John Kerry attacks 'self-delusion' of climate policies before Cop27

Speaking before next month's climate talks in Egypt, US climate envoy says event needs to focus on 'implementation'

US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry spoke at conference hosted by Chatham House in London. AP
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The world has to do “a lot more and faster” to achieve its climate goals and must stop “basing policy on self-delusion”, US climate envoy John Kerry said on Thursday.

Speaking at an event organised by think tank Chatham House in London in the lead-up to Cop27, the former US presidential candidate attacked the proliferation of “false narratives” that have allowed for “the avoidance of reality, the downgrading of science, the unwillingness to be truthful to each other and basing [climate] policy partly on self delusion."

Policymakers and world leaders will gather at the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt in November to take the next step in the fight against the climate crisis.

Reflecting on the progress made since Cop26 in Glasgow, the climate envoy welcomed the “amazing number of initiatives” but said Sharm El Sheikh needed to be “the implementation of promises made”.

“We left Glasgow with 65 per cent of global GDP [gross domestic product] committed to legitimate plans … but if you only have 65 per cent of global GDP doing that, then you have a real problem and the other 35 per cent has to come to the table with significant increases,” he said.

“The science says we have to hit a minimum of 45 per cent by 2030. We could still do that if we deployed renewables fast enough around the world. But we're not.”

"We need to do a lot more a lot faster."

His remarks came on the heels of a disastrous warning from the UN that the world remains on course for a rise of 2.8°C in global temperatures after what the agency called a “wasted year” in which countries largely failed to deliver emissions pledges made at Cop26.

“In other words, we are headed for a global catastrophe,” UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres said of the world's body's environment programme report published on Thursday.

“We are headed for economy-destroying levels of global heating. We need climate action on all fronts — and we need it now,” said Mr Guterres.

Last year, about 200 governments promised to strengthen their emissions plans to try to hold the world’s “guardrail” temperature warming to 1.5°C, the Paris Agreement target, but the latest UN report suggests a current at-best scenario of 2.4°C.

Mr Kerry said the UN report showed that there was a “formidable gap” in reaching the climate goals but added that “we have to acknowledge that Covid had an impact and Ukraine has had an impact”.

On the other hand, the former US secretary of state said the war in Ukraine and the “weaponisation” of Russian gas had “absolutely accelerated” the move to renewables. Mr Kerry said he expected more countries to wake up to the “stark realisation of what this dependency has done to their economies and their future”.

Rising temperatures, currently at 1.1°C, are already resulting in violent and unpredictable weather events. The UK and Europe were hit by destructive wildfires after temperatures soared above 40°C several times this summer, while Pakistan’s devastating floods submerged large parts of the country and cost an estimated $30 billion in damage.

“Everything that's happening today is happening at 1.1°C of warming and we are still trying to get to 1.5°C — at this stage, before we've even exhausted the seven years left to 2030. Are we going to give up and say we can't make it?” Mr Kerry asked.

“There's something in the human psyche that has an ability to procrastinate, and we all know this but we just can't afford to on this one.”

He said he believed the Paris Agreement goal was still reachable but “only if we implement every promise made in Glasgow and the promises we still have to make in Sharm El Sheikh and in the UAE”.

Calling it a “multilateral, non-ideological, non-political issue”, Mr Kerry told the event that there was no time for “myopic ostrich policies”.

“We cannot just put our head in the sand and pretend there's nothing happening. It is happening inexorably. And it is legitimate to say that if you look out at the world today, that this past year may be the best it's going to be and that is a very bitter pill to offer our children and future generations,” he said.

Mr Kerry said countries should “seize the options available” and abandon fossil fuels in place of renewable energy, the “greatest economic opportunity the world has ever known”.

“This is a second Industrial Revolution, but clean.”

Updated: October 27, 2022, 5:25 PM