John Kerry fears world will fall short of climate goal – even after Cop26

US climate envoy concedes UN summit in Glasgow will likely fail to meet target for required emissions cuts

US climate envoy John Kerry speaks during an interview with the 'Associated Press' at the US State Department in Washington. AP
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Crucial UN climate talks next month are likely to fall short of the global target for cutting coal, gas and oil emissions, US climate envoy John Kerry has said.

Although months of climate diplomacy has helped to secure deeper commitments from allies, it has so far failed to spur some of the world's biggest polluters into action.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Mr Kerry lauded the US, the European Union, Japan and others for pledging bigger, faster cuts in fossil fuel emissions before the Cop 26 talks in Glasgow, Scotland. He said he hoped that enough nations would join in over the next couple of years to affect change.

"By the time Glasgow’s over, we’re going to know who is doing their fair share and who isn’t,” he said.

Mr Kerry's comments came after nine months of intensive climate diplomacy aimed at nailing down global commitments of action on climate before the UN climate summit, which opens October 31.

The US envoy plans stops in Mexico and Saudi Arabia as he pushes for more last-minute pledges before arriving in Glasgow for the two weeks of talks.

“We have a lot of things to still come across the transom. And that will decide where we are overall," he said.

Mr Kerry rejected a suggestion he was seeking to lower expectations for the summit. He and others billed the Glasgow summit as “the last, best chance” to drum up momentum for emissions cuts, investment in renewable energy and aid to less-wealthy countries to limit warming to 1.5°C.

When it comes to closing the divide between cuts promised by countries and the reductions needed, “we will hopefully be moving very close to that … we’ve got to be honest about the gap and we have to use the gap as further motivation to continue to accelerate as fast as we can,” he said.

Critically, Mr Kerry's repeated trips to China and diplomatic efforts by other countries have failed to win public promises of faster emissions cuts from that important climate player, although the Chinese did pledge last month to stop financing coal-fired power plants overseas.

Mr Kerry declined to single out China as one reason why Glasgow might not be as big a success as it could be – although surprise announcements by the Chinese remain a possibility.

“It would be wonderful if everybody came and everybody hit the 1.5°C mark now,” he said.

“That would be terrific. But some countries just don’t have the energy mix yet that allows them to do that.”

For US President Joe Biden, resistance from his own party has so far blocked the administration's multibillion-dollar climate legislation.

But Mr Kerry said he was optimistic that Congress would step up.

“I don’t know what shape it’ll take ... or which piece of legislation it’ll be in but I believe we’re going to act responsibly," he said.

Updated: October 14, 2021, 4:56 PM