John Kerry says Cop26 must be ‘starting line’ in climate fight for decade

US climate envoy warns some countries won’t meet target to curb global warming

John Kerry, United States special envoy for climate, says Cop26 can still be a success if China's Xi Jinping doesn't attend. AP
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John Kerry has said Cop26 must serve as the “starting line for the rest of the decade” rather than a once-off place for leaders to make climate commitments.

US President Joe Biden’s special envoy on climate change on Monday painted a positive picture of expectations for the United Nations conference in Glasgow, saying some countries are tipped to make “surprising announcements”.

Around 30,000 delegates are expected to descend on Glasgow from October 31 for the two-week conference where world leaders will make pledges to reduce carbon emissions.

Mr Kerry, a former US senator who became secretary of state under Barack Obama when the Paris agreement was signed, said the fight against global warming cannot be side-lined after the Cop26.

“There is not a wall that comes down after Glasgow,” he told The Guardian.

“It is the starting line for the rest of the decade.”

He said while many countries have shown their willingness to step up in the climate fight, some nations are not on track to meet the 1.5C global heating threshold.

Under the 2016 Paris accord, 197 nations are bound to hold global heating to “well below” 2C, with an aspirational 1.5C. But that commitment was found to have fallen short of estimates so countries agreed to review targets every five years.

Staying within the 1.5C threshold would require carbon emissions to fall by 45 percent this decade.

“Glasgow has to show strong commitment to keeping 1.5C in reach, but that does not mean every country will get there,” Mr Kerry added.

“We acknowledge that there will be a gap [between the emissions cuts countries offer and those needed for a 1.5C limit]. The question is, will we have created a critical mass? We are close to that.”

Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris treaty which stipulates that signatory nations must update their carbon reduction plans every five years.

Hours after being inaugurated as US president in January, Mr Biden moved to reinstate the country into the deal.

Mr Kerry said enough momentum is gained at Cop26 it could pave the way for every country to eventually meeting the target.

On fossil fuels, he said he is hopeful world leaders will follow America’s lead and commit to phase out coal, petrol and natural gas. It has also vowed to reduce emissions from vehicles.

“The US is heading to a post-2035 future where our power sector will be carbon-free. That is not a small step. I hope that can encourage other countries too, with regard to what they might be trying to achieve.”

Turning to China, the world’s biggest producer of carbon, Mr Kerry said Cop26 could still be a success if President Xi Jinping failed to show up.

He said the Biden administration remains “hopeful” Beijing will honour its commitment to work with Washington to achieve climate goals.

Mr Xi has not left China since the outbreak of Covid and has not said whether he will attend the summit.

World leaders will be joined at the summit by scientists and activists between October 31 and November 12.

Delegates will not need to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19, which is required for all indoor large events in Scotland.

Instead, attendees will be asked to take a daily lateral flow test and show a negative result.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 9:06 AM