Nothing like enough progress on confronting climate threat – John Kerry
Record, sizzling temperatures in Europe and North America have confirmed the existential threat to the way of life we take for granted. Scientists are alarmed, but not surprised. Their models predicted this, and there is worse to come. Record temperatures would have been “almost impossible” without human-induced climate change, leading scientists from the World Weather Attribution group concluded on 29 July. Climate change played a “really, really big role”.
John Kerry is President Biden’s Special Climate Envoy. He is the most significant international negotiator on climate matters. He detailed the ominous realities and failings to James Naughtie on the BBC’s World This Weekend on 24 July 2022. Here is an edited selection of his remarks.
We’re making some progress, we are moving forward. But we’re not making enough progress. And we’re not moving forward fast enough.
But people are scared. Partly because of what’s happening with Ukraine. Partly that the gas situation in Europe, particularly, the inflation that we’ve all suffered.
But on the other hand, the steps we need to take to deal with the climate crisis, most of them are in fact anti-inflationary. They will lower the prices of energy. And they will create jobs as well as provide better health and security for countries. So hopefully, we can turn this around and accelerate what we promised to do in Glasgow.
I will say very pointedly and adamantly - we’re behind. We do not have the luxury of jiggering with the 2050 right now. Because we are currently headed to a warming of planet of somewhere between 2.5 degrees and 3.5 degrees centigrade.
The world is already warmed to 1.1, close to 1.2 degrees. Now! The cushion we have between 1.5 and that is obviously tiny. And we see what’s happening with the damages on the planet at 1.1 degrees. Imagine when you get to 1.5. Every tenth of a degree that we warm is going to cost us trillions more dollars. So whatever tax giveaway there is now at the expense of climate is going to be absolutely superseded by the costs of damage.
Is China moving on climate with the dramatic commitments needed? In conversations with the leadership in Beijing. John Kerry says it has become obvious that President Xi Jinping has changed gear.
I think he is moving. No question about it. And I think President Xi is very directly responsible for making those decisions. He is directly involved and engaged in the climate challenge.
And China faces the same challenges as people do in the other parts of the world. This is affecting their population. This will affect their food production. This will affect the quality of life. And their citizens want cleaner air and safer economy too.
So I think you’re seeing a movement. Now China will say, well, we have to be able to prevent having brownouts and blackouts, and we have to be able to move. We think they can do that.
President Biden faces mid term elections in November. Can he turn climate into an issue that grabs the imagination and the commitment of not just his own supporters, but also those who wonder where the US goes next?
Let me be crystal clear. President Biden has already put this on the front burner of the administration. But this is not something where he or I, or others have to struggle to get people to understand what’s happening.
Let me tell you, Mother Nature’s doing that job very, very effectively. And the fact is that among people, 30 years old and younger, this is the top issue. This is already the number one issue and it should be because it’s existential. It’s about life itself. And we’re seeing the consequences of not doing it.
Millions, tens of millions of people are going to be affected by food production losses in places like Africa, South Asia and elsewhere. The heat already is not something the human body is made to live in and work in. And we’re seeing the consequence of that with extreme heat deaths at about 5 million a year. 15 million people a year are dying from that bad quality of air that comes from the pollution itself.
With political leaders struggling to implement the very tough measures needed to control emissions, is the private sector sensing new opportunities for investing in green research and development.
[The fact that] downstream impacts are not responding is something that people all around the world are now increasingly becoming personally aware of on a daily basis. Any politician that doesn’t understand that is really missing not just the basic facts, but also the politics of this moment.
The fact is that the private sector, many, many people are way ahead of the politicians. You have major corporations like FedEx and Salesforce, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Volvo, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, United Airlines …, 65% of global GDP has joined something called the First Movers Coalition, and they are now buying green products to send a market signal and create demand where it doesn’t exist.
So those CEOs know something that some of the politicians are not willing to acknowledge. And they employ millions upon millions of people around the world. And they’re committed to moving.
How much more difficult does it become because of the Ukrainian crisis and the global instability that it is producing?
Well, it is more difficult. There’s no question. Is it more difficult? Absolutely. But we’re capable of managing. And we do manage multiple crises at the same time. This is not outside of our power to be able to manage what is happening.
I believe in diplomacy, I always have. War is the failure of diplomacy. And I think that we have space here to be able to work out these differences, I still believe we have the ability to be able to come back together, it may take a while. It’s not easy.
But there is a reason place of reasonableness. We’ve been there ever since World War Two. The structure that we built around the world is a reflection of the values and the principles in which we structured that world order after that war. And I think what’s happened in Ukraine is that the world has come together.
I think what we’ve stood up in Ukraine is critical to whatever future we have on this planet. Because those values, and those principles are so important. And by the way they have proven themselves to be so extraordinarily effective and helping the world to make progress during those years.
Even though we had the violence we have today, fewer people are dying violently today than at any time in human history. And we’ve cured diseases that we never thought we’d cure. And we’ve come together to deal with Ebola, to deal with AIDS, to deal now with the pandemic.
So I think we have to use the successes that we have to encourage us to believe more in our ability to be able to make a difference. And that’s what keeps a lot of people going. I think that we absolutely can work through multiple crises at the same time.