Kerry on Climate Change: We Need to Make up for an ‘Inexcusable Absence’ by the U.S. Over the Past Four Years

‘All countries need to do better’

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RUSH TRANSCRIPT:

DUNDAS: “Hello and a very warm welcome to the ‘France 24’ interview, I’m Mairead Dundas. In his first day in office, President Joe Biden kept his word, rejoining the Paris agreement and pledging sweeping action to curb the climate crisis. And the man charged with leading U. S. efforts was in fact here in Paris when the landmark deal was adopted as U. S. Secretary of State. Today he’s the President’s most trusted voice on what many consider the most critical issue of our era. John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, also known as climate czar, many thanks for joining us.”

KERRY: “Thank you. Thanks for having me.”

DUNDAS: “It’s fair to say that it’s been a tumultuous year for the United States and climate change in the previous years. Are you here in Europe simply to win back the trust of other nations?”

KERRY: “Well, we need obviously the backup for an inexcusable absence by the United States for the last four years, even as a lot of our mayors and governors continued to live by the Paris agreement. But needless to say, we don’t think we can just walk back in and say, ‘Hey...’ We’ve got to earn our spurs, we’ve got to do things. But we’re here because we need to work together. It is critical that Europe and U. K. now join together to be on the same page. We have to harmonize our efforts. Our economies represent two of the biggest economies in the world writ large, and I think it’s critical for us to work through how we are going to make the most of Glasgow. We’re not here to point fingers at one country or another. We’re here to get the job done according to what the scientists tell us, not ideologically-driven, not to politics. This is about listening to the science and responding so that future generations know that we’ve done what we need to do to get the job done.”

DUNDAS: “Earning back trust, however, means taking action back at home. Is there a risk that President Joe Biden has promised too much too soon?”

KERRY: “No, I don’t think he’s promised too much too soon. He’s promised we’re going to be engaged. He promised he would rejoin Paris, he did that within hours of being sworn in. He promised he would take steps to get the government moving in this direction, so we issued executive orders which make this an all-of-government endeavor. And he promised that he was going to build and show leadership heading towards Glasgow. And Glasgow is a critical moment for all of us — not for America, not for U.K. or France, but for the world. We have to come together to make good on the promises that were made in Paris. Right now we’re not., no one. And the U. N. climate framework group has made it clear all countries need to do better, need to raise their ambitions. That was the purpose of the setting of goals for Glasgow and that’s the purpose for the next ten years. This must be the decade of decision and the decade of action, and every country is required to step up.”

DUNDAS: “Now we don’t yet know the U.S. emission reduction target, we’re going to hear it in the next few weeks ahead of the summit on April 22nd. Many, of course, are speculating what would be an appropriate target.”

KERRY: “We’ve heard lots of appropriate.”

DUNDAS: “Well, at least 50 percent reduction by 2030, ideally closer to 60. Could you say that that the target is going to fall within this range?”

KERRY: “No, I can’t say anything for the simple reason that the decision has not been made and I don’t know. We have a team of people working diligently with every agency of the U. S. government, listening to people, figuring out how can we do better, how do we do more. And that decision will be made in the ensuing weeks. The president has committed that it will be announced at or just before the climate summit.”

DUNDAS: “Now, we often hear that Covid-19 could, in fact, help effects to to fight climate change, but how do you reboot an economy quickly without relying on energy-guzzling measures or processes that are currently in place?”
KERRY: “Well, obviously for the first few days, weeks and months, you’re not going to build a new plant, you’re not going to — but decisions can be made, it can be put in place. And we need to build back better. That’s what President Biden has been asking us all to do. And every country is going to be allocating new money. Every country is going to be making a decision about what kind of power they’re going to use or where they’re going to go. The key is to put in place the curve that takes you to the reductions over this period of time. We have an enormous challenge in the United States with our infrastructure. We saw what happened in Texas just a few weeks ago. We need to build a much more effective smart grid in our country, and President Biden has already stated that he intends to introduce a major infrastructure bill. That can carry with it the opportunity to build back better, have a better the energy grid, develop new kinds of energy, become much more effective and efficient, and that’s what I think the President is focused on doing. So every country can do that, if you start now to make the plans and put in place the decision-making that helps that to happen.”

DUNDAS: “We have to accept emissions going up in the short term?”

KERRY: “No, we don’t have to. That could change very rapidly and in certain places. There are many — for instance, there are many coal plants operating in various places at 50 percent efficiency. There are many that are losing money where alternatives, in fact, are available, but they’re not having access to the grid, they can’t get to the marketplace. They’re different things that could be done just as matter of executive decisions that could quickly begin the process of moving faster. And I think that part of that is what President Biden hopes will be talked about at the summit he is hosting on April 22nd. The major emitting nations, the major economies of the world will be invited to this summit, plus smaller, vulnerable, affected countries, Bangladesh, the island Pacific states and others, so that everybody is sharing a vision for how we can address this crisis thoughtfully. But I know that — that the President is is deeply committed to seeing the 20 biggest emitter countries that equal 81 percent of all emissions, they’ve got to take the lead, they’ve got to step up and be serious about raising the ambition . And that’s the key to Glasgow, it’s also the key to the President’s summit.”

DUNDAS: “You’re of course here in France and you have met with President Emmanuel Macron during your stay here. On the world stage, the French president bills himself as somewhat of a climate champion, but back here he’s facing increasing pressure for failing to live up to his promises. Is France doing enough?”

KERRY: “Well, France is working very, very hard, and I congratulate and thank President Macron. He has been a leader, he has stepped up, he did a lot during the time that Donald Trump took the United States out of this agreement and he helped Europe to step up. And there were others, he wasn’t alone in that, but Europe but did a terrific job. We’re grateful for that. But President Macron put together his civilian commission here, they’ve come up with a huge number, 149 different proposals —“

DUNDAS: “But only a small percentage were taken on board to go into —“

KERRY: “Well, before the parliament now. And I understand the parliament will have a vote on a number of those. I’ve met with France’s minister of finance Bruno Le Maire and I met with the environment minister. They’re all committed to trying to make this a success, so, look, you can’t measure people before it’s done, but boy, we are pleased with the effort that’s being made and the leadership that’s being shown. And I hope France will adopt many of these — I don’t know all of the measures, I’m not going to start endorsing one or the other, but we need leadership and I think that Europe is in a prime position, it’s already set a very strong global Europe target of 55 percent reduction, that’s solid, and I think Europe is going to be key to helping us get on track and helping us to make Glasgow a success.”

DUNDAS: “You said that you won’t single out any country, including China, the world’s largest emitter, but this approach, this gentle approach of ‘We won’t name and shame’ has really led us to still a 3.7 degree temperature rise at least. Is it time to change the strategy?”

KERRY: “Well, that’s not the strategy that’s led us there. People have been very explicit about some of the problems of what’s got us there, and I’ve been very explicit. I’ll tell you right now again, it’s because those 20 countries, none of them, us included, have cut enough. So we’re not pointing fingers. If we are, it’s at ourselves among others. But everybody in that group, China is 30 percent of all the emissions in the world, United States is second with 15 percent, the E.U. is third, India is fourth. If you took India — if you don’t have the E.U. as an individual entity, India is third and then Russia and so forth. So all of those countries have to really join together to reduce these emissions in a community globally responsible, multinational fashion. And we accept our responsibility also to do our part, and more if possible, and that’s what we’re going to do. President Biden’s leadership has been very clear. He’s going to do everything we can to help America to make up for the last four years and to prepare the future.”

DUNDAS: “Just a couple weeks ago, the United Nations chief Antonio Guterres challenged all major polluters to phase out coal by 2030. Is that something that the U.S. can can meet?”
KERRY: “Well, the United States — President Biden has already said that by 2035 he’s set a goal of having carbon-free production of power in the United States. Now everybody is looking at what the pace ought to be, how we can get there, how do we blend this, but clearly we’ve been — coal has been shutting down in America under Donald Trump. Under President Trump, coal-fired power plants closed, despite the rhetoric. And so this is already, you know, a graph that’s headed in this direction. And what we’re trying to figure out right now is what is the pace, what can happen, how do you make sure you’re taking care of any people who are caught in this transformation, helping them, helping those communities. That has to be an essential part of this. And I think President and the team are evaluating all of that right now.”

DUNDAS: “And just finally, many people, including fellow American and Microsoft founder Bill Gates believes that we need a technological breakthrough to really fight this climate crisis. Are you too willing, wishing, hoping and praying for an energy miracle?”

KERRY: “Well, it would be great to have an energy miracle, absolutely. Are you kidding? It’s not what we’re relying on. That’s why we’re taking the steps we’re taking, because you can’t sit around and say we’re going to wait for it. But would a miracle be helpful to everybody on the planet? Yeah. If we could get — if we could have a battery breakthrough and suddenly you have 25 or 30 days of battery storage, or if you had a breakthrough on nuclear which suddenly made it impossible to have a meltdown, impossible to have a waste problem, impossible to have a proliferation issue and so forth and it was affordable, then maybe that’s a road we go down. Hydrogen — hydrogen is a potential miracle if we can move fast enough and create that transformation. So, bottom line, you know, the President, as much of a person of faith as he is who would welcome the miracle, his job requires him not to sit around and wait for it. It’s to help create it. It’s to help create something that addresses this challenge. And we will do it in a way that is not Republican or Democrat or liberal or conservative, we’ll do it based on the science and on the practical steps that can work for us as a country and for the world. We have to do better than we’re doing today. Can we? Absolutely. Can we do it in time to make the difference? That’s the test. And we obviously feel a deep responsibility to try to make sure we do.”

DUNDAS: “John Kerry, many thanks for joining us here on ‘France 24.’”

KERRY: “Thank you.”

DUNDAS: “Many thanks for watching. Don’t go anywhere because we’ve got more news coming up.”

 

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