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

The United States’ climate envoy John Kerry issued a stark warning on Tuesday, claiming that the suffering brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic would be “magnified many times over in a world that does not grapple with, and ultimately halt, the climate crisis.” 

In a speech delivered in London, Kerry — who on Thursday is due to attend a G20 ministerial meeting in Italy focused on the environment, climate and energy — 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.”

Former Secretary of State Kerry also stressed the need for geopolitical cooperation, acknowledging that “no country and no continent alone can solve the climate crisis.”

Turning to China, Kerry noted that “a foundational building block” of its growth had stemmed from “a staggering amount of fossil fuel use” and called on it to step up when it came 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 the year 2060. For his part, Kerry claimed China needed 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 went on to add.  

“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.”

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

Later this year, world leaders are set to gather for the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland. 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, the reality on the ground 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 small chunk of governments’ recovery spending in response to the Covid-19 pandemic had 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 approximately 2% of recovery spending, it said.

In a statement issued alongside its analysis, the IEA explained just how much work needed to be done in order for climate related targets to be met.

“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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