June 22, 2021

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John Kerry on Achieving Biden’s Climate Goals: NPR

John Kerry on Achieving Biden's Climate Goals: NPR

Presidential Special Climate Envoy John Kerry tells NPR that the United States, China and other large emitters are not doing enough to stem climate change.

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Presidential Special Climate Envoy John Kerry tells NPR that the United States, China and other large emitters are not doing enough to stem climate change.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

President Biden has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% from 2005 levels by 2030.

It is an ambitious goal that requires a large part of the economy to be transformed. Renewable energy is expected to make up half of the US electricity supply by around 21% currently. Electric cars now account for around 2% of sales: by 2030, at least half, potentially all, of new car sales are expected to be electric, according to estimates. Many industrial manufacturing plants are expected to use technologies that have not been developed.

It is part of Biden’s effort to get the United States on track to meet the 2015 Paris climate agreement goals to prevent global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal, but Biden formally joined.

John Kerry is Biden’s special envoy for climate, a position that calls for meeting with countries around the world on efforts to stem emissions.

He calls the threat of climate change “existential”.

“This means life and death. And the question is, are we acting like it is? And the answer is no,” Kerry said in an interview with NPR’s. All things considered.

This interview has been edited for greater length and clarity and includes extended responses for the web only.

Highlights of the interview

It’s more a matter of shooting the moon and if you miss it, will you at least land among the stars?

No, I think it is achievable. And I think people who have really studied, analyzed and pondered it over a long period of time believe it is achievable.

Already the [car] the market is moving towards the electric. I mean, you know, Joe Biden didn’t create Tesla’s value as the world’s most valuable auto company. The market did it. And the market did it because that’s where people move.

The extent of the change you speak of in the required time frame is something we have never seen in human history.

Let me put it this way for you. How many politicians, how many scientists, how many people stood up and said, “This is existential for us on this planet”? Existential. This means life and death. And the question is, are we acting like it is? And the answer is no.

So why are people of the younger generation so angry? Why do they stand up and demonstrate and ask adults to accept the responsibility of adults to move our nations in the right direction? Because scientists tell them. They learn it in high school and college. They read. They know what’s going on. They know we are experiencing the hottest day in human history, the hottest week, the hottest month, the hottest year. And let’s see the results. Fires, floods, mudslides, droughts, crop disruptions, melting Arctic ice, make up the list.

Climate change is still seen as a partisan issue in the United States, and Republicans could take control of Congress next year. A Republican could win the White House in three years. So why should global leaders view this as a reliable commitment from the United States when the leaders of the GOP have not accepted?

For two reasons. No. 1, when Donald Trump was president of the United States and withdrew from the deal, 37 governors in the United States, Republicans and Democrats alike, stood up and said, “We’re still in.” And the states, those 37 states, passed laws on renewable portfolios. So at the state level, people move because they know it’s best for their state. It is a safer and better delivery of power to their state, and it is the way it will move.

The second part of the answer: masses of capital, trillions of dollars, will move into the energy market, which is the largest market the world has ever seen and will now grow. Multiple trillions of double-digit market dollars. And no politician can come and tell those banks, those wealth managers, those investors, those venture capitalists or the corporations, companies that are doing this, that they know this is where the market is going to be in the future.

If the $ 2 trillion in infrastructure and work plan that the president has presented does not pass to the Senate, this goal of halving emissions by 2030 in fact dies with the bill?

Well, he doesn’t die, but it sure takes a hard, serious blow. But the companies I’ve talked about will move in this direction no matter what happens. I mean, if you look at the biggest companies in America, these people are pushing for this because they know the world will get better and their businesses will get better if we do. This is a real challenge for all of us and I think people are noticing it all over the world.

Let me ask you a question. Why do you think 40 heads of state, including Chinese President Xi, Russian President Putin, Indian Prime Minister Modi, huge populations gather and say, “We have to do this”? Do they know something that some of these opponents do not know or are unwilling to admit? I mean, the only leader in the world who saw fit to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was Donald Trump.

But it’s so easy to make commitments, and we haven’t seen countries deliver on those commitments.

This is accurate. They are doing things; they are not doing enough. There are very few countries that are doing enough. Most countries are not. And of the 20 countries that account for 81% of all emissions, it is the critical ones that need to do the most. And we are among them. We are 15% of all global emissions. China is 30%. Does China need to do more? Absolutely. All 20 need to do more.

Vincent Acovino and Andrea Hsu produced and edited the audio interview. James Doubek produced for the web.