Kerry: Climate talks should have done more on pollution cuts

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FILE - U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry speaks during a session on accelerating clean energy at the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, Nov. 9, 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said the international global warming talks didnt do enough to speed up cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

WASHINGTON – U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said last month’s international global warming talks didn’t do enough to speed up cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases.

Kerry told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that there was progress on some aspects of reducing carbon pollution during the United Nations summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. But he said there could and should have been much more and that what was done on the issue was overshadowed by a historic, but what he called potentially “pyrrhic,” agreement to establish a compensation fund for poor nations victimized by a warming world.

“We needed to significantly accelerate the reduction of emissions," Kerry said. "I would have liked to have seen greater outcome from Sharm with respect to mitigation,” which is what climate negotiators call cutting carbon pollution. “But we’re just going to have to keep pushing,” he added.

“We have to increase the mitigation and that’s the one thing that I thought should have been highlighted even more,” Kerry said. “There was forward movement very clearly at increased ambition, but I think it needed to do more.”

Hours after the talks in Egypt ended, United Nations climate chief Simon Stiell said the world “stood still” on emission cuts, but that it's acceptable, given the compensation fund creation amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent energy crisis and inflation.

The United States supported an unsuccessful push by India to include natural gas and oil in existing international agreements that call for the phase down of “unmitigated coal” use, meaning emissions that are not captured or cleaned. But with natural gas-exporting Egypt acting as host and president of the meeting and thus setting the agenda, the issue was not on any final proposed documents.

“I wish I had been around for that part of the debate. I was out of commission with COVID at the moment during that part of it,” said Kerry, who has recovered from the illness. “We have to continue to push forward with the reduction of unmitigated use of fossil fuel because that’s what’s creating the damage in the world.

“It’s the emissions that are creating the problem,” Kerry said. “I don’t think we have a lot of leeway here. We’ve got to accelerate that effort.”

Key to that is China, the world’s No. 1 carbon dioxide polluting nation, with Kerry saying “there is no way to realistically resolve the climate crisis without being engaged with China.”

Earlier this year, China put on hold all talks, including on climate, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. But after Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met in Bali during the second week of climate talks in Egypt, Kerry and his Chinese counterpart resumed one-on-one discussions at the summit. But no new deals were struck.

“We ran out of time in Sharm El-Sheikh,” Kerry said. “I look forward to picking up the conversation when we have a chance.”

Kerry pointed to increases in planned emissions cuts by Mexico, Egypt and Vietnam as positives. He also highlighted a $10 billion aid plan from western countries to help Indonesia switch to renewable fuels and promises by more countries to cut emissions of methane, which is more potent than carbon dioxide but doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere.

Kerry also noted that the head of the International Energy Agency said if all countries did what they promised, future warming could be limited to 1.7 degrees Celsius (3.1 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times, an improvement of a tenth of a degree from projections a year earlier. The global goal is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), and the world has already warmed 1.1 degrees (2 degrees Fahrenheit).

The 1.7 estimate included “a huge ‘but’ with exclamation points" because it depends on nations doing what they pledge and “almost every nation in the world is not doing enough to keep the promises they set,” Kerry said.

Failure to deliver is one of the potential issues with the creation of a fund to aid poor nations victimized by climate disasters, Kerry said. Those nations had been pushing for a fund for more than 30 years — an issue called loss and damage by negotiators — and this year it was put on the agenda for the first time and approved.

Who puts in the money, how much and how it is to be distributed is yet to be figured out, Kerry said. He agreed with French President Emmanuel Macron who was dubious about celebrating over something still so amorphous.

“It’s a little bit pyrrhic until you have the full understanding of how it’s going to work,” Kerry said, adding that it all still comes back to cutting carbon pollution that causes the disasters.

“Because if you don’t, you’re going to have an impossible equation where you simply can’t find enough money to take care” of disaster victims, he said.


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