Kerry: Climate talks should have done more on pollution cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said global warming last month talks have not done enough to accelerate reductions in heat-trapping gas emissions.

Kerry told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday that progress had been made on some aspects of reducing carbon pollution at the UN summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. But he said there could and should have been much more and that what was done on the matter was overshadowed by a historic, but what he called potentially “pyrrhic,” agreement to establish a compensation fund. for poor countries that are victims of a warming world.

“We had to accelerate emissions reduction significantly,” Kerry said. “I would have liked to see more results from Sharm on mitigation,” as climate negotiators call cutting carbon pollution. “But we’ll just have to keep pushing,” he added.

“We need to increase the restriction and that’s the one thing I thought should have been emphasized more,” Kerry said. “There was clearly a forward movement with increased ambition, but I think more was needed.”

Hours after talks ended in EgyptUnited Nations climate chief Simon Stiell said the world was “standing still” about emission reductions, but that it is acceptable, given the creation of a compensation fund amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis and inflation.

The United States supported India’s failed attempt to include natural gas and oil in existing international agreements calling for the phasing out of “outright coal,” meaning emissions that are not captured or cleaned up. But since Egypt, which exports natural gas, hosted and chaired the meeting, setting the agenda, the issue was not on the final proposed documents.

“I wish I had been there during that part of the debate. I was off duty with COVID right now during that part of it,” said Kerry, who has recovered from the illness. “We must continue to reduce the outright use of fossil fuels because that is what is causing the damage in the world.

“It’s the emissions that are causing the problem,” Kerry said. “I don’t think we have much room for maneuver here. We need to accelerate that effort.”

Key to that is China, the world’s No. 1 carbon dioxide polluting nation, with Kerry saying “there is no way to realistically solve the climate crisis without engaging with China.”

Earlier this year, China halted all talks, including climate talks, following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. But after Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met in Bali during the second week of Egypt’s climate talks, Kerry and his Chinese counterpart resume one-on-one talks on the top. But no new deals were made.

“We ran out of time in Sharm El-Sheikh,” Kerry said. “I look forward to picking up the conversation when we have the chance.”

Kerry pointed to increases in planned emission reductions by Mexico, Egypt and Vietnam as positives. He also highlighted a $10 billion aid plan from Western countries to help Indonesia make the transition to renewable fuels and promises from more countries to reduce emissions of methane, which is more potent than carbon dioxide but doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long.

Kerry also noted that the head of the International Energy Agency said that if all countries did what they promised, future warming can be limited to 1.7 degrees Celsius (3.1 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times, an improvement of one-tenth of a degree over projections a year earlier. The global goal is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), and the world has already warmed 1.1 degrees (2 degrees Fahrenheit).

The estimate of 1.7 included “a huge ‘but’ with exclamation marks” because it depends on countries delivering on what they promise and “almost every country in the world isn’t doing enough to deliver on the promises they’ve made,” it said. Kerry.

Failure to deliver is one of the potential problems in establishing a fund to help poor countries affected by climate disasters, Kerry said. Those countries had been pushing for a fund — an issue negotiators call loss and damage — for more than 30 years, and this year it was put on the agenda and approved for the first time.

Who puts the money in, how much and how it should be distributed has yet to be worked out, Kerry said. He agreed with French President Emmanuel Macron who was hesitant about celebrating about something so amorphous.

“It’s a little bit of pyrrh until you fully understand how it’s going to work,” Kerry said, adding that it all still comes down to reducing the carbon pollution that causes the disasters.

“Because if you don’t, you get an impossible equation where you just can’t find enough money to take care of the victims of disasters,” he said.


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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears


The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. Read more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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