No United States President can walk back on climate change commitments now: John Kerry 

No United States President can walk back on climate change commitments now: John Kerry 

The U.S. Special Envoy for Climate says America is committed to the $100-billion annual fund for developing countries, blames Trump for delay

According to United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, no future American President can walk back from climate change commitments now. Mr. Kerry has blamed former U.S. President Donald Trump for walking out on the Paris agreement and rescinding climate financing offers. In an interview to The Hindu, Mr. Kerry, who is in India for a G20 meeting on climate change issues, said he was still hopeful about a consensus statement, but wouldn’t commit to the U.S. compromising over language on the Ukraine war in order to reach such a consensus.

How far along are talks on climate change ahead of the G20 summit, and particularly since we’re a couple of months away from the CoP28 meeting in Dubai?

 On the CoP28, I think that the parties are working hard, meeting pretty regularly and a considerable amount of progress has been made. There are three outcomes that are already predetermined: we have to have a stocktaking; we have to have an adaptation report. And in addition, we have a loss and damage fund that’s been created that has to now take shape. So, those are three already in the pipeline. Because of what’s happening in the planet — and the science and evidence, we have an imperative to try to raise ambition, speed and quantity. And we have an imperative to try to establish a better finance track in order for emerging economies and less developed countries to be able to make the transition. So it’s a big agenda.

We had an excellent meeting between Prime Minister [Modi] and President [Biden] in June that really set the stage for a level of cooperation that will make a difference. I think that India and the United States really have a synergy right now. Recognising that we need to push technologies, we need to reduce greenhouse gas pollution as rapidly as we can. We need to improve our supply chains, particularly, so that we’re not being held hostage by any place in the world. And I think that there was a real understanding between Prime Minister Modi and President Biden, about the commonality of the agenda and the way they see the world. 

What does that mean in climate terms? India, for example, has not accepted a mid-Century Net Zero target. Prime Minister Modi himself has only spoken about 2070 so far…

 Well, I think India is showing a great deal of ambition. India has of its own volition set a very ambitious goal of deploying 500 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030. That’s a big goal. And we’re very supportive of that. We’ve invested very heavily in a new solar plant that’s here in India. I think our leaders agreed that it would be really good for us to be able to come to agreement on a national fund that we’re both contributing to in order to accelerate the transition. I think that there are great skill sets in India with respect to technology, science, research and development. And we see some really, very positive ways in which we’re able to cooperate to bring new technologies to scale, whether it’s hydrogen or battery storage, turbines, solar panels. This transition does not have to be frightening to people. It is an exciting moment where there’s more economic opportunity globally than there has been since the industrial revolution in the 1800s. 

That’s on a bilateral scale. But when it comes to the multilateral, India is part of the developing world, the U.S. is part of the developed world. What is the U.S. willing to pay to the Loss and Damage Fund? I ask this because, earlier, there was a U.S. commitment to help raise $100 billion every year, between 2020 and 2025. We haven’t seen that come through yet.

 The reason we haven’t seen it yet is that we had a President [Trump] who pulled out of the Paris agreement a number of years ago, and who didn’t put any money into the Climate Fund. So, when President Biden [took charge], he began the first year of his presidency with Donald Trump’s budget, not his own. He didn’t get to do his own budget until last year, and now this is his second budget. And we do have money in there to be able to try to reach the $100 billion. That’s a real obligation that the United States obviously will make good on. And the President has been very clear about that.

What about the future? If Mr. Trump or the Republicans return to power in next year’s U.S. election and decide to walk out of whatever deal your government signs? Have any guardrails been put in place to ensure that the U.S. doesn’t walk out as it did once from the Paris Agreement?

 Well, there’s no way to pre-handicap the ability of any President to prohibit some particular action. But look. I predicted that Joe Biden would be elected President last time, and I’m quite confident that he’s going to be re-elected again, because of the outstanding legislative record that he has. I’m not allowed to get into the politics of all of this. But I will say this. No President, whatever party, whenever, could come in now and stop what is happening. It’s too big. 

CEOs of major companies of the world, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Salesforce, Boeing, financial institutions, have all made the decision that people need to take climate seriously. So, I don’t see Ford Motor Company or General Motors, which have now retooled their factories to make electric cars, going backwards. The days of the internal combustion engine are numbered, and people are going to transition because it’s clean. India will produce many of those vehicles and so will the United States and other countries. I think it’s a great moment. And the world is just waking up to all of these possibilities.

At the G20, we have seen other differences between the developed world and the developing world — for example, on why developed countries only speak of cutting coal, when all fossil fuels are non-renewable? India also wants the term “phase down” for coal rather than “phase out”. Will there be a common text on climate change at the G20?

 I can’t tell you what the common language will be…. [But] I don’t believe that we can’t find some common language that respects the reality that we must reduce emissions: either capture them and do something constructive with them, or not to make them in the first place. It’s one or the other. And, and what we need to do is find the way as fast as possible to empower people to transition out of unabated fossil-fuel-burning, because that’s what’s killing people and creating fires, and massive storms, and unbelievable floods. And, the quality of air that kills about 8 million people a year on the planet. This is not rocket science. I think it should be fairly easy for responsible nations to come to the table and say, “This is what we have got to do”. Now, some people feel that fossil fuel has had its day, but I think the marketplace is going to decide what happens in that regard.

The G20 joint communiqué, or leaders’ declaration, is stuck over the language on Ukraine. Some G20 countries suggest that G7 countries should realise that the real priority right now are climate change, energy transitions, and development, and take a step back from its position on including Ukraine, so that a joint communiqué can be issued

 The climate crisis is a global crisis, even as Ukraine has its global components, because it’s a reflection of international law. And that international law says that you don’t invade nations simply to expand territory and kill people in ways that remind you of the worst of World War Two. So, I think that there’s a reason people are concerned about expressing something about the inappropriateness of an unprovoked invasion of another country…

China, for example, says geopolitical issues should not be put on this forum, which is geared towards development. Russia says, well, if you’re going to discuss this war, why not all the other wars that have taken place in the last 20 years? Would you recommend pulling back on some of the Ukraine language, in order to bring a joint statement?

 I need to see the latest iteration of the language and where we are and make recommendations based on it. It’s important for global meetings, and countries that they adhere to international standards, the UN charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And I think that in great democracies, particularly, we should not shy away from speaking out. But I don’t want to prejudge the outcome.

On the subject of democracies, over the last few years, we’ve seen the Indian government shut down funding for NGOs — Greenpeace, Sequoia, European Climate Fund, etc. Have you discussed this with Indian authorities?

 Sure. Well, we in the United States believe in free speech and the ability of people to be able to voice their concerns. I know in India, you have a very, very active democracy, and you have a very hearty, ongoing, regular debate. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen its vitality. I’m not going to comment on some individual situation that I’m really not directly familiar with. But I’m quite confident that India is going to continue to make its contribution to the democratic process and I’m sure that activists here in India will continue to work through thatas we do in the United States on a regular basis.

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