October 26, 2021

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Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry with Raj Chengappa of India Today

22 min read

John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

New Delhi, India

India Today:  Hello, I’m Raj Chengappa and we are delighted that Mr. John Kerry, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate,  is speaking exclusively to India Today on his mission to India, a very important mission, Mr. Kerry.

Mr. Kerry:  Thank you.

India Today:  You have met Prime Minister Modi and several key cabinet ministers and discussed your mission, which essentially is to get all nations to cut their carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.  How important is India’s role in this?  And what is the response of Prime Minister Modi to your proposals?

Mr. Kerry:  Thank you, Raj.  It’s great to be with you.

India’s role is crucial.  First of all, India is a leading democracy together with the United States; a huge nation, but it’s also a nation known for its humanistic values, for its connection to earth and to responsibility.  India can contribute very significantly because it is as a nation the third largest emitter – we’re the second largest, China’s the first.  So we have a special responsibility.  Between the three of us we have over 50 percent of the world’s emissions.  So even though India’s are smaller, by half, than ours, we all have to do this because no one nation can solve the problem.  Every nation has to be part of the solution.  We’re dependent on each other.

More importantly, India is a great nation of innovation and entrepreneurial activity and research and development and so forth.  We believe that a partnership between the United States and India in an effort to try to accelerate the discovery of the new technologies that we need to deal with climate crisis, an effort to try to bring finance and help to do things that will accelerate Prime Minister Modi’s very aggressive and important commitment of 450 gigawatts of power over the next ten years from renewables, that’s what we need to do.

India Today:  And what was Prime Minister Modi’s response when you put forward the proposal for the net zero?

Mr. Kerry:  He could not have been more enthusiastic and embracing of it.  I think the Prime Minister has set, knows he has set an important goal  and the Prime Minister would like to achieve that goal.  He’s a person of action.  He wants not rhetoric but results.  So we look forward to trying to fill out this partnership and make things happen and that hopefully could be an example to others in the world.

India Today:  The U.S. has been in and out of international climate —

Mr. Kerry:  Mostly in.

India Today:  Okay.  We’re glad you are back in.  You were out of Paris for a while.

What are you all doing to rebuild the confidence?  It’s good that the Biden administration that you represent has been proactive about it, but what do you need to do to rebuild the confidence of nations that this administration is not all talk and will wiggle out of its commitments, but would really act on climate change?

Mr. Kerry:  Well we need to do exactly what President Biden is doing.  The President rejoined Paris within hours of being sworn in.  The President issued executive orders requiring every aspect of his government to factor in climate in all the decisions that we make.  The President has put a very aggressive, significant piece of legislation allocating $2 trillion to building out America’s infrastructure, our energy grid, to transforming vehicles to electric vehicles, building out 500,000 charging stations in our country.  Many, many different things the President is determined to do because it creates jobs but it also has the impact of improving health, reducing pollution, and addressing the climate crisis.

So the United States under President Biden’s leadership is very clear that we need to not talk about it, we need to do.  We need to act.

He will announce our reduction targets at the Summit on April 22nd and we will be very aggressive in our efforts.  And I would simply emphasize to you, President Trump pulled out of the agreement but most of the governors in America stayed in it.  Most of the mayors in America stayed in it.  So even though President Trump without any science, without any real rationale decided to get out of it, the vast majority of Americans stayed in.  So we’ve been doing pretty well.  Not as good as we could have.  And we certainly sent a terrible message in these last four years.  President Biden is determined to have America step up again the way it did with the Obama-Biden administration.  Now it’s the Biden-Harris administration.  And we’re going to make up for these last four years.

India Today:  Several Indian environmental agencies have said that it would be difficult for India to meet its 2050 target unless major technological changes happen in key industries, particularly in steel and cement.  Now these technologies are very expensive.  What will the U.S. do to give us the kind of green technology or the finance that will enable us to move in that direction?

Mr. Kerry:  Well, what you said is true.  We can’t meet our full goals with the current level of technology and we know that and we have to be honest about that.  But we also can chase those new technologies with far more intensity than we are.  We don’t have enough money going to that challenge of these new technologies.  We’re going to try to change that.  We don’t have enough joint effort, countries working together.  That’s why I’m here, because President Biden wants India and the United States to work together to do the research and hopefully break through on some of these technologies.

We’re all in this together.  I think we need an attitude of cooperation, bringing more people to the table.

The UAE is interested in working with us in this endeavor to try to accelerate the possibilities of hydrogen, for instance, as fuel.  The possibilities of storage for battery power and so forth.

I’m convinced we’ll get there at some point.  The challenge for us is will we get there in time?  Will we push the curve?

India Today:  That’s a good point because China, for instance, says it will not meet its targets by 2050, it wants 2060.  You have somewhat of a confrontational relationship with China at the moment, America does, and so does India.  How confident are you of getting China on board on this?

Mr. Kerry:  I’m hopeful.  Not confident at this point.  I’m hopeful.  Because China is a very important player in this.  China has a very big economy, the second largest in the world.  An enormous nation, powerful nation.  And we hope that China will come to the table and lead.  President Xi has talked about leadership, about China’s role in this.  We want to work with China in doing this.  What President Biden has said is, we will have our differences on some issues.  We clearly do.  So does India.  But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the crisis before all of us which requires all of us to respond and that’s the climate crisis.

So we have to set aside these other things.  We can’t be the prisoners of all of these differences.  We must cooperate on climate.  I think it’s possible.

China and the United States cooperated in 2013, 2014, and we were able to announce our joint efforts.  I think that helped significantly to produce Paris.  Now —

India Today:  I want to come to Paris —

Mr. Kerry:  — we need to work to produce Glasgow.

India Today:  I want to come to Paris because there there were a lot of commitments, particularly funding.  There was a $100 billion commitment made by developed nations 2020.  That was well short of target.

What are you going to do to ensure that this funding is available?  And will you start penalizing nations who don’t put their kitty in?

Mr. Kerry:  I think what we need to do is work with nations to all contribute.  President Biden is going to pay the amount that President Obama had promised, which President Trump blocked.   So we will pay our arrearage but we will also, the President will make certain that we are going forward with an additional amount.  So there will be a Biden contribution to this effort and it will be commensurate with what we should be doing with the size of our economy and our nation.

I believe that we will get, I hope, to the $100 billion.  I believe we will.  We’re about 80 or somewhere now.  But more importantly, we’re not going to just do the $100 billion.  That’s not enough money.  We have to come up with trillions of dollars and the only people who can do that are the private sector.  So we’re working with the largest asset managers, Raj.  We’re working with the largest banks.  Not just large.  We’re starting with the large.  We need to get everybody involved to put money on the table for investment.  Not give away.  But investment.  There’s money to be made in the deployment of new energy and there are all kinds of things that we can do to improve people’s lives, create more jobs, have better health, have greater security, all of which will come if we move in the direction of this new energy economy and I think it’s very exciting.

So the President’s Summit on April 22nd.  President Biden has a Summit.  There will be heads of state there and we will try to raise ambition.  We want the world to see what each country will be pledging to try to do things.  And why?  Because 20 countries, the 20 biggest economies, equal 81 percent of all emissions.  So we want this to happen but we also want it to be just.  We want to be thoughtful and considerate of the small nations that are victims of what others have been doing for 150 years or more and we need to now respond with huge speed to fix the mistakes that we’ve made.

We recognize our responsibility.  Now does that mean that we have to do it all?  No, we can’t do it all by ourselves.  Every country still has to be part of the solution.  For instance, small countries as they build out their energy, don’t go to coal.  Go to renewables.  Go to new energy.  Get a gas relationship or there are many other ways to plug your base load, but we need cooperation.

India Today:  We are running out of time and a final question, what is your big message to India and the world with regard to climate change and to save planet Earth?

Mr. Kerry:  My big message is that India can play a critical role.  It is a nation with huge intellectual resource, with great spirit and spiritual resource.  If the people, the citizens of India apply themselves to this it will happen.

The challenge for all of us is how fast?  We have to do this quickly.  We have to be committed.  And India is a critical partner together with the other bigger economies and bigger emitters.  We have to come together to make sure our children and grandchildren and future generations get a planet back that’s in better shape than it is today.  We really need to get to work to make that happen.

India Today:  Thank you, John Kerry.  We wish you all success in your mission.

Mr. Kerry:  Wish us success.

India Today:  We do.  Thank you.

Mr. Kerry:  It’s our mission.

India Today:  Of course.

Mr. Kerry:  Thank you.

India Today:  Thank you very much.

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