Twenty Biggest Countries Have Special Role to Stem Climate Crisis: Kerry (1)

–US emissions-cutting plan crucial as big 20 consider each others’ 2030 carbon limits through October, ahead of UN climate talks in November
–Will President Biden speed the pace of cuts vs Obama ambition?

By Mathew Carr

March 9, 2021 — LONDON: The U.S. is still seeking to widen the responsibility for cleaning up the climate crisis mess, which it’s most responsible for.

In a TV interview with Newsnight in London, visiting U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry ducked a question about whether the world’s biggest economy would lead in emission cuts.

Kerry is instead seeking to enlist other big countries into the global effort, even those with much lower per capita emissions and less responsibility for the world’s most risky situation.

“The 20 countries that are the equivalent of 81% of all emissions, those 20 countries have a particular responsibility to take the lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions…All have to be part of this effort,” Kerry told BBC presenter Emily Maitlis.

But take a look at this UN Emissions Gap Report chart:

UN Gap report:

Kerry didn’t mention this context when explaining the situation: when taking the trade of energy intensive goods into account, rich nations are even more responsible for the climate crisis (a high portion of developing-nation GHG is linked to their production of goods consumed in the most wealthy countries).

The importance of trade is why G7 nations are simultaneously thinking about tax and trade-rule reform post the global pandemic and they are trying to draw the G20 into this effort too:

Kerry met with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who are helping oversee the UN climate talks in November in Glasgow, Scotland. Kerry is also meeting with the European Commission today and French government officials later.

Kerry said Tuesday from the EU commission he was seeking to “align” with Europe. “It’s important for us to align ourselves now, which is what we will discuss today. There are trillions of dollars or euros, or whatever the currency, that will be required.” The private sector will be crucial.

“Every single economic analysis makes it clear. It’s more expensive for our citizens not to respond and do what we need to do than it is to do it.”

See this on global rich-nation climate alignment:

Under the Paris Agreement in 2015, President Barack Obama committed the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26-28% by 2025, from 2005 levels. 

So will the U.S. now lead on cutting emissions at an even faster pace?

“It’s imperative that the United States step up with a very realistic and achievable, measurable level of our reductions and we will. President Biden will make that announcement either on April 22nd at our (climate) summit or in the week preceding,” Kerry told Newsnight Monday.

Missing from this sentence was the word “ambitious,” or even a synonym of that.

“But there’s no question. The U.S. has been absent from this effort the last four years, at least as a federal government,” Kerry said.

Paris commitments so far imply a temperature rise of 3.7C above pre-industrial levels, he said.

“That’s catastrophic.” And since countries seem to be failing to live up to those commitments, the temperature increase is looking like it might rise even higher than 3.7C, Kerry said. He didn’t name the countries.

Given the U.S. is most responsible for climate change and has only 4% of the global population, it’s target update, known as a nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris deal, is key.

Here is the state of play for emissions and NDCs in two linked charts, again, from the UN Gap Report.

UN Gap Report (see above for link). A conditional NDC is more ambitious than an unconditional one, though depends on minimum levels of climate finance from outside countries, for instance

The U.S. target is crucial also because it’s likely to demonstrate to poorer nations whether it’s learned to ration its own future use of the remaining global carbon budget, implied in the Paris target to keep temperatures from rising 1.5C.

Kerry suggested the U.K. plan to cut its emissions by 68% from 1990 in 2030 was ambitious. That’s also more than the EU plan for a 55% drop, so I’m guessing the U.S. is unlikely to go for emissions cuts suggested by some of its own environmental lobby groups.

See this (I’m not endorsing it as a credible option, but it’s pretty interesting outlier. It’s probably not what Kerry calls “realistic” or “achievable”):

That’s dramatic…because it would mean the U.S. removing as much as the double the volume from the atmosphere in 2030 (ie financing reductions at home and around the world, potentially) than it’s producing domestically today.

Such a scenario might even be possible if global carbon trading is structured with logic, ambition and UN-achieved credibility during the next few months.

At this point, the world can only dream of such a reality. But emissions removal technology and finance are getting a lot of attention from lawmakers and investors right now, and these markets could be set to take off.

See this:

See U.S.-U.K. joint statement:

EU-US joint statement:

(Updates later Tuesday to add Kerry seeks to align with Europe, adds link, adds US-EU statement link)

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