Euractiv was told by the US presidential climate ambassador, during a trip to Brussels that it was against the Constitution to require states to exit coal.
John Kerry was the first United States special presidential climate envoy, and was appointed by the Biden administration in January 2021. He spoke to Euractiv’s energy and environment editor, Frédéric Simon.
After the Cop26 summit in Glasgow last month, you were in Brussels to discuss global Climate Diplomacy. How can Europe convince countries like India that climate action is possible? India has been resistant to the use of coal-related language and has been the most reluctant country to accept the United States’ offer. What were the initiatives you discussed to convince these countries to increase their ambitions for climate action?
First of all, let me let me just say that India did not want to or could not feel that they could sign on to “phasing out” unabated coal because that’s all they have.
And so they were nervous of that, but they accepted “phasing down” coal in the Glasgow Climate Pact. And this is the first time in the history of Cops – 26 of them – that we have ever had Russia, India, China, other countries that use coal actually talk about “phasing down” coal.
To phase out, you must first phase down. So I’ll take the year of phasing down, providing it’s real. And that we build on that to continue to focus on the need to transition away from fossil fuel dependency – particularly unabated fossil fuels. The key here is that if there’s no capture and no utilisation, and no storage, it’s a problem.
We are now focusing together with Frans Timmermans and the EU on how to accelerate mitigation. We have 65% of global GDP committed to keeping 1.5C degree target of Paris Agreement alive.
We now have to move to other countries that are in the remaining 35%. Because the reductions don’t have to be made in one year or one meeting in Glasgow – they have to be made over the next nine years, at least that’s what the scientists tell us.
So we can achieve a global drop of 45% or more, and keep the 1.5C target alive. Frans Timmermans and our efforts together are how we can collaborate with other countries to accelerate their reductions, increase their targets, help us reach the Glasgow goal, which is keeping 1.5C degrees alive.
What kind of initiatives are the US and EU going to put forth to convince these countries?
Let me give an example. Prime minister in India is an example. [Narendra]Modi has pledged to deploy 450 gigawatts renewable energy in the next ten years. We have formed a partnership to India, UAE, and other countries to help them achieve this goal as quickly as possible through technology and finance. Frans and me discussed how we can collaborate and partner in this effort to accelerate it.
The United States was not signed up to an agreement to eliminate coal by mid-century in Glasgow. Can you please explain why? How can the US persuade other countries if it isn’t setting an example?
We signed on and accepted the cover decision. And the cover decision very clearly says “phase down”. We agreed with that.
The “phase out” language was one that we couldn’t agree to because of our constitutional capacity. We are already phasing out coal, but we can’t give an instruction under our constitution to the states to make that happen, this is just not constitutional. At least that’s the way our lawyers read it.
So we told everybody – look, we’re not against it, we’re trying to proceed forward ourselves. President Biden set the ambitious goal of a carbon-free power sector by 2035. We’ve closed over 500 coal plants in the last seven years. We will have only 100 more coal plants as we move into the next ten years. And we’ve pledged that by 2035, we will be zero carbon in our power sector.
So we’re doing it, we’re going to do it. We just can’t sign on to something which creates a legal authority we don’t have.
Now, let’s turn to Europe. Olaf Scholz was sworn into office on Wednesday as the new chancellor of Germany. And one of the things he suggested earlier this year when he was finance minister was to create a so-called “climate club” that would bring together industrialised nations such as the EU, Japan, and the US to lead the fight against global climate change. What are your thoughts on this? What would the United States think about joining such a club.
We’re interested in any and every effort that will accelerate the reduction of the carbon problem and reduce the use of unabated coal.
And to some degree, what we’re doing with a Major Economies Forum, is a kind of carbon club in the sense that these 20 countries represent 80% of global emissions. We are open to any idea that will encourage more activity, greater commitment, increased focus and partnership. And we’re willing to talk about any parameters on how we can do that.
In April next year, we’re going to be having a summit on the subject of increased mitigation. We look forward to building relationships with Chancellor Scholz and we appreciate his leadership.
Annalena Baerbock, the foreign minister responsible in the climate negotiations, was just five minutes away. We spent just half an hour together in Brussels the other evening. We had the opportunity to discuss the next steps together as she is on a tour with her counterparts. We will be well coordinated and maximize our efforts, I believe. And that’s what we’re going to do.
Probably what Mr Scholz was referring to is the EU’s proposal for a carbon border adjustment mechanism (Cbam), which will essentially apply a tariff on goods imported from countries that do not put a comparable carbon price on their industry. Do you believe that a carbon-boundary scheme like the European one is an appropriate instrument to have if you consider yourself a climate innovator?
Yes, we do. We’re examining it right now; President [Joe]Biden has asked our team to fully evaluate all implications and ramifications.
And we have said it’s a fair idea to have on the table. But it depends a lot on how it would be implemented, exactly what would be implemented, and how you include a sufficient number of people in it so that it’s meaningful.
So we’re exploring it like other people. It may be a tool we cannot ignore if other countries aren’t serious about reducing carbon.
What kind of timeline are you looking at
It’s in the near term. We have important meetings this year, and 2022 will be the year to develop the details based upon CBAM that the EU has established, which could take place in 2023. So that’s going to have to really be worked out in the near term.
And I think the whole issue of carbon pricing, Cbam, and carbon leakage – all of these things will be very much on the table over next year.
The European Union and the United States led a Glasgow initiative to reduce methane omissions. Next week, the European Commission will present a proposal to regulate methane emissions from the oil-and-gas sector. What are the next steps for the US? Do you plan to introduce similar legislation in the US as well?
Yes, we will have domestic regulations for methane. Gina McCarthy, along with her team at the White House, are working on this. We are also planning to reduce methane emissions to live up to the pledge we made. And we will join the EU and others to make sure we’re doing our maximum on it.
We’re huge believers in the methane initiative, which is why we started it with the EU. It has already been signed by 110 countries.
We just reached an agreement in Glasgow with China, where they agreed that next year they will create, implement and announce publicly an ambitious national methane action plan. This plan must be filed with the Cop next.
And so we’re very anxious to continue to press this. In each of the conversations I’ve had in England in the last few days, in Jordan before that, and now here in Brussels, and I will have these conversations in Paris – we are determined to expand as much as possible this effort on methane.
If we successfully implement the 30% global methane reduction, it’s the equivalent of taking every automobile and every truck and every aeroplane and every ship in the world and reducing them to zero emissions by 2030.
It’s a huge game; it’s 0.2C of savings on the planet’s warming. And it’s also easy and not expensive to do. So it’s low hanging fruit, frankly. We might be able to get every country to contribute, which would make the total more than 30%. So we’re going all out on the methane pledge.
This article was produced and republished by Euractiv under a content-sharing agreement.
Source: Climate Change News