John Kerry, United States climate envoy speaks at the United Nations’ COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland on Tuesday, Nov 2, 2021, about the Global Methane Pledge. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times
John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s global climate envoy, warned nations Thursday that the world is “not on a good track” to meet its goal of pivoting away from fossil fuels in order to avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change.
At a virtual meeting of the world’s most polluting countries — including China, Russia and Saudi Arabia — Kerry asked ministers to outline what their governments are doing to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to follow through on promises made at a United Nations climate summit last year in Glasgow, Scotland.
The meeting was the first gathering since the Glasgow conference of leaders from major economies as well as small island nations and other countries particularly vulnerable to climate change. Although just more than two months have passed since the meeting, Kerry said change was not happening fast enough.
“One thing is clear: We all must move faster in this decade to accelerate the transition from coal to renewables,” Kerry said in a statement after the closed-door meeting.
He was more blunt at an event sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce this week.
“We’re in trouble. I hope everyone can understand that,” Kerry said. “Not trouble we can’t get out of. But we’re not on a good track.”
Nations have vowed to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with preindustrial levels. That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say the dangers of devastating sea level rise, heat waves, drought and wildfires rise significantly. The world has already warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius.
Kerry noted in a statement that the world used 9% more coal last year than in 2020 and that nearly 300 gigawatts of new coal power is in the construction pipeline. That comes at a time when the International Energy Agency has said countries must shut down at least 870 gigawatts of coal in the next eight years to have a hope of keeping global temperatures at bay.
“Far from building new plants, we need to be shutting down existing plants,” Kerry said.
Few countries, including the United States, have the policies in place to meet their individual climate goals.
Biden promised to cut America’s greenhouse gas emissions up to 52% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade. Legislation critical to meeting that goal, however, is stalled in Congress.
Questions remain about a promise at the heart of the deal in Glasgow: Countries agreed to spend this year developing new climate targets to more aggressively cut their emissions.
But there are discouraging signs. The United States is not expected to put forward new goals, Kerry said. Neither is Australia, even though it is considered a climate laggard.
On Thursday, Steven Guilbeault, the Canadian environment minister, said his country would not submit a new target. Guilbeault said that Canada had increased its ambition before the Glasgow summit, pledging to cut emissions 40% to 45% below 2005 levels this decade.
“I’m not saying it doesn’t apply to us and we’re shutting the door to the possibility of further increasing our targets,” Guilbeault said. But the government is focusing on meeting goals it has already set, he said.
President Xi Jinping of China this week suggested that he would not reduce emissions at the expense of other priorities like food and energy security “to ensure the normal life of the masses.” China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.
At Thursday’s meeting, countries discussed working together to cut methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that seeps into the atmosphere from oil and gas wells, and set collective goals regarding electric vehicles and green energy from wind, solar or other sources.
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