Cop26 chance to win a ‘victory’ for life on Earth but more action needed: Kerry

There is momentum among countries and businesses to tackle climate change, but more is needed, US climate envoy John Kerry urged ahead of Cop26.

John Kerry
John Kerry

Cop26 is the “chance to win a victory for the next century, for life on this planet”, US climate envoy John Kerry has said, while warning all big emitters must take action on climate change.

Speaking at London School of Economics (LSE) before the Cop26 climate summit kicks off in Glasgow, Mr Kerry said there was “real, meaningful and growable” momentum among countries and businesses to drive a shift to green economies.

But the US special presidential climate envoy warned there was still a gap between action pledged by countries in the next decade and the levels of emissions cuts needed to avoid dangerous warming.

Glasgow could be a new beginning to drive action on tackling climate change over the next “decisive” decade, he suggested.

Mr Kerry said all countries must work together, with G20 countries, the world’s largest economies including China and India as well as the US and UK who account for 80% of emissions, particularly responsible for action.

And he criticised those countries such as China who were arguing they deserved “carbon space” because other nations had developed in the past when they had not, and therefore they should be allowed to pollute more.

He warned: “Mother Nature only has one measure of how much emissions are in our atmosphere.

“She doesn’t measure whether it’s US, China, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, it’s just atmospheric.

“Every ounce matters, every tenth of a degree of temperature matters.”

Scientists say the world must cut carbon by at least 45% by 2030 to be on a path to “net zero” emissions by 2050 to limit global rises to 1.5C, but emissions are likely to rise 16% by 2030 on 2010 levels on current efforts.

Mr Kerry said: “We must significantly accelerate our efforts.

“That is a judgment not of me, or President Biden or of anybody in politics.

“It’s the judgment of the best science and mathematics.

“That’s what this is about, not ideology, not politics, it’s about mathematics and physics,” he said, adding scientists had warned of the “devastating consequences” if global temperatures rise more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The world was already at around 1.2C of warming, and “we’re no longer talking about impacts in the future, we no longer need scientists to tell us what will happen because we’re seeing it happen now already,” he said, pointing to heatwaves, superstorms and floods this year.

He said the world faced destruction of crops and coral reefs, the melting of glaciers that provide water for millions, migration, destabilised regions and collapsing economies beyond 1.5C of warming.

His speech comes as leading scientific advisers, including the UK’s chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance, issued a statement to world leaders before the Cop26 talks calling on them to take action to limit temperature rises to 1.5C.

And Sir David Attenborough, speaking on the research vessel named after him in London, said he hoped nations would listen to the science and take action at Cop26.

Mr Kerry said that when he began his role as climate envoy nine months ago after being appointed by US President Joe Biden, very few countries were on track for 1.5C, but nations representing 65% of global GDP will arrive in Glasgow with 1.5C commitments and real plans to implement them.

He also said there was momentum in the private sector, from green cement and steel to the commercial success of Tesla to changes in boardrooms and clean investment, amid recognition that the real cost was the cost of inaction.

But despite all the momentum going into Glasgow, there was still a huge gap between the action needed to keep to the 1.5C limit and efforts so far by countries to address the crisis.

“I believe we can overcome that gap but it’s going to take all of us.

“The world must work together to close this gap, but particular responsibility lies with the top 20 economies of the world who are responsible for 80% of all the emissions,” he said.

Without naming individual countries, he criticised those who are still building new coal plants, or continuing to clear cut forests.

But he also said many countries needed help with investment in the green transition, so efforts were needed in Glasgow to work together to deploy the trillions of dollars needed to make the shift.

“What we need is not a lot of finger pointing and screaming at other countries but a lot of effort to bring them aboard,” he said.

He said all the action countries were taking would be would be held up to the scrutiny of the world in Glasgow, and out of the conference there would be the “greatest springboard” of individuals demanding accountability and the power of the market place to drive investment in green tech.

There would still be a gap between action and ambition after Glasgow, he said, but there would be a stocktake of global emissions in 2023, and the capacity to measure them openly and transparently, such as with satellite technology.

“Next week in Glasgow we have the chance to win a victory for the next century, for life on this planet.

“And then we’ll have to get up every single day and win it again, and win it again, until the work of this decisive decade is decidedly done,” he said.

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