NEW YORK - Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, on April 22-23 President Biden hosted the Leaders Summit on Climate and the U.S. announced an ambitious new climate target. What were the most important practical results of the Summit and how should we build on them in order to better fight climate change?
«The Administration has been clear from the beginning, no country can solve climate change alone. It just can’t be done. In fact, if some countries don’t get serious, they’re effectively erasing the admirable actions of good actors. So, progress has to come from everyone, everywhere. In that regard, the Leaders Summit was important for two big reasons. First, it’s important to our allies to see that the United States is back and working in concert with our closest friends and even with our adversaries to get this job done. I know from talking to allies, it has a multiplier effect. People want to see and feel that we’re back and we’re serious. The President’s announcement of our new ambitious emissions reductions target underscored our seriousness. Our 50-52 percent reduction target for net greenhouse gas pollution by 2030 sends a big signal. Second, in hosting the summit, the United States created another forum on the road to Glasgow for others to follow suit and increase their ambitions in combatting climate change. At the Summit, nations accounting for more than half of global GDP committed to the global pace of emission reductions needed to hold the earth’s temperature rise to no more 1.5 degrees, which is what the scientists tell us we have to do in order to avoid catastrophic consequences. Japan and Canada also announced ambitious new 2030 commitments. The European Union moved to put their 2030 target into law, the United Kingdom set a new pace-setting 2035 goal, and India formally stepped up its commitment to accelerate renewable energy deployment. Countries are moving in the right direction, but there is more to do-not just by governments but by also the private sector. No single government or private company can close the financing gap needed to tackle climate change, which is why we need governments, international financial institutions, and the private sector to work together. It’s doable and the economic opportunities-for countries and the private sector-are extraordinary if we get this right. The steps we take this year to set the world up for success will make all the difference. We have work together to unlock potential and resolve the climate crisis.»
You recently met the Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio in Washington. This year Italy will host the G20, the Milan PreCop26 event and the "Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition." How could the new Italian government led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi help the advancement of the global climate change response agenda, both as a country and as a founding member of the European Union?
«Thank you for mentioning the meeting with Luigi Di Maio. I wanted to make sure that I met with him during his trip to Washington, given the instrumental role that Italy is playing on climate change, especially this year with its role in the EU, its role as co-host of Cop26 and host of a key pre-Cop26 meeting, its presidency of the G20, and its commitment to "ecological transition" policies. I know that Prime Minister Draghi’s government even created a new Ministry - the Ministry of Ecological Transition. This leadership is so important - I really get the sense that Italy has stepped up to the plate in a big way, and it is playing a larger role within Europe - and indeed on the global stage - in ways that benefit all of us. Italy’s new prime minister Mario Draghi obviously has the experience, including on the broader European and global stage, to really capitalize on this opportunity. And I’m very optimistic about several of the other key leaders in the Italian government as well. I had an opportunity to have a very good conversation with Minister Roberto Cingolani. He believes in science and brings the sort of rigor and curiosity that is always refreshing to see in politics and policy. He is playing a key role overseeing Italy’s plan to dedicate 60 billion euros of its EU pandemic recovery funding toward a variety of green initiatives, including energy efficiency and hydrogen research. I think he will do an excellent job not only in managing his newly evolved ministry, but also in keeping the world focused on the science and the imperative that science is presenting us.
Italy has a strategic position in the gas rich Mediterranean region, where it could help the creation of a gas hub from Libya to the Zohr field, and some of its leading energy companies are exploring the use of hydrogen. Would that be helpful in enhancing the climate change response agenda?
«Different technologies have different roles to play in each country’s energy transition, I am not an expert in Italy’s energy needs. In my engagements, I emphasize to every leader that it is important we focus on rapid climate action this decade, and make sure that we are phasing out our most polluting fuels. Italy has been very assertive in its pursuit of a coal phase-out, with plans to eliminate coal by 2025, and to the degree that any lower-carbon resource can deliver or perhaps even accelerate that transition, I am very supportive.
Hydrogen intrigues me. I am very optimistic about low-carbon hydrogen as a growing energy vector in the future, and many countries in very different contexts and parts of the world are really sprinting to explore hydrogen solutions. What I find especially heartening about Europe, and about Italy, are the concrete policy and regulatory steps being put in place to anticipate a hydrogen future. From reviewing network codes and regulations to Italian companies leading the way in testing the transport of hydrogen in existing natural gas pipelines, to efforts that seek to better coordinate the growth of hydrogen demand with hydrogen supply, I’m really impressed by what is taking place here. There is a "hydrogen catapult" being pursued by several leading companies around the world, including Italian ones, that is doing great work on this front. I also see a synergy, potentially, on both sides of the Atlantic. I just read a provocative commentary by ten big companies including Hyundai and GE about how hydrogen can fit into the Biden Administration’s infrastructure plan as we put steel in the ground and build out tomorrow’s energy infrastructure. These were all major companies committing to an exciting course now, not in twenty-five years.
I know the United States is taking notes and, as we develop an even more robust approach to hydrogen and several other emerging decarbonization technologies at home, I know we’ll be building off what you are doing here, and I hope Italy will be able to learn from our own experiences as well.»
You said during an interview we had last summer that «A G20 movement where the major emitters providing more than 80 to 85 percent of all the emissions come together to define the ambition of Paris upwards would signal commitment to "build back better" after COVID. It would assure one hundred and thirty economies in the world - which produce less than 1 percent of global emissions - that big countries will walk the walk on climate.» What concrete measures should the Rome G20 adopt in order to help the creation of this movement?
«The G20 Summit is going to be a very important moment on the 2021 calendar - a critical moment, I would say. I think of this as a year where every major gathering has to be a climate gathering. We have to put climate on every agenda everywhere, you can’t wait for Glasgow. That’s how you build momentum. The G20 Summit will be one of the major waypoints on the road to Glasgow and the COP26 climate conference in the Fall. And the G20 is the closest thing to the Major Economies Forum the United States just reconvened at President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate, so it will also be an opportunity to check in on these major economies, these major emitters, and especially the ones that didn’t offer much in the way of new ambition at our Climate Summit. You know, these sorts of summits have a great deal of value as action forcing sort of milestones. It focused the minds of several major economies to offer new enhanced climate commitments at our Summit. And I hope that Italy continues with the same focus for the remainder of the decisive decade.
There are a few things I think would make for a very strong G20 Summit. I know Italy shares with the United States a focus on the importance of keeping "1.5" alive, as we say - ensuring that we give ourselves the best shot of holding temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius. To do that, we need focus on achieving net zero emissions by 2050, and we need all G20 members to join leaders like the United States, Italy, and the rest of the EU and commit to this. But we also know that just a net zero goal, even a net zero 2050 goal, is not enough. We need specific strategies that will get us all to net zero by 2050, and we need to have major ambition and action this decade if we have any chance of achieving our longer-term goals. These 2030 goals are the renewed Paris Agreement commitments that all countries should be making, and they need to be aligned with keeping 1.5 alive. The United States and Italy should be ready to help catalyze the conditions necessary to help countries set and achieve these goals, but we all need to share a common vision of the future we want, and the effort needed to get there. Italy has a major leadership opportunity in working on that, and the United States stands by ready to help it. Italy’s success is all of our success.»
You were recently in Shanghai to meet your Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua. Last year President Xi announced that China will be carbon-neutral by 2060 and aim to reach a peak in its emissions by 2030, however he offered few practical details on how to reach the targets. How could China speed up reductions in emissions?
«China is the largest consumer of coal in the world and is still building coal plants in China and abroad, so of course getting China to do more is critical to our collective success on climate. China is 30% of emissions, the world’s biggest emitter, so I’m always mystified when some people suggest you can solve climate without engaging China. You don’t have to be a mathematician to understand that you can’t and you won’t, you have to be willing to try and make progress. Recent Chinese statements were positive first steps, including at the Leaders Summit on Climate and in the joint statement that came out of my discussions with my Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua in Shanghai. China has joined the United States in acknowledging there is a climate crisis that requires enhanced action in the 2020s, including strictly controlling coal-fired power projects. It would be game-changing if China announced a suspension of its funding for coal projects beyond its borders, as President Moon Jae-in announced South Korea will do at the Summit last week, and I’m hopeful that Beijing will further raise its climate ambitions before COP26 in Glasgow in November. Equally important to any announcement will be follow up implementation and accountability. At the end of the day, the world will be looking at what Beijing does to determine whether China is going to seize this moment.»
The Biden administration infrastructure package includes investments in renewable energy and clean transportation. How would investing in the ecological transition help climate change response, economic growth and jobs creation?
«As you noted, President Biden sees resolving the climate crisis as an opportunity for economic growth and jobs creation and knows that improving the health of our communities, well-being of our workers, and competitiveness of our economy require quick and bold action. The costs of inaction are too great. We must invest in infrastructure and innovation and fuel an economic recovery that creates jobs. We have the opportunity to fuel an equitable economic recovery, create millions of good-paying jobs around the world, and build a more sustainable, resilient future. The United States remains committed to the goal of building a net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050, including a carbon pollution free power sector by 2035.
Of course, investing in these priorities creates shared value not only in the United States, but across the Atlantic, as well. The EU and the United States share a leading position in several key climate solutions, from energy efficiency technologies to carbon capture and storage, to offshore wind, to low carbon hydrogen, and beyond. By investing in the green transition in a coordinated way, we can grow the economic pie rather than worrying ourselves about which slice of it each one of us is capturing. These benefits are further enhanced when we coordinate on the research, development, and commercialization of the next set of technologies we will need to achieve even deeper decarbonization at lower costs. Many of our research institutions in the United States, in Italy, and in the rest of the EU have a rich history of collaboration, and we can build on this further. President Biden’s economic plan includes a proposed quadrupling of clean energy R&D investment. At the same time, I know that the EU is also planning on an increase of 50% of its own clean energy R&D spending. I’m so excited about the next generation clean technologies we can create using the best of American and European know-how.»