on this planet."
More than a dozen heads of state are attending, determined to wield more global influence and bring in far more financing and support. The first speakers included youth, who demanded a bigger voice in the process.
"It is impossible to have a just transition, which you hear from the mouths of public people all the time. It is impossible to have that just transition if there is no justice in what is happening on a daily basis to the lives of people most affected by the crisis," Kerry said.
Kerry spoke on the first day of Africa's first climate summit where leaders are pushing market-based financing instruments such as carbon credits and debt-for-nature swaps in a bid to mobilize funding that they say has been slow to arrive from rich-world donors.
Earlier Kenyan president William Ruto addressed the conference, urging African leaders to seize the opportunity presented by climate finance to attract billions of dollars in investment to the continent.
"We have ample renewable energy potential as well and the natural assets and resources to green our own consumption, but also to meaningfully contribute to de-carbonization of the global economy. We must see in green growth, not just a climate imperative, but also a fountain of multibillion dollar economic opportunities that Africa and the world is primed to capitalize," he said.
Several speakers at the summit said they had seen little progress toward accelerating climate financing. Africa has received only about 12% of the finance it needs to cope with climate impacts, according to a report last year by the non-profit Climate Policy Initiative.
One U.N. climate advisor said that was because of a perception that the continent is a risky investment environment.
Many African campaigners have opposed the summit's approach to climate finance, saying it advances Western priorities at the expense of the continent.
Organizers say they anticipate hundreds of millions of dollars in deals to be announced at the three-day summit.
The aim is to showcase Africa as a destination for climate investment rather than just a victim of floods, drought and famine.
Some information in this story came from Reuters.