COP27 and International Climate Action: A Conversation With John Kerry
John Kerry discusses the U.S. international climate effort ahead of COP27, the upcoming 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
SCHIFRIN: Good morning, everyone. I think this is set for the secretary, not for me. (Laughs.) Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations event with Secretary John Kerry. I am Nick Schifrin. I’m the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour.
The audience today consists of you all here in the room, as well as Council members online.
Secretary Kerry needs no introduction: former lieutenant, former assistant district attorney, former lieutenant governor, former senator, former presidential candidate, former secretary of state, and currently special presidential envoy for climate. Sir, the floor is yours. Thank you.
KERRY: Nick, thank you very, very much. And good morning to everybody. It’s a delight to be here.
I appreciate my most recent introduction. You know, they always say “needs no introduction” and you’re sitting there desperately wanting an introduction. (Laughter.) But anyway, honest moment.
I appreciate everybody being here early in the morning, and I particularly am grateful to be at the CFR—Council on Foreign Relations—today because of the announcement last week by Richard Haass. Richard, as all of us who have been privileged to be members of the Council know, what a difference his leadership has made here for twenty years. And, Richard, you came here with a mandate to modernize while renewing the Council’s mission to bring the best minds together to make the world safer. You have presciently placed the climate crisis at the center of your new initiatives. And I thank you and many people thank you for that.
Among all of the centrifugal forces of these last twenty years, all vying to pull the world apart in many ways, the climate crisis still looms largest as the issue that will change life unalterably. Now, that may sound grandiose, but it is no exaggeration. Existential means existential. It demands that we all work together, because no country can resolve this crisis by itself. So it’s especially appropriate to be here, just twelve days before the gavel is going to come down at the COP-27 in Sharm el-Sheikh—and with it, a major accountability moment on this urgent issue.
Today, each of these twelve days before we gather together in Egypt are days to pull together the remaining threads of potential progress. It might surprise some people—(laughs)—to hear that even in this year of political tumult and testing, the global climate fight has pushed on step by step, mile by mile, not just in the weeks leading up to the COP. Even if the work was off the front pages, my friends, the reasons why that work had to proceed full speed ahead was dramatically displayed in the daily lives of people all around the world, an unprecedented year.
Here at home we have suffered fifteen separate billion-dollar extreme weather disasters in just the first three quarters of this year. We saw the Western United States face the worst drought in 1,200 years and the images of Lake Mead at its driest since its creation before World War II, bringing home a very stark message that what was predicted is now happening at an accelerated pace.
And that’s just us. During the summer, the Arctic was seventy degrees above normal. The Antarctic was a hundred degrees above normal, Fahrenheit. And while three continents experienced record heat for the first time all on the same day.
Europe suffered record-breaking heatwaves. Germany’s Rhine River was inches deep in some parts—you could walk across—paralyzing commerce. In France, the most severe drought on record warmed river water so much that it couldn’t be used to cool the nuclear reactors that the country counts on for 70 percent of its energy. Devastating flooding in South Africa, Mozambique, and Uganda killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands.
No country was spared, no matter how large. No economy, no matter how powerful, was immune to this hottest year on record. After a 2021 in which unstoppable rains flooded Zhengzhou and families drowned to death on the subway, this year China suffered skyrocketing temperatures that slowed the Yangtze River to a muddy trickle.
And for anyone tempted to take their eyes off the ball, remember this: Based on what scientists are telling us, because of the damage already done to Earth and baked into the atmosphere, until we know how to remove emissions from the atmosphere and do something with them, even this past perilous year may well prove to be better than almost any year ahead of us unless we repair the planet at the pace that science demands and strengthen our adaptive capacity.
I am absolutely convinced we are going to get to a low-carbon/no-carbon economy. That’s now a decision that even the marketplace has made. What I’m not convinced of—and nor should anybody be—is that we will meet the challenge of the scientists to get there in time to avoid the worst consequences of this crisis.
Now, anyone who thought that the intense global focus on climate action would be or should be or could be deferred because of Russia’s grotesque invasion of Ukraine, they better think again. The climate crisis doesn’t wait for anyone. The threats don’t call in sick, folks. And neither can countries committed to action just sort of hit a pause button. And many of us didn’t.
Now, did Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine trigger some emergency, short-term increases in the use of coal? Yes. And did a few countries, citing everything from global inflation to post-COVID recovery, did they seek to go backwards on their Paris and Glasgow commitments, including at the G-20? Yes. Sadly, they did. And we should not be afraid to say that. Truth is the baseline for any choice that we face and you can’t build progress on self-delusion.
But make no mistake, many of the countries most dramatically affected by the collateral damage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have now courageously doubled down on remaking their economies and societies to address the climate crisis. Countries have come to the brutal realization that not only is the climate crisis a threat, but overdependence on fossil fuels has given dictators and despots the ability to weaponize energy. That is a prime reason for us to take the bullets out of their guns.
The good news is that, step by step, that is exactly what is happening. This year, the International Energy Agency says the growth of low-carbon electricity generation will lead to a decrease in global fossil-fuel demand. This year, for the very first time the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects renewables will generate more power in the United States than coal. Meanwhile, the European Union is radically accelerating investment in clean energy to power vehicles, buildings, and industry. Durable energy security is only going to be won with diversified clean energy.
And that is why there are actually reasons to be optimistic. We knew we came out of COP-26 in Glasgow with momentum. Almost two hundred nations came together and took unprecedented steps in the cause of the climate battle. They resolved to pursue efforts to limit the Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade and agreed that that was going to require reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by midcentury. Why? Because the scientists, the facts, the evidence are telling us that’s what we must do. No politics involved. No ideology. Math, physics.
Now, we made significant progress. In fact, the International Energy Agency said that if all the commitments made at COP-26 are implemented the rise in temperature would be limited to 1.8 degrees by 2050. When I heard that, I said, whoa, we can do this. That was with only 65 percent of the major economies.
That was a reprieve, not a resolution, folks. And that’s why we said that this year, headed towards COP-27, this year has to be the implementation-plus. The test this year is: Will countries put commitments into action? And will outlier countries that haven’t strengthened their commitments, will they step up? That’s the implementation and the plus.
Will the 122 countries that have signed the pledge to reduce methane by 30 percent globally build on a strong first year to deliver global progress quickly enough and an amazing impact? The potential of hitting that 2030 target is the reality of every ship in the world, every car in the world, every truck in the world, every airplane in the world going to zero by 2030. That is a goal worth achieving. So will the private sector follow through on the historic commitments that were made in Glasgow? These were the key questions as we left Glasgow, before we even knew the twists and the turns that 2022 was going to bring.
So, on the eve of COP-27, my friends, let’s take stock and start here in the United States, where I am proud to say that we are acting with the purpose required. The United States is poised to ratify an historic, bipartisan milestone to phase down super-polluting chemicals thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide, Kigali. And most significantly, Congress passed the biggest climate and clean-energy investment in American history. The IRA will create enough clean energy to power every home in America by 2030, deliver three times more clean energy on the electric grid, and slash carbon pollution by a billion metric tons annually by the end of this decade.
And the United States wasn’t alone in doing the hard work to make progress. Chile rewrote its constitution to confront what they call a climate and ecological emergency. A newly-elected government in Australia changed the country’s trajectory from global climate holdout to responsible leader, passing legislation to slash carbon emissions by 43 percent by 2030. In fact, many countries have heeded the Glasgow call to align their NDCs—their national determined contributions—with Paris.
In global aviation, which accounts for more than 2 percent of emissions, the ICAO Assembly just last month stepped up and adopted a target of net zero by 2050 for international aviation and an ambitious update to the requirement that airlines offset emissions if they didn’t reach the reduction.
And because you can’t solve the climate crisis, folks, without saving the oceans—they are critically integrated—and you can’t save the oceans without addressing the climate crisis, the Our Ocean Conference which we co-hosted in Palau produced commitments worth $16 billion and some four hundred commitments, and now a total of about—over a hundred billion dollars in the seven years that the conference is and about 1,400 different commitments.
But we also must remain sober-minded and focused. We all know that the top twenty economies are responsible for 80 percent of all the emissions. Consistent with the Glasgow outcome, those NDCs not yet aligned with the Paris temperature goal should be strengthened this year. That’s what people agreed to do. And most major economies have already signed up to NDC targets that do keep the promise of 1.5 degrees alive, but not all. And it takes all to get the job done.
India, the world’s third-largest emitting nation, has set an impressive target of building five hundred gigawatts of non-fossil-fuel power capacity by 2030. And we’re going to work with India as closely as they will let us to be able to help make that happen. This target is critical to the world’s quest to hold the 1.5-degree limit. And if India—when India gets there, they will be in compliance with the 1.5.
China emits 30 percent of global emissions, nearly triple the emissions of the United States. I have been and I remain unapologetic in advocating for engaging China on climate, not as a matter of ideology but as a simple question of the mathematics I referred to. We can’t solve this problem unless all of the major economies align with Paris, particularly the largest emitter. China is acting in an unbelievable pace, by the way, on the deployment of renewable energy, rapidly deploying renewables and electric vehicles—faster than anybody else in the world, mind you. But it is not acting quickly enough on CO2 or on covering all greenhouse gases in its goal. Now, last year China committed to stop financing new coal-fired power plants in other countries, yet it continues to build more new coal power plants domestically. Last year, in the U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration, China committed to release an ambitious plan by this COP to cut its methane pollution. And we had wanted to be working with them in the course of these last months. Obviously, that opportunity we lost for reasons everybody knows. But we look forward to an updated 2030 NDC from China which accelerates CO2 reductions and addresses all greenhouse gases within their target.
It's not just individual countries that have to lead; it’s in the aggregate of hundreds of different public and private commitments that we will make the most progress. And they are all on the table, front and center, as we head into this global gathering at Sharm el-Sheikh.
Sharm el-Sheikh is, in fact, a great opportunity to measure implementation of the Global Methane Pledge and the declarations in support of zero-emissions shipping and ending deforestation. It’s also a moment to celebrate the progress of the First Mover(s) Coalition that President Biden launched one year ago in Glasgow.
Now, one of the things that, frankly, excites me the most about this road we’re on is the promise of the private sector to accelerate and scale new clean technologies. They are critical to a future that doesn’t demand sacrifice, but instead promises prosperity. Already, the world today is installing more solar capacity than any other form of energy. I think a lot of people don’t—aren’t even aware of that. Renewables represented 80 percent of global energy capacity additions last year. Wind and solar are fast expanding and getting better technically and cheaper. Electric vehicle sales are booming, but they’re just the top of the list of a low-carbon toolkit that we need to forge and scale.
I was in Seattle last week where Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures hosted one of the world’s largest gatherings of clean-tech innovators, and I left more convinced than ever that exponential progress is within our grasp—not just within this generation, but within this decade. Think of synthetic aviation fuels made from green hydrogen and carbon dioxide, literally turning pollution into power. New approaches to clean-energy resources like geothermal and nuclear can provide—a next generation of nuclear—can provide a baseload foundation of zero-emissions energy for economies around the world. And countless other technologies, from carbon capture to long-duration energy storage to fusion and beyond, all of which can unlock even more pathways to clean-energy abundance.
So it falls upon the most able countries in the world, including the United States, to make the investments that will commercialize these technologies and lower their costs for the rest of the world. Now, President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act both will unleash at least half-a-trillion dollars in support for clean-energy deployment and cost reduction. This means investing in lowering the cost of clean hydrogen, of carbon capture, of clean fuels, and of the many more key technologies over the decade. By the time 2030 approaches, folks, we’re going to have made clean technologies much more accessible, much more affordable, for the rest of the world. And this will be felt in the rest of the world.
But key to winning this battle is securing the funding to be able to accelerate this transition. Public finance is an indispensable component, mostly to unlock private investment on a scale that is needed in order to finance the energy revolution, to de-risk, to create blended finance. Multilateral development banks are absolutely essential to this effort. We need to reimagine the MDB system that we began building after WWII. And now we need to deploy it in a different way, in order to win world war zero, which is the race to net zero.
Earlier this year Secretary Yellen called for a new Bretton Woods system. And she laid out a vision for that project before this month’s annual meetings that includes a modern framework for the World Bank. Germany and other key shareholders joined us in that effort. And borrowing countries all around the world are demanding change. It is time to act on redefining the multilateral development bank world. These essential institutions that rebuilt the world after World War II should not be trophies up on a shelf that we refer to. They have to be updated to address the crisis of this moment, and provide answers for now, not for nostalgia.
There are proposals on the table that could unlock several hundreds of billions of dollars in additional MDB lending capacity without requiring new shareholder capital, without threatening their financial stability, and without risking credit ratings downgrades. Not just as shareholders of the MDB’s, but as stewards of the planet, we have an obligation to consider each of these recommendations quickly, soon, and find value added as rapidly as we can. Business as usual—and there’s too much of it—is simply not an option.
So, yes, we’re asking a lot of these institutions. But that’s what they’re there for. And we have to ask even more. Historically, from pandemics to famine, MDBs have risen to the moment in times like this. And that has to continue and expand in the context of more frequent and more severe climate-related disasters, which we will experience. We need the MDBs to scale up finance for adaptation and resilience, and we need them, including today in a place like Pakistan, to ensure that countries have ready and affordable access to resources after disaster. We need to create a greater synergy between public and private finance. It’s been talked about for a long time. It’s got to happen.
Now, in Glasgow we were encouraged that over 450 private sector financial firms, responsible for $130 trillion in assets, committed to net zero. A year later, we’re seeing a few signs of a little, you know, ripple of discontent therein. But we cannot slow this down. For every $1 invested in low carbon energy supply, $1.10 is invested in fossil fuels. Go figure. The math and the science unequivocally make clear we just cannot hit our targets unless we dramatically change that ratio.
So we need private sector financial institutions to recognize the financial risks associated with a disorderly, chaotic, but inevitable transition to net zero, if we don’t manage it more effectively. We need those institutions to systematically recognize the financial risks that the impacts of climate change pose to their own assets. You want a disruptor in the marketplace? Continue down the road of not adequately responding. Now, I know that many of you who recognize that this sprint to a net zero, resilient future actually represents the greatest investment opportunity of our lives, and maybe of all time. But we all need the multi-development banks and others to share with the world more clearly how they will plan to galvanize and accelerate this transformation.
And we need the financial institutions of our country to be at the table and help do that, because no government has enough public money to make this happen. But none of this absolves governments of responsibility. One of the most powerful levers we have for redirecting finance is policy, to create better conditions for finance to flow to climate solutions and not the activities that are destroying our health, destroying our livelihoods, destroying homes because of the consequences of that choice. And that’s exactly what we’re working on with our G-7 partners, and the governments of several emerging countries, including South Africa, Indonesia, Vietnam. And we’re working on the Just Energy Transition Partnerships in order to raise climate ambition and implement critical policy and regulatory changes and provide and mobilize the financing to achieve the accelerated transition we need in the next three to five years.
We also recognize the moral and economic imperative of helping vulnerable countries and communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. The United States fully supports the Glasgow call to collectively double adaptation finance. And we are doing our part. And the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience, PREPARE program, is going to help more than half a billion people in developing countries adapt to and manage the impacts of the climate crisis.
President Biden remains steadfast in his commitment to work with Congress to increase our adaptation finance sixfold. And through PREPARE, we’re going to help bring early warning systems and climate information into people’s hands so that they can make better, and more climate-resilient decisions. We will support our partners’ efforts to integrate and mainstream adaptation into food security, health, water, and infrastructure investments. And we’re also going to help strengthen access to climate finance; provide insurance, social protection, and other disaster risk financing in order to help people at risk and mobilize the private sector.
Simply put with respect to finance, we, developed countries, need to make good on the finance goals that we have set, however we can, by whatever creative methods we can, to maximize the impact of our resources. Recognizing always that, when it comes to the climate crisis, the path of least resistance—which some people are still choosing—turns into the path of greatest destruction. And we know from every economic analysis, it is far more expensive in the long run to not act not than it is to act.
So, ladies and gentlemen, there is no mystery about what we must do. The real mystery is why it remains a fight just to do what common sense and science tell us we must do. We have a roadmap. We just need to follow it. We have to hold ourselves accountable, and everyone else everywhere. And the question is not whether there is a solution. It’s how to implement the solution that is staring us in the face. We know the future if we do that is cleaner, greener, healthier, and safer—if we can get there together, in time. We can if we choose to.
So Sharm el-Sheikh is another milestone for measurement, for accountability, and for focus. And this work, I’m telling you, will go on every day everywhere—every single day, not just for the two weeks of a COP. This is not a transition to be feared. It’s a transformation to be seized. It is the world that we can have, the jobs, the investments, the opportunity and future are all in solving the climate crisis, not in prolonging it. Here in our age, it’s not just the work of one government, or public or private sector, bilateral or multilateral. There’s only one way to secure the future. We have to summon the greatest effort we’ve ever assembled, with the greatest sense of urgency. And we must win this fight, because the alternative is beyond unacceptable. And that’s what we need to advance in Sharm el-Sheikh. Thank you.
SCHIFRIN: Thank you very much. Thank you very much.
We’ve got about twenty minutes or so before we open it up to questions from the members. So get your questions ready.
Mr. Secretary, you recently said that before the passage of the IRA, which of course you identified as the most significant climate legislation ever passed in the U.S. Before the passage we were, quote, at a “crucible for our credibility. If we hadn’t delivered, we would have had serious challenges.” Does that mean you have a stronger negotiating hand going into COP-27?
KERRY: Absolutely. For sure. Yeah, we do. And you have great socks. (Laughter.)
SCHIFRIN: You got to have some vices in life. Stripey socks is one of them.
KERRY: Cheers the day up. (Laughter.) Yeah, no, I think I was beginning to hear from some people that we’re trying to nudge to do more on carbon—I mentioned a few of them—that they would push back a little bit and say, well, you guys talk but you don’t do. And after a year and a half of a back and forth with the U.S. Congress, which everybody saw and lived through, I think it’s just—I can’t underscore enough how significant it is. And we were in Pittsburgh a few days ago in the energy forum that we had. And there as a global group that came. We challenged—President Biden put out the challenge that we had proposed that we try to get $90 billion mobilized to go into the technology and accelerate it, et cetera. We got ninety-four billion (dollars) from sixteen countries. That happened because they felt that we were indeed committed and moving. So it’s a big deal.
SCHIFRIN: What has to happen in the next few weeks, do you think, to be able to say to the world that we’re on the right track? You talk about implementation-plus for COP. But what has to happen in the next few weeks that you think that you can come back to CFR and say: We’re on the right path?
KERRY: Well, barring a conversation on the road to Damascus, I don’t think we’re going to see a couple of countries step up in line with Paris at this moment. But they may begin now much more authoritatively to try to move in that direction. And I don’t expect Sharm to get 100 percent alignment. But I do expect Sharm to raise ambition, to advance a whole grouping of initiatives that we’re involved in. That agriculture—we had the aim for climate, agriculture, the agricultural innovation mission, which we’re working with Bill Gates and with the UAE. That has huge impact on nature-based solutions and on agriculture. We have the clean energy climate initiative, which is an accelerant effort, not unlike completely the first mover coalition.
I mean, we have companies. We have six—we have 10 percent of the Fortune Global 2000. We have 10 percent of that committed. Big companies, FedEx, and Boeing, and Salesforce, Apple, Google. A whole bunch of companies have joined in. Fifty-five strong now, and perhaps a few more by Sharm el-Sheikh, who have committed to send demand signals to the marketplace. So they are, for instance, Maersk, the largest shipping container company in the world, has pledged that of the next eight ships that they buy or build or lease, they will be carbon-free. Volvo and General Motors and Ford have joined in saying that 10 percent of the steel that they purchase is going to be green steels, for the manufacture of automobiles. You have Salesforce joining with United and Delta and Apple and Boeing to say that of all their flight operations, 5 percent will be—5 percent of the fuel they consume will be sustainable aviation fuel with an 88 percent emissions reduction.
So these are the signals going to the marketplace now. And we’re doing this with aluminum, with steel, with trucking, with concrete, cement, will be rolled out in Sharm. And it just shows that, you know, everybody says, oh my God, industry is going to be the hardest thing to do. Well, it’s turning out it’s not the hardest thing to do. We can do this. And if we put our minds to it across the economy, then we leap forward very rapidly. And what some people are seeing is, in the IRA, the potential that the United States is really going to jump forward now, with billions of dollars going into R&D and technology.
SCHIFRIN: OK, let me bring you back to the countries participating in Sharm. And you talked about China. Simple question, but important one: Can you have a successful COP-27 if China doesn’t do more?
KERRY: Yes, we can, but it’s not the ideal way to do it. I mean, China, by the way—I mean, China is deploying so much renewable right now it’s really amazing. They are deploying at a pace that no other country in the world can match.
SCHIFRIN: But they’re also increasing coal.
KERRY: And, unfortunately, they are increasing coal. They’ve got about 260 gigawatts of coal-fired power coming online at a time when the IEA is telling us we have to be doing away with 870 gigawatts of coal. So it is flying in the face of science and fact. And it’s a problem. We have several countries making the argument that the developed world owes them development space, and that they have the right to be able to continue longer than everybody else. The problem with that is, Mother Nature doesn’t recognize that space, you know? Mother Nature measures the total amount of atmospheric pollution. And so there’s just no way to get it done if that’s the way we proceed.
I hope—I really do hope China is going to step up with the ambitious methane plan they promised. And we would love to find a way to be able to work appropriately with China on fulfilling the promise they made with us in Glasgow, which is we will work together to accelerate the reduction of coal consumption and to speed up the pace of transition, and also to work with us on deforestation. Sixty percent of the illegal timbering of the world—which is a huge contributor to deforestation, obviously—60 percent of that timber goes to China.
SCHIFRIN: You’ve been cooperating with China—the U.S. has been cooperating with China for thirty years. Cooperation produced the Paris climate accord. You mentioned the methane pledge, which I want to get to in a second. But of course, as you acknowledged, there has been no public communication between you and China. You admit that you’ve written emails to your counterpart—
KERRY: Admit is the wrong word. I acknowledge. (Laughter.)
KERRY: There’s nothing wrong with that. (Laughs.)
SCHIFRIN: First question is, has he responded? Has there been any direct communication?
SCHIFRIN: OK. Talk about that, because that is—
KERRY: Well, there’s nothing to talk about. I mean, it’s—we’ve sent each other a few messages about, you know, trying to figure out how we might be able to resume. But at the moment, we’re not resuming. And we’ll see where we are.
SCHIFRIN: Does the fact that he’s sending you messages mean that Beijing is willing to cooperate, is willing to discuss?
KERRY: We’ll have to wait and see. We have no indication yet. That will come from one person.
SCHIFRIN: Xi Jinping.
KERRY: Yes. And until then, we are in limbo.
SCHIFRIN: And no—I know it’s been, what, forty-eight hours? But no immediate change since the Party Congress ended in terms of their communication?
KERRY: No, not very specifically. I mean, there’s been communication about what would help the process. And as—you know, I’m not going to go into what that is. But—
SCHIFRIN: Let me ask a more general question that I think is probably easier to answer. Are you confident that you will be able to coordinate with China in Sharm, in order to—
KERRY: I don’t know yet. Honestly, I don’t know.
SCHIFRIN: OK. There have been 1.5 track conversations. There have been track two conversations with China. What’s the message that the U.S. has received from those conversations when it comes to Sharm, when it comes to overall climate cooperation?
KERRY: Well, the general message is one of pushing back against the tougher policies of the administration, and the fact that they’re being called out on certain behavior and activities. And I think that’s touched a nerve. So, you know, there’s—for the moment, there’s a pushback on both sides. And my hope is that President Biden said very clearly, and President Xi agreed, in their first conversation, that climate should not be part of the bilateral differences between our countries. And I’ve said a hundred times to them, look, we have serious differences. We do have serious differences. But climate is not a bilateral issue. It’s a global, multilateral, existential threat to the world. And we both have responsibilities as the two largest emitters to try to cope with it. My hope is that we’ll find a way to do that.
SCHIFRIN: It sounds like as of now they’re still linking the U.S. confrontation to China and specific policies to climate cooperation.
KERRY: Well, you know, I don’t want to get into who’s doing what, when, how here. I think the key is that this is not a bilateral issue and that we need to get back to the table because the world depends on it and it could be helpful to China’s efforts to protect its own population to deal with the very serious problems China has regarding the climate crisis, and, hopefully, even to open up a pathway for being able to communicate effectively on the other issues that are very serious.
SCHIFRIN: As you mentioned, China will unveil its methane pledge at Sharm. The word is ambitious. That’s what they’ve promised in Glasgow. Do you know if it is going to be ambitious? Do you have any—do you have faith that it will be?
KERRY: No, I have no—I have no insights on that. I hope.
SCHIFRIN: Yeah. Fair enough.
Let’s move on to something called loss and damage. COP is being held in Africa. Loss and damage is something that many countries are bringing up ahead of the conference. This is the idea that efforts to curb emissions and adapt for future—help countries adapt for future reductions, something we’ll also talk about—the idea that that’s not enough, and countries are asking for compensation for loss and damages that are occurring now.
So let’s ask about the principle first. Do the countries that have caused so little of the problem but bear some of the worst impact deserve compensation for loss and damage today beyond humanitarian aid?
KERRY: Well, I think, you know, the word compensation has all kinds of loaded implications, and I think that we’re very concerned about the impacts of climate on all of these countries. I mean, and we’re not—you know, we’re completely supporting the agenda in Sharm-el-Sheikh and beyond.
We agreed in Glasgow that we would set up a process, work to stand up the Santiago Network. We will do that.
KERRY: That will happen in Sharm, hopefully. And that we would commence a complicated dialogue to figure out what kind of financial arrangements might be made in order to deal with this.
But, you know, we need to do it in a way that is going to work to actually find an arrangement that helps them, and we’re as sensitive as any country in the world. First of all, we are the largest humanitarian donor in the world. Largest humanitarian donor in the world, the United States of America. And whether it’s AIDS or Ebola or a crisis, you know—
SCHIFRIN: Floods in Pakistan.
KERRY: —Pakistan, we step up and the American people should be thanked and also be very proud that we do that. And what we want to do now is figure out, you know—we have huge demands, folks. We’ve got huge demands to transition to the clean energy economy.
I just talked about it at length. We have major demand to find financing for the transition. I mean, we’ve got trillions of dollars sitting on the sidelines and you’ve got to deploy it, and that money is not giveaway money. It’s not concessionary funding.
It belongs to people, you know. An entity like BlackRock doesn’t own the money. They’re working for clients. The clients own the money, and some of the clients want the best return they can get on that investment and you don’t get that necessarily from climate. Or you have pension funds—big pension funds—with, you know, millions of American workers who anticipated retirement based on that fund. They are subject to fiduciary responsibility, and they have to live up to that.
So how this works is trickier than meets the eye and we need to come together. First of all, we have got to mitigate sufficiently because you can’t adapt to the worst consequence. You just can’t adapt to those, some of them.
So, yes, we need to double adaptation because there are a lot of things we can do now to help countries and to save lives. Early warning is one of them, or hardening certain facilities.
SCHIFRIN: Let me ask about adaptation in a second but I just want to finish on loss and damage. And I know you’re careful when you talk about this.
You’ve promised a modality for how it would work by 2024. You just mentioned that the conversations will happen in Sharm.
Just to be sure, do you expect progress on loss and damage?
KERRY: I do. Yeah.
SCHIFRIN: The kind of progress that some of these countries, as you know, are publicly asking?
KERRY: Yeah. We’re determined. We’re all determined to come up with, you know, progress but something real that we can begin to define for everybody.
I mean, everybody understands that—look, you have forty-eight sub-Saharan African countries equals 0.55 percent of emissions. And then you have twenty countries, as I mentioned, that are 80 percent of all emissions. It’s pretty hard to argue there that, you know, you don’t have a certain responsibility to step up and make things happen.
But you’ve got to make things happen that can work, that can be functional in your own political system, that actually can deliver money and do what you need to do. And, as I said, we’re determined to try to find a way according to what we agreed, which is we have a serious conversation. We work towards ’23, ’24. Maybe it’ll get moved up a little bit. I don’t know.
But we’re going to act in good faith because this is a real problem, and we need the unity of nations in order to be able to proceed forward.
So we are serious about it. We will—President Biden, as I mentioned, has stepped up on adaptation and we’re going to do the best we can to pull people together because the world needs that. They just don’t need a failed meeting.
SCHIFRIN: I cut you off on adaptation. A hundred billion dollars, of course, has been the goal. The world hasn’t quite got there. I think we’re a little over 90 (billion dollars) at this point. Why is that?
KERRY: Because that is money that is counted in a very specific way against donations. In other words, the language of Paris talks about mobilizing funds and also, you know, public money. That money was put in the public niche so that it has to be fundamentally appropriated, allocated, by the parliaments—by the public budget, if you will—and that’s the hardest money in the world to come by.
As I just said, in a matter of weeks we mobilized $94 billion. But we don’t get credit unless—we don’t get credit for that at all nor do we get credit for the 12 billion (dollars) President Biden’s putting into adaptation, nor do we get credit for, you know, emergency money we put out there.
But, you know, Donald Trump, I think you’ll recall, was president of the United States for four years and he zeroed out the budget, which we predicted at the end of the Obama administration which is why we rushed to get a billion dollars out and into the fund.
But after that he zeroed it out, and the first year of the Biden presidency has a Trump budget. So it wasn’t until this year that is the first year that Biden’s promise is reflected and he’s put several billions in. He doubled it and he’s quadrupled it.
This year’s budget, hopefully, will have the quadrupling, which is the 11.4 billion (dollars). But there’s no guarantee, particularly depending on what happens in a few weeks here.
So, folks, we’re—you know, we’ve got to be smart about how we approach this question of funding. There will be a hundred billion (dollars) next year. All of the actuarials, the OECD counting, everything shows that money’s forthcoming. But we have to make sure up—in our case, we have to make up for the shortfall of the Trump budget.
SCHIFRIN: I’m going to open it up to members in a couple minutes. So I just got one last—time for one last question. So let’s talk about Russia and Ukraine, and how that affects Sharm.
Europe is as forward leaning as anyone. Germany’s U-turn on coal, as you described, is an emergency step. Germany still pledges—still maintains its climate pledges. But never before has the world been as dependent on coal, right. The International Energy Agency warns this same pattern of high demand and high production will be repeated this year.
So what happens if this war lasts longer? What happens if the short-term emergency measures do have a long-term consequence?
KERRY: Well, that’s a serious problem and it’s one I hope we can, obviously, avoid for every reason.
I mean, what is happening in Ukraine is grotesque. You know, I don’t think we ever imagined that we’d be living through, you know, moments that bring back the worst of World War II and that’s what we’re seeing.
So, for all the reasons in the world the sooner that that can end the better. But it has huge disruptive capacity, much more so for next winter in Europe than this because they filled up the coffers, you know.
SCHIFRIN: Germany’s about 80 percent plus.
KERRY: Yeah. They’ve got 80 percent or higher in some parts.
SCHIFRIN: But you’re worried about next winter.
KERRY: They’ll draw down on that this year and then next year you have a—you have a very serious consequence. I hope there is not a next year of this war, and it seems to me very clear that the only way this ends is with some kind of negotiated resolution.
SCHIFRIN: But it sounds like you are worried about the climate consequences if this war goes into—
KERRY: Well, I’m worried about the climate consequences for every reason that I just talked about.
SCHIFRIN: Well, more specifically on some of the more emergency measures.
KERRY: I’m worried about it because people are dragging their feet. I’m worried about it because big powerful vested interests won’t give up doing what they’ve been doing for years, which has created the problem.
And if we build out a massive new infrastructure, whether it’s for gas and something else, and it doesn’t have the ability to capture emissions, we have a problem. And it’ll be very hard to meet our goal.
I talked about the ratio—$1.00 for solar, $1.10. We still have $2.5 trillion of subsidies going to the fossil fuel industry—440 billion (dollars) last year. What is that about? Why are we subsidizing, you know, the very source of energy that has been creating this problem and not putting more money into the deployment of the renewables and creating our own supply chain, and doing the things that would liberate us from, you know, dictator blackmail on energy—a weaponization of energy?
So we still have big choices that we’ve got to make as a global community. We can make them. Look at what Germany is doing. Germany is extraordinary in this respect.
By the way, Germany is largely responsible for the fact that we have a solar industry the way we do today because they did subsidize that for a long period of time and kept the industry going through some bleak years. And then, of course, what happened is certain countries, as you all know, started dumping panels, contrary to the rules of the trade mechanism and WTO, and so that hurt our industry, it hurt their industry, and others.
But Germany is now determined to deploy 80 percent of their energy will come from renewables in a short span of time. They’re racing to do that, to liberate themselves from Russian gas, and they’ll get there. You know, they’ve put their mind to it.
So I think other countries are similarly moving much more rapidly. We are moving much more rapidly—just not rapidly enough. We need to seize the, you know, cudgel and speed it up and be more determined.
But as I said at the end of my speech, this is doable. Not only is it doable, it’s exciting. It’s a transition that can create, you know, solid jobs for people, millions of them. In the last two years in the United States, the fastest growing job was wind turbine technician.
The third fastest growing job was solar panel installer, and sadly, the second fastest growing job, which I jumped over, was nurse practitioner because of COVID, so there you go.
SCHIFRIN: Yeah, let me have you stop there because we’ve only got a few minutes left, and so I definitely want to get at least a couple of questions. So please just keep your question brief. We’ll do one in the room, and then one online.
This lady right here in the third row, please.
Q: Thank you so much, Mr. Kerry. Liana Fix on the Council on Foreign Relations here. My question would be, you mentioned the consequences if there’s no negotiated solution found in the war for the climate.
So is there a tension between geopolitical aims that we might have in climate not only towards Russia because this war might not end soon, but also when it comes to the relationship with China? What if the war continues?
We had this call from progressives calling on the government, on the U.S. administration, to negotiate and to find ways towards a negotiation, but what if Ukrainians want to fight and to continue this war for the freedom? What if this runs counter to the climate aims that we have? How do we solve this tension?
KERRY: Well, it’s a very good question and a very tough question. I would say the following, I think the United States and Europe and our friends in the developed world—Australia, Japan, South Korea—the Republic of Korea, and other parts of the world—are capable of moving forward. And I’d rather have our hand than Russia’s and China’s, to be honest with you.
I think they’ve got fundamental problems, deep problems. There’s banking tensions in China. There’s housing tensions. There’s population tensions. Their COVID policy is very, very challenged. And you can run through a whole bunch.
Russia has only one fundamental industry—it’s extraction, and that’s even being discombobulated in the north because of the permafrost thawing, where some of that infrastructure gets out of whack and they don’t exactly—you know, they haven’t been investing over the years towards modernity. And there’s not a lot of other fabrication that they do.
So I think we’re—you know, I’m not sitting around—will the economy slow down? It already is slowing down, and many people are talking about the potential of recession, and so forth. I don’t think we’re in it. Yeah, I think we could avoid it. But we have to see how things play out.
I do think, as I said earlier, I know I’m not trying to—I didn’t come here to make news on a different subject, but I think that—you know, as I said, the only way this ends, because neither side wants to lose or will lose, is through a negotiated outcome. It’s just I don’t see how it, quote, “ends” in another way.
So let’s see where we wind up.
SCHIFRIN: I’m tempted to ask a follow-up somehow, but let me go to the virtual members, and we’ve got a question online.
OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Nili Gilbert.
Q: Good morning, Secretary Kerry. Thank you so much for being here, and thank you to the CFR for hosting.
I’m Nili Gilbert, the vice chairwoman of Carbon Direct and chair of the advisory panel for GFANZ. You spoke about the First Movers Coalition. Thank you for your leadership and founding that institution. And at Davos you launched the carbon dioxide removal pillar.
I’ve been thinking that the focus on durable, thousand-year plus removal and storage of carbon emissions from the atmosphere has a strong place in the conversation about loss and damage and climate justice for the Global South because we can pay up to manage the hard-to-abate emissions that we’re producing in the north.
I wonder whether you’re hearing any discussions about durable CDR alongside the conversations about adaptation and resilience and loss and damage in the negotiations? Thank you.
KERRY: Yes, very much so, Nili. That’s a good question. The answer is, I think it’s very much more on the agenda now for a lot of different reasons.
There’s going to be a fair—there is already a fair amount of additional funding going into the search for utilization and for carbon storage, you know. I think it’s still possible we break through on that. It’s proven to be vexing because of the infrastructure you have to build and the cost, and it’s been too costly. But conceivably there could be a breakthrough.
I went out to Google X and saw some direct air carbon capture efforts that they’re involved in, and you know, it’s conceivable that they’re going to be able to bring to scale the process. I mean, it's so monumental, folks. I think you understand that, those of you who are here. There’s about 1.6 trillion tons or so of carbon dioxide we got to suck out of the atmosphere even after we get to net zero because that’s already up there in the atmosphere, and that’s what I talked about the baked in damage that continues.
So if we’re going to get to an equalization, I think it was Bill Gates who said—I’m not 100 percent sure of this—but I believe that it wouldn’t be until 2070 that if we do all the things we say we have to do, we could get to a genuine neutrality, where we can begin to reduce that carbon.
So this is a big undertaking, but yes, it’s worth the effort to try to see if we can do it, and it could be part of the relationship between, you know, that part of the world, absolutely.
SCHIFRIN: I apologize because there’s lots more questions in the room, but CFR runs a tight ship, and so part of my job as moderator is to end on time so you can leave, and Secretary Kerry can leave.
So the video of this, the transcript of this will be on the website. And please join me in thanking Secretary Kerry. Thank you very much.
KERRY: Thank you. (Applause.)