John Kerry says 1.5°C goal remains 'doable' despite challenge posed by climate sceptics

The veteran politician said world leaders need to kick into a higher gear and accelerate action to help the planet

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry speaks at The Signet Library in Edinburgh. PA
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John Kerry has stepped up his fightback against climate change deniers, branding them a “cult” and accusing them of “lashing out at truthtellers”.

US President Joe Biden’s envoy for climate change said humans' tendency to “bend the laws” of physics, mathematics and science is “breaking our planet”.

Mr Kerry, 79, made the comments during a keynote speech at an event in Edinburgh where he launched an annual series to promote debate on international relations. The forum titled Scottish Global Dialogues is supported by the Scottish Council for Global Affairs.

Earlier, he said he remains hopeful that the goal of limiting global warming to an increase of 1.5C on pre-industrial levels is achievable, despite numerous challenges.

Speaking to guests at the Signet Library in Edinburgh, he cited French philosopher Voltaire as an inspiration.

Voltaire used the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and tsunami to open up a debate on climate change with people who were not accustomed to such a discussion.

“Despite a vast array of facts beyond any shadow of a doubt, of any reasonable doubt, despite thousands of scientists accumulating hard data [in] all their labs, and without a single piece of peer-reviewed documentation to the contrary, we are again witnessing another moment in which the persuasive force of evidence and with it earth’s future hangs in the balance," Mr Kerry said.

“All because some extremist political voices hold out nations and vastly vested interests have declared war on facts and science.

“All because they distort for political and personal gain what science and common sense dictate we humans must do in order to put our house in order.”

He said those who do not believe in global warming are working to “incite a movement against what they falsely label ‘climate change fanaticism’.”

And he said they “conveniently forget that the dictionary definition of a cult is the dismissal of facts in devotion to a lie”.

'Achieving 1.5°C is doable'

Earlier, Mr Kerry insisted he remains determined to continue his work towards helping nations meet the 1.5°C target.

“I’m not willing to give in on it yet and I think a lot of activists and a lot of other people aren’t willing to give in because every tenth of a degree above that is catastrophe somewhere for many people,” the veteran politician told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said for every minuscule increase in global warming, the cost would be “trillions of dollars” and therefore prudent, smart and thoughtful governance is needed.

Doubling down on his resolve to keep the 1.5C objective alive, he said: “It’s doable”.

“The whole point is 1.5°C is not actually completely out of reach,” he added, while acknowledging attaining the target will be “really difficult”.

He argued that obstacles exist because decision makers are procrastinating and “running into barriers of false information”.

Mr Kerry said he and other voices calling for urgent climate action are engaged in a “battle” with those with differing views, whom he accused of forwarding a climate-sceptic agenda for political reasons.

“We have exploiters unfortunately, charlatans, who are prepared solely for political purposes to spread lies and to tell people things that carry fear,” he said.

He played down friction in US-Sino relations, saying the Biden administration is not “putting pressure on China” to take climate action, noting that the government in Beijing would “react very negatively” to such a position.

Finding common ground with the Chinese is key to reigning in global warming, he said.

“This is important: China is doing more than any other nation in the world in terms of the deployment of renewables,” he stressed. “In fact they have deployed more renewables than all the rest of the world put together. But it has other challenges too in terms of its economy.”

Updated: August 24, 2023, 5:01 PM