US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said on Saturday that a few countries have surprisingly resisted mentioning the global goal of limiting warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels during the UN climate summit in Egypt.
Addressing a news conference, Mr Kerry also gave a general assessment of the two-week Cop27 summit at its halfway point. He said a lot of work had yet to be done but delegates “genuinely are making really good progress”.
He said the world has to meet the goal of keeping the temperature increase below 1.5ºC by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. After that, he said, it could be impossible to hit that target, barring a major scientific breakthrough.
There have been some ominous findings revealed over the past week in Sharm El Sheikh, the Red Sea resort hosting the UN summit, about the chances of meeting the target set at the UN climate summit in Paris in 2015.
Greenhouse gas emissions have been rising since and scientists now say the world risks missing the target without swift and deep cuts.
Breaching the 1.5ºC threshold risks unleashing the worst consequences of global warming, they say.
The Global Carbon Brief outlined how there was a 50 per cent chance that global temperature will rise and hit 1.5°C in less than a decade. If this vital threshold is breached, scientists believe half the world's population could be exposed to life-threatening changes to the climate.
Emissions would have to fall at rates comparable to 2020 — when Covid-19 restrictions shut down transport, industry and economic activities — every year to keep temperature rises to 1.5°C in the long term, according to the Global Carbon Brief.
In response to a question, Mr Kerry, whose country has historically been the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, said: “There are very few countries, but a few, that have raised the issue of not mentioning this word [1.5 degrees] or that word."
"But the fact is that in Glasgow that was adopted, the language is there. And I know … Egypt doesn't intend to be the country that hosts a retreat from what was achieved in Glasgow," he said, referring to last year's climate summit in Scotland.
Mr Kerry was also asked about loss and damage — negotiation language for providing the most vulnerable countries with funds to adapt to damage wreaked by climate change or mitigate its effects.
Loss and damage was added to the agenda of the UN climate summit in Egypt, a goal that had proved elusive for years.
"It's a well-known fact that the United States and many other countries will not establish some sort of legal structure that is tied to compensation or liability. That's just not happening," Mr Kerry said.
"We will find a way, I am confident, to be able to have financial arrangements that reflect the reality of how we are all going to deal with the climate crisis."
Mr Kerry also refused to be drawn into details of his talks on the sidelines of Cop27 with China’s climate envoy, whose country is the world’s second largest gas emitter after the US.
He described the talks as informal and said the situation would become clearer after President Joe Biden meets Chinese leader Xi Jinping next week at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.