Not even Trump can derail progress on climate, says John Kerry

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Dubai: An emphatic John Kerry says not even a second Trump presidency could halt momentum towards a “low carbon, no carbon” world economy, insisting there is a sense of urgency at COP28 that hasn’t been present at previous UN climate summits.

The US climate envoy said the only way to hit the critical target of net zero emission by 2050 was through a phase-out of fossil fuels, directly addressing one of the thorniest issues facing negotiators at the coalface of the climate negotiations in the United Arab Emirates.

US climate envoy John Kerry,

“If you’re going to reduce the emissions, and you’re actually going to hit the target net zero by 2050, you have to do some phasing out. There’s no other way to get to that target…this is crunch time,” Kerry said on Wednesday at Dubai’s Expo City.

“The Arctic is at a crazy rate of melting … and you look at the fires in Greece and Australia, Russia and around the world. Come on. What do you need?”

Holding court with the international press at COP28 for almost 50 minutes, Kerry said the first seven days of the Dubai conference had been “a pretty darn good week.”

Kerry said progress on loss and damage, a pledge to triple renewable energy and a methane trust fund to help reduce flaring and emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas left him feeling “a different sense of mission and urgency.”

He also gave credit to China for working “harder to try to transition more rapidly,” but he said differences remained over the challenge of “new coal.”

Asked if a change in government at the 2024 US presidential election could derail progress such as the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act (to triple clean energy capacity by 2030), Kerry was unfazed.

“In other words, what happens if a certain person is elected?” he said, adding that observers needed to only look back to when Trump, as US president, pulled out of the Paris Agreement.

“Over 1000 [US] mayors and 37 governors all kept moving forward on the things that they pledged to do,” Kerry said. “So even when Donald Trump was president, 75 per cent of new electricity in the United States came from renewables.

“[Trump] may have pulled out of the Paris Agreement, but I’m telling you, the American people stayed in that agreement.

US envoy John Kerry shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua before a meeting in Beijing on Monday.Credit: Reuters

“We will get to a global low carbon, no carbon economy – we will get there. The only question is will we get there in time to avoid the worst consequences of this crisis?”

Kerry added that the global challenge would rely on a “torrent” of climate finance and private sector funding, conceding complicated issues were still ahead for negotiators.

Since last week, COP28 has hosted leaders and representatives from almost 200 nations and more than 100,000 other attendees in Dubai, where negotiators are working to produce a final agreement for all nations to sign.

A draft of final text indicated that negotiators were considering calling for an orderly phase-out of fossil fuels.

Australia’s Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen, who was set to arrive in the UAE late Wednesday night (local time) for the second week of the summit, told ABC radio the government would support “stronger language on that sort of thing (fossil fuels),” but he would not be drawn on specifics.

“Some countries like China and the African Union have already said they are not comfortable with that sort of language, so that makes the negotiations difficult,” he told the AM program before departing Australia.

“In my experience, you go into these negotiations with a degree of flexibility, but you also go in pushing for stronger and more action. That’s what I’ll be doing on Australia’s behalf, and that’s what I’ll be doing as chair of the Umbrella Group of negotiators.”

The Umbrella Group is a coalition formed following the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol at the 1992 UN climate summit. In addition to Australia, the group also includes Canada, Iceland, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Norway, Ukraine, the United States and the United Kingdom.

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