WASHINGTON (AP) – US climate envoy John Kerry tempers expectations for a UN climate summit, sometimes touted as pivotal for Earth’s future, conceding next month’s talks will end. will likely end with countries still falling short of the goal of reducing coal and oil emissions that are needed to avoid increasingly devastating levels of global warming.
But in an interview with The Associated Press, Kerry also credited the United States, the European Union, Japan and other allies who, over the past year, have pledged to cut further and faster climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions ahead of talks in Glasgow, Scotland, nudged by Kerry and the Biden administration. He expressed the hope that enough nations would join them over the next two years. “By the time Glasgow is finished, we will know who is doing their fair share and who is not,” he said.
Kerry also spoke of the impact if the US Congress – under a slim Democratic majority – fails to pass legislation for meaningful climate action by the United States itself, as the Biden administration aims to take back the leadership on climate action. “It would be like President Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement again,” Kerry said.
Kerry spoke to the AP on Wednesday in a conference room down the hall from his State Department office, with his upper halls still strangely intimidated by those affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Kerry’s comments came after nine months of intensive climate diplomacy by plane, phone and computer screen aimed at setting out the most global climate action commitments possible ahead of the UN climate summit, which will take place. opens October 31 in Scotland.
Kerry is planning final shutdowns in Mexico and Saudi Arabia, where he expected new last-minute climate commitments ahead of the summit, before settling in Glasgow for two weeks of talks.
Kerry’s overseas efforts, along with President Joe Biden’s multibillion-dollar pledges in legislation and support for cleaner energy at home, come after President Donald Trump pulled out of the United States. United of the Paris climate agreement.
Kerry rejected a suggestion that he sought to lower expectations for the summit, which has become a deadline – but not a deadline, leaders began to stress – for countries to announce how hard they will work to push through their pollution savings to cleaner combustion. Kerry and others early on touted the Glasgow summit as “the last and best chance” to spur emission reductions, investment in renewables, and help less wealthy countries move from dirty burning coal and oil. in time to limit warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius).
The world has already warmed by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the nations of the world set that target in Paris in 2015. Scientists warn that the damage is irreversible and is heading to catastrophic levels in the absence of major emission reductions.
When it comes to bridging the gap between the cuts promised by countries and the cuts needed, “We hope to get very close … although there will be a gap and … we have to be honest about the gap, and we have to use the gap as extra motivation to keep accelerating as fast as possible, ”Kerry said Wednesday.
In the meantime, the money invested in the development of cleaner technologies such as battery storage will spur progress that will allow backward countries to catch up, he said.
A senior UN official briefing reporters separately on Wednesday also spoke less enthusiastically than international leaders have often done before of Glasgow’s deliverables. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter, the official left the door open to the fact that some work to meet the international target of a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 may not be achieved. by the end of the Glasgow climate negotiations. The official stressed that the Paris agreement allows countries to submit stronger commitments at any time.
Importantly, Kerry’s repeated trips to China and diplomatic efforts from other countries have so far failed to secure public pledges of faster emissions reductions from this key climate player, although China has backed down. recently committed last month to stop funding overseas coal-fired power plants. China’s enthusiasm for dirty-burning coal power at home and abroad helps make it by far the world’s biggest climate polluter. China under President Xi Jinping shows no interest in being seen as following the US lead on climate or anything.
Kerry declined to refer to China by name as one of the reasons Glasgow might not be as big a success as it could have been – although surprise announcements from China remain possible.
“It would be wonderful if everyone came and everyone hit the 1.5 degree mark now,” he said. ” That would be wonderful. But some countries just don’t yet have the energy mix to do so.
For Biden at home, it’s the mix of lawmakers that’s the problem. So far, the reluctance of the president’s own party is blocking the administration’s multibillion-dollar climate legislation, the kind needed to deliver on U.S. pledges to cut emissions by at least half by 2030.
When asked how the administration’s struggles to keep its own climate promises are affecting its work in rallying climate action overseas, Kerry replied, “Well, that hurts.”
“I’m not going to pretend it’s the best way to send the best message. I mean, we have to do these things, ”he said.
Kerry added that he was optimistic Congress would step up. “I don’t know what form it will take … or what piece of legislation it will be in, but I think we are going to act responsibly” at home, he said.
Seth Borenstein contributed from Washington.