Opinion by Mathew Carr
Oct. 17-18, 2021 — The most interesting part of the Associated Press writeup (note 1) of an interview with the USA’s special climate envoy John Kerry was right near the end.
I’ll show you the relevant section below, but my main point is it demonstrates Kerry has been getting some strong push back from countries as he seeks to garner support for global climate action (and apologize for U.S. inaction).
A main reason for that push back is indeed that lack of climate protection in the U.S.
Perhaps an even bigger, related, reason is that America’s climate pledge (its nationally determined contribution in the United Nations jargon) is so full of holes.
So, not only is the U.S., most to blame for the climate crisis, failing to act right now. It’s not really promising to act before the year 2030.
Here is the AP section, from Oct. 14:
Kerry declined to single out China by name as one reason why Glasgow might not be as big a success as it could have been – although surprise announcements by China remain a possibility.
“It would be wonderful if everybody came and everybody hit the 1.5 degrees mark now,” he said. “That would be terrific. But some countries just don’t have the energy mix yet that allows them to do that.”
For Biden at home, it’s the lawmaker mix that’s the problem. Holdouts from the president’s own party so far are blocking the administration’s multibillion-dollar climate legislation of the kind needed to make good on U.S. pledges to slash its emissions at least in half by 2030.
Asked how the administration’s troubles delivering on its own climate promises affect his work rallying climate action abroad, Kerry said, “Well, it hurts.”
“I’m not going to pretend it’s the best way to send the best message. I mean, we need to do these things,” he said.
Kerry added he was optimistic Congress would step up. “I don’t know what shape it’ll take…or which piece of legislation, it’ll be in, but I believe we’re going to act responsibly” at home, he said.
I added some emphasis.
Why does it hurt? U.S. lawmakers are failing to agree how to tackle emission cuts domestically and in my opinion they’ll probably continue failing until near the end of Glasgow talks on Nov. 12 (the talks are likely to overrun). The negotiations start Oct. 31 – in two weeks.
I hope I’m wrong.
The lack of success of the U.S. lawmakers hurts the global process because the U.S. has overpromised and underdelivered on domestic climate protection for years (though its emissions have declined from a peak, they are little changed on 1990 levels, when the world agreed to tackle the problem via the UN).
I contend this is why China and India’s leaders for instance are not yet confirming they will even show up in Glasgow.
Remember, the U.S. helped negotiate the Kyoto Protocol then never signed up properly. President Trump pulled the USA out of the 2015 Paris climate deal and now President Biden has put it back in.
The country that’s put most greenhouse gas into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution (with only 4% of the world’s population) has no credibility.
What’s worse, it’s promising to do very little in the next decade because it’s got a single-year emissions target in 2030. And it can meet that by buying emission credits. See this and my prior article on it linked in the caption:
Conclusion: U.S. lawmakers need to find a way to agree a plan over the next few days, otherwise the Glasgow talks will be unnecessarily rocky and will potentially fail. Maybe, rockiness is inevitable.
I think it’s unlikely that China and India will update their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) given the terribly unambitious state of the U.S. NDC.
Should U.S. lawmakers succeed soon, then the U.S. could update its NDC to include something more like a carbon budget for the next nine years (and carbon pricing of some kind to ensure the budget is met). Then, I reckon, the updated China and India NDCS would appear, smoothing the climate talks.
If those two emerging nations do update in the next two weeks, they are the true climate champions. They, with huge populations, are certainly not the ones to blame for the climate crisis.
“China revealed the climate commitments that it’s willing to make very early, even though those goals fall well short of what will be required to meet the 1.5C target,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst for the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, according to the Independent.
The key people need to be at the Glasgow meeting, to bask in its glory. If they are not there, victory’s less likely.
“If the world was hoping for some kind of last-minute deal to emerge by the end of COP26 (shortform for the Glasgow meeting — the Conference of the Parties), it will be harder because Xi probably isn’t going to be in Glasgow in person,” Myllyvirta said. See note 2 and for China’s potential plans see note 3.
(Added quotes from newspaper. More to come, corrects dateline to Oct. 17 from Oct. 16)