October 21, 2021

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Briefing with Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry

25 min read

John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

New Delhi, India

Mr. Kerry:  I’ll begin by saying I’ve had a terrific visit.  Really productive.  And I look forward to having a chance to have a dialogue with you and take your questions, et cetera.

Could you hear me before?

What I said was, I think I’ve had a really very constructive visit to India and enjoyed meeting with key ministers – the Minister of Environment, Minister of Energy, Minister of Power, Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs, External Affairs.  I also met with Amitabh Kant and Niti , so we had a very good discussion in the context of the broader challenges facing all of us and what the latest thinking is about climate and where we’re headed.

The bottom line to this visit is that President Biden is committed to moving forward aggressively to deal with the climate crisis.  He’s made it one of the top priorities of the administration.  One of four top priorities – COVID-19; the economy; healing the divisions, racial divisions in America; and climate.  And climate is integrally related to our economic recovery.  For all of us it’s a huge economic opportunity for jobs, for new technology, for transition, to a new economy, a new energy economy, and we’re very excited about that.

India is a key partner.  It’s not only the largest democracy in the world, but it is by values a country that hugely cares about the relationship of all of us to the planet, to the environment, the surroundings around us, and I think the Prime Minister is hugely seized by a sense of responsibility which we feel provides the capacity for a very important partnership.  We have, both of us, innovative, entrepreneurial populations that are always trying to push the limits of discovery.  Research and development, the creation of new products, new solutions, and I think that having a partnership really links a country that has enormous development challenges with a country that is developed but still has major transitional infrastructure and other types of challenges, so there’s a lot in common and we very much look forward to working with our friends here.

So on that note —

Journalist:  Good afternoon.  My name is Indrani Bagchi from The Times of India.

You were quoted in your remarks at the CERA Week essentially where you were talking with Ernest Moniz.  You spoke about putting together a consortium for financing renewable energy projects in India.  Where is this consortium coming from?  Which countries might be willing to invest?

Mr. Kerry:  Thank you.  I think there are lots of countries that would be willing to invest, obviously with the right investment conditions.  But in the immediate effort to accelerate the deployment of 450 gigawatts of power which Prime Minister Modi has set out as his goal, we think that’s a terrific goal.  We think that’s a powerful goal.  We want to make sure that we’re facilitating the ability to reach that goal.  That’s part of the partnership that we reached, the discussion that we agreed upon in our discussion yesterday where we intend to work very closely together, focusing on the deployment of N450 on technology and on the finance components of that.

I came here from the UAE where we had the first-ever Middle East Dialogue on climate alone with our country and the countries of the region.  Many other countries, a lot of countries in the region.  We had Sudan, Morocco, Egypt, Iraq and Kuwait and Bahrain, UAE, et cetera, all coming together to talk about the urgency of doing something serious at Glasgow and the urgency of reducing emissions and moving forward in new technology.  I can tell you with certainty the UAE is already doing a couple of things with India and they’re very interested in partnering with us in a partnership.  I’ve also talked to other countries – I’m not going to name them because it’s up to them to decide to do that, but I can tell you there are some in Europe, there are some in our continent, who are prepared to try to be helpful.

The bottom line is that we need to do some working through the details with the Modi government, which has already started, actually, but we will continue to try to grow this out very, very quickly over the course of the next weeks.

The reason is that the clock is ticking.  The clock is ticking on Glasgow, the clock is ticking on 2030.

We look at 2020-2030 as the critical, decisive decade.  That’s the period during which we have to do everything in our power to make sure we’re trying to keep the 1.5 degree Celsius limitation, to keep it alive and that’s the period during which we will do the setting of the road map that takes us to net zero by 2050.  But much more interesting than net zero 2050 is the notion that 2020-2030 is the operative ,  because if you don’t do enough then, the others are impossible.  We don’t have the ability to hold 1.5 and we don’t have the ability to meet .  So this is the time.  There’s no delay.  It’s urgent.  Prime Minister Modi understands that.  He’s committed to moving and so are we, so is President Biden.

Journalist:  Gaurav Saini, Press Trust of India.  Do you agree with India’s Energy Minister’s suggestion that instead of talking about  net zero emissions, we should be talking about net negative emissions? .

Mr. Kerry:  The goal that people are talking about for 2050 is net zero in that period of time.  But I happen to believe at some point we’re going to get to zero, and at some point once we have the ability to, we need to be net negative.  Yes.  Absolutely correct.  Even if we got to 2050 net zero, we will still have the mission ahead of us of sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, because there’s enough of it up there that even after getting to 2050 net zero, you still have damage being done and that is being added to now by methane.  Methane is leaking at a rate that is very dangerous because methane is anywhere from 20-100 times, I hear various numbers, but the baseline I’ve ever heard is 20 times more damaging than CO2.  It doesn’t last as long, but it’s much more damaging.  So that’s happening now because permafrost is melting in Alaska.  The tundra is melting in Siberia.  You run around the world and we see increasing threats because of methane alone and other greenhouse gases.

So the focus is not just on CO2.  The focus is on all greenhouse gases of which methane is perhaps the most destructive.

Journalist:  Jayashree Nandi, Hindustan Times.  I have a couple of questions that are related.  One, did you have any discussions regarding carbon markets or carbon trading with the Indian officials?  And did you have any discussions regarding net zero emissions target – first the 2030 targets and then leading up to net zero emissions later?

Mr. Kerry:  Any discussions about what?

Journalist:  With the Indian officials, with your Indian counterparts.

Mr. Kerry:  About?

Journalist:  About carbon trading and carbon markets.

Mr. Kerry:  Okay.  That’s the main question.

Yes, not in-depth, not a huge one, but we both agree carbon markets exist and need to exist.  We need them to be stronger.  President Biden believes that at some point in time we need to find out a way to have a price on carbon that’s effective.  He hasn’t decided or made an announcement about it, but we all know that one of the most effective ways to reduce emissions is putting a price on carbon.  You’re paying a price here now.  You have a price on gas, you have a price on coal, and it has some effect but no one has yet put the reality price on anything.  The fact is, prices are low enough that it’s just not having the kind of broad effect that we need to have on a global basis.  It’s a subject that needs to be discussed.  I think going into the next months there will be a lot more talk about whatever tools are available to us and certainly a carbon market is an important tool.

Journalist:  Suhasini Haidar, The Hindu.  Thank you.  Mr. Kerry, you were here  in August 2016 and you had  discussions with the Indian government of a very similar nature.  At that time you were talking before the Paris Accord.  In fact, India joined the Paris Accord  on the basis of certain assurances also that they had received  from the U.S. when it came to climate financing, when it came to climate justice.

Subsequently Mr. Trump was elected in the U.S. and we saw the U.S. government actually rescind many of those commitments, particularly to rejoin the climate accord. But also comments that were made about India being one of the world’s biggest polluters and not deserving some of the assurances that had been made.

So my question really is how much damage, when you say that time is of the essence, how much damage did the last four years really do to the U.S.’ quest for leadership, for driving the climate change initiative?  And how do you propose to make up for it?  I know the Finance Minister said in her conversation with you, in tweets we read,  that America should get back to that commitment –if it’s $100 billion from developed countries for developing countries.  How quickly do you think you can make up for the kind of damage you’ve seen over the last four years?

Mr. Kerry:  You and people around the world are going to have to decide how quickly it happens.  We can’t decide it.

What we can do is act in good faith and we can restore America’s credibility by doing the things we said we’d do.

Now we made the announcement, President Obama and Vice President Biden made the announcement that the United States was going to put $3 billion into the climate fund.  We quickly managed to expedite $1 billion of that during the budget cycle but we didn’t have control over subsequent cycles and this fellow named Trump came in and the rest is history.  He shot America’s credibility in the head and turned his back on science and became the only leader of a nation, let alone one of the biggest nations, but the only leader of any nation who decided to withdraw from the agreement.  Without science, without any rational — other than telling something to the American people that wasn’t true, which is that Paris put too big a burden on the United States.  Well guess what?  Paris didn’t place any burden on the United States.  Every country wrote its own plan in Paris.  Every country decided itself what it would do. And we worked very closely with all of the environment community, the faith-based community, but also with big businesses and others to determine what would work, how could we do this?

So when we left Paris I remember saying to the delegates in the session right after we celebrated the passage of the agreement that we weren’t leaving Paris pretending that we had held the earth’s temperature to two degrees centigrade, let alone 1.5.  We were leaving Paris having 196 countries all together sending the same message to the world.  We’re going to deal with climate and here’s what we’re going to do.

Now it didn’t happen.  And sadly, even if every nation did what Paris, what they said they would do in Paris, we would still see the earth’s temperature rising by 3.7 degrees centigrade.  And we’re not doing everything we said we’d do in Paris.

So in effect we’re heading now towards four degrees, or 4.5.  I don’t know exactly.  Nobody can tell you with precision.  But they can tell you it’s absolutely heading in that direction with this monumental level of damage.

So that’s the urgency.  That’s why when we go to Glasgow we can’t just do something light.  We have to come up with things that now will make a difference.  That’s why 2050 net zero is not enough.  You can’t go there and say we’re going to do what we’re going to do in 30 years, because if you don’t do what we need to do between now and 2030 you can’t do what needs to be done to reach 1.5, or to hold to 1.5 and to reach net zero.  You just can’t do it scientifically.  So unless there’s a miracle discovery that does in fact take all the carbon dioxide out and provides you with  storage or creates an entire new generation of a fuel – which might happen.  But you can’t take the planet and bet it on the potential of something, some sort of a miracle or something.  You can’t do that.  And that’s what we would be doing otherwise unless we come together and raise our ambition.

So the United States comes back to the table understanding this obligation.  Understanding what we need to do.  We come back with humility.  We come back knowing the last four years were a disappointment to people.  But we also come back knowing that governors and mayors and citizens throughout America worked hard to stay in the Paris Agreement.  And that’s very important for you to please register in this.  We have 37 states which have renewable portfolio laws and 37 governors – Republican and Democrat alike – lived by those laws.  So we continued to reduce somewhat.  We also had over a thousand mayors come together.  The mayor of every major city in America came together and said we’re not getting out, we’re still in Paris.

So Donald Trump pulled out, but the vast majority of the American people stayed in the Paris agreement.

So yeah, we get hurt by him getting out but the truth is the American people continued to fight.  And people need to know that because that will help us restore our credibility.

In addition, right now President Biden has kept his promise.  He said he’d rejoin Paris and he rejoined within hours of being President.  He immediately issued executive orders that undid the bad things Donald Trump did; that put in place our Climate Action Plan; that put in place the restraints on automobile standards and other things.  And he is committed to replenishing the money that we promised five years ago.

So he is planning to put into the budget the $2 billion that was owed but also he’s going to make his own payment, the Biden administration payment, that he will put in additional money for these forward years, and I think that is called living up to your obligations and keeping faith with your promises.  And I hope people in India and elsewhere in the world will recognize that Donald Trump is Donald Trump.  He’s over here.  He lost the race.  President Biden was part of the Obama administration that helped make Paris happen and now we’re going to try to help – I mean help, because every country is the key to this to make Glasgow a success.

It’s a long answer for you, but it’s really important for people to understand what took place.

Journalist:  Anubhuti Vishnoi, The Economic Times.  Mr. Kerry, there is renewed expectation for India to announce its net zero target.  Now is this a realistic or practical expectation given India is still a growing economy?  We are years away from hitting peak target.  Do you think it is something that can be practically expected of India?

Mr. Kerry:  Do I think it could be?  Yes.  Am I sitting here saying that’s what India absolutely has to do?  No.  That wasn’t my message in my meetings with the Prime Minister.  He understands the challenge.  India understands the challenge.  It would be great if India wanted to say that, but I don’t think it’s an absolute requirement in the sense that India is doing all the things that it needs to do to get us there, then that’s better than a lot of nations.  And India right now has this plan for 450 gigawatts.  If 450 gigawatts of renewable power were able to be put in place and operative, India would be one of the few nations helping to keep 1.5 degrees alive.

Now, I also emphasized earlier what’s more important than making the pledge – and we welcome the pledge.  We love to have so many make the pledge.  It’s helpful to get everybody doing it.  But what’s more important is real actions now — from 2020 to 2030 — because as I said, if you’re not one of the nations taking real actions right now, you’re not making 2050 mean anything.  That’s our challenge in the  course of the next months — is to get more people engaged in 2020 to 2030.  That’s what President Biden is trying to do with the Summit that he’s hosting where he’s asking nations to up their ambition and Paris contemplated, that is part of Paris, that we would revisit, that we would evaluate where we are, and that we would have subsequent meetings in order to raise ambition.  So this Summit is going to have the major economies of the world come together, virtually, and every head of state will have an opportunity to say what their plans are going forward.  And whether they’re raising the ambition or not.  And we think it’s critical to do so.

Journalist:  Avishek Dastidar, The Indian Express.  Mr. Kerry, I want to ask something that is related obviously.  While we are having this conversation on climate,  how, globally, how important do you think is the role played by young climate activists?  And how important is it for governments to make sure that their human rights, wherever they are, human rights are safeguarded?  What I want to ask is do governments play a role in encouraging these young climate activists?  Because the context in India is that a young climate activist named Disha Ravi was recently arrested because she shared her online toolkit about some protest and she was in conversation with Greta Thunberg.  So, as a leading personality on this issue, how important do you think is the role played by government in encouraging — protecting the human rights of young climate activists?

Mr. Kerry:  Human rights are always a critical issue to the United States and it’s something that we pride ourselves in trying to live up to.  We obviously have had our own internal challenges in the last few years and historically, but young people — you asked how important are young people — young people have been the key to pushing a lot of adults in the world to do what adults are supposed to do, which is get the job done.  Behave like adults.  Listen to the evidence.  Respond to the science.  Do things.  And I have great admiration for the activists who — Fridays for Future or the various movements, 350.org, you can name these groups.  The Sunrise Movement, different young people around the world have been trying to claim their future.  And I personally welcome that kind of activism.  I think it’s critical that it translates into votes where people are allowed to vote.  And in America  in the last election it did translate into votes.  For the first time that I can remember since 1970 probably, the environment, climate crisis was a voting issue.  Something that motivated people to come out and organize and vote for it.  And young people led that charge.  All around the world.  Because they know what’s happening to their world and their future if we don’t respond properly.

So historically, I think when you look at the history in a lot of democracies, and even where there isn’t democracy, and you look at young people in Eastern Europe and places, who pushed back against the Soviet Union, and adult leaders too who stood up.  There is this spirit in the souls of human beings that demands freedom.  And respect.  And dignity.

So this movement that we’re all involved in to deal with the climate crisis is in the end about people’s ability to be able to eat food, and live where they live, and not have to be moved because it’s too hot to live.  Or you don’t have food anymore, there’s no water.  Or climate refugees who are compelled to find a home because their home isn’t livable anymore.  That’s what’s happening.

We already have climate refugees on this planet.  So I think young people more than anybody else have said, hey wait a minute, you guys are screwing this up.  You’re stealing our future.  You’ve got to stop.  And I think President Biden has heard that call.  He made this one of the key issues of his campaign.  And he has followed through by creating a special position to help organize and go out and get this done.

So I think that’s where the – this is all wrapped up in that.

The folks who live in a lot of countries in the world are putting less than 0.7 percent into the atmosphere, but they are often the people paying the highest price for what twenty-plus countries have done – 20 nations are 81 percent of all the emissions.  And so yes, is there a big responsibility on those people to try to step up?  You better believe it.  Yes, there is.  That’s a principle that we have carried through our negotiations since the first negotiation in Rio.

But no one can use that as an excuse not to do things that they need to do.  China is the biggest emitter, we’re the second biggest emitter, India is the third biggest emitter, Russia, Indonesia, a bunch of countries follow.  And we need to therefore, all of us, join together.  Even if one of those countries went to zero tomorrow, zero emissions, if it’s just them it’s not going to make the difference that we need.  We need everybody to be heading towards zero.

And it’s doable.  It’s a very exciting transformation.  That’s my message to all of you, that the economic transformation we’re looking at is gigantic.  It’s full of jobs.  Jobs for construction of the grid, jobs for new transmission, jobs to build a new solar plant, jobs to manage these things, jobs to build the solar panels, jobs to have electric vehicles.  Run the list.  Jobs to construct new buildings that are made with better materials, that are more energy efficient, that don’t demand enormous power, and so forth.  That’s the future.  And all the young people are out there pushing for that future, will have an opportunity to help define it in many different ways.

I think it’s a great opportunity.

I don’t doubt that we will get to a zero carbon economy.  What I’m not sure of yet, because of the lack of willpower, is whether we will get there fast enough.  That’s the challenge.  This is not some doomsday thing where we’re sitting here powerless – it’s not.  We have capacity to be able to make decisions that will resolve this crisis, and we’ve just got to behave like the adults we are, allegedly, and get it done.

Thank you very much.  Thanks for coming out.  I appreciate it.

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    What GAO Found Climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost billions and could affect every aspect of the grid from generation, transmission, and distribution to demand for electricity, according to several reports GAO reviewed. The type and extent of these effects on the grid will vary by geographic location and other factors. For example, reports GAO reviewed stated that more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may adversely affect hydroelectricity generation in Alaska and the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States. Further, transmission capacity may be reduced or distribution lines damaged during increasing wildfire activity in some regions due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Moreover, climate change effects on the grid could cost utilities and customers billions, including the costs of power outages and infrastructure damage. Examples of Climate Change Effects on the Electricity Grid Since 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions to enhance the resilience of the grid. For example, in 2015, DOE established a partnership with 18 utilities to plan for climate change. In 2018, FERC collected information from grid operators on grid resilience and their risks to hazards such as extreme weather. Nevertheless, opportunities exist for DOE and FERC to take additional actions to enhance grid resilience to climate change. For example, DOE identified climate change as a risk to energy infrastructure, including the grid, but it does not have an overall strategy to guide its efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that federal efforts can focus on risk reduction by creating resilience goals and linking those goals to an overarching strategy. Developing and implementing a department-wide strategy that defines goals and measures progress could help prioritize DOE's climate resilience efforts to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Regarding FERC, it has not taken steps to identify or assess climate change risks to the grid and, therefore, is not well positioned to determine the actions needed to enhance resilience. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks to understand the likelihood of impacts and their associated consequences. By doing so, FERC could then plan and implement appropriate actions to respond to the risks and achieve its objective of promoting resilience. Why GAO Did This Study According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, changes in the earth's climate are under way and expected to increase, posing risks to the electricity grid that may affect the nation's economic and national security. Annual costs of weather-related power outages total billions of dollars and may increase with climate change, although resilience investments could help address potential effects, according to the research program. Private companies own most of the electricity grid, but the federal government plays a significant role in promoting grid resilience—the ability to adapt to changing conditions; withstand potentially disruptive events; and, if disrupted, to rapidly recover. DOE, the lead agency for grid resilience efforts, conducts research and provides information and technical assistance to industry. FERC reviews mandatory grid reliability standards. GAO was asked to examine U.S. energy infrastructure resilience. This report describes: (1) potential climate change effects on the electricity grid; and (2) actions DOE and FERC have taken since 2014 to enhance electricity grid resilience to climate change effects, and additional actions these agencies could take. GAO reviewed reports and interviewed agency officials and 55 relevant stakeholders.
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  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Mexican Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier Before Their Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Navistar Defense Agrees to Pay $50 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations Involving Submission of Fraudulent Sales Histories
    In Crime News
    Navistar Defense LLC (Navistar), an Illinois based manufacturer of military vehicles and subsidiary of Navistar International LLC, has agreed to pay $50 million to resolve allegations that it fraudulently induced the U.S. Marine Corps to enter into a contract modification at inflated prices for a suspension system for armored vehicles known as Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
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  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Bruneian Foreign Minister II Dato Erywan Yusof Before Their Meeting
    In Crime Control and Security News
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