Energy & Environment

John Kerry issues warning over climate, calls on China to step up on emissions cuts

John Kerry gives a speech at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London on July 20, 2021.

TOLGA AKMEN | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has issued a stark warning on climate change, saying the suffering brought about by the Covid pandemic would be “magnified many times over in a world that does not grapple with, and ultimately halt, the climate crisis.” He called on China to do more.

In a speech Tuesday in London, Kerry sought to emphasize the magnitude of the challenge facing the planet.

“The climate crisis, my friends, is the test of our times,” he said. “And while some may still believe it is unfolding in slow motion, no, this test is now as acute and as existential as any previous one.”

The former U.S. secretary of State is due on Thursday to attend a G-20 ministerial meeting in Italy focused on the environment, climate and energy.

In his speech, he also stressed the need for geopolitical cooperation, acknowledging that “no country and no continent alone can solve the climate crisis.”

Regarding China, Kerry noted that “a foundational building block” of its growth had stemmed from “a staggering amount of fossil fuel use,” and he called on Beijing to step up when it comes to cutting emissions.

In a remotely delivered address to the United Nations General Assembly last September, Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country was targeting peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.

Kerry said China needs to do more.

“As a large country, an economic leader and now the largest driver of climate change, China absolutely can help lead the world to success by peaking and starting to reduce emissions early during this critical decade of 2020 to 2030,” he said.  

“The truth is there’s no alternative, because without sufficient reduction by China, together with the rest of us, the goal of 1.5 degrees is essentially impossible.”

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The goal refers to the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.”

World leaders will gather for the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland, scheduled for Nov. 1 to 12. It’s seen as a crucial event, with many hoping it will act as a catalyst for governments to step up their climate ambitions in order to meet the targets set out in the Paris accord.

“Glasgow is the place, 2021 is the time and we can, in a little more than 100 days, save the next 100 years,” Kerry said.

While there is an undoubted sense of urgency about COP26, reality shows just how big a challenge achieving climate-related goals will be in the years ahead.

On the same day that Kerry made his speech, the International Energy Agency said only a few governments’ recovery spending in response to the Covid pandemic has been allocated to clean energy measures.

The IEA’s analysis notes that as of the second quarter of this year, the world’s governments had set aside roughly $380 billion for “energy-related sustainable recovery measures.” This represents about 2% of recovery spending, it said.

In a statement issued alongside its analysis, the IEA explained just how much work needs to be done to meet climate-related targets.

“The sums of money, both public and private, being mobilised worldwide by recovery plans fall well short of what is needed to reach international climate goals,” it said.

Indeed, the Paris-based organization is forecasting that carbon dioxide emissions will hit record levels in 2023, with “no clear peak in sight.”

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