The climate needs John Kerry to deliver. Was Egypt a major setback?


SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – The lights were going out at this year’s UN Climate Change conference in Egypt as weary negotiators took part in the final hours of midnight talks. However, one of the most powerful ambassadors at the conference used the phones remotely, alone in his hotel room after suffering from covid-19.

This is not the first time that the special US climate representative, John F. Kerry, 78 years old, has faltered in an attempt to show US environmental leadership. The former secretary of state is the face of the US government’s response to climate change, but her resume is mixed. Countries around the world are lagging behind on the pledges they made under the brokered Paris accords. in 2015, and activists and other world leaders say they have become frustrated with the COP meetings. and America’s ability to deliver on its promises.

This is what Kerry experiences. He’s a rock star on the climate front, but he’s concerned about the problems in the US and world politics. This has left many wondering why her beauty and charisma cannot lead to an effective response in world capitals, including her own.

“He is strong in negotiations, and he is respected,” said Rémy Rioux, director of the French Development Agency and an expert on international organizations. At the same time, Rioux added that, “people see what the United States is doing to Ukraine, with billions of dollars in aid. … Why is there no agreement in the United States to do something similar about the climate?”

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Kerry has heard questions like these. In 2010, then-Sen. Kerry and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) failed to coordinate a climate plan, even as the House passed legislation that would have curbed air pollution across the country. Recently, he and President Biden have not been able to force Congress to approve financial aid to developing countries, although the President has promised to provide $ 11.4 billion by 2024. since January, when the Republicans will take control of the House.

At this year’s conference in Egypt, known as COP27, developing countries voiced their frustration that the United States is not matching its words and actions. They made it clear that the COP – the Conference of the Parties – should approve a “loss and damage” fund to pay for countries at risk of climate damage.

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The 200 countries at the conference did so, and Kerry helped to end the United States’ previous resistance to such funds. The Egyptian conference was in danger of failure without a moment of victory. The delegation of the United States was grateful for the assistance provided.

“I can’t remember a time when the United States was at the forefront of making a big deal about raising money for developing countries,” said Nigel Purvis, chief executive of Climate Advisers and a former US climate negotiator. “It’s great to see.”

However, the meeting ended without Kerry and the European Union officials having reached agreement on two of their biggest issues. The United States wanted language to accelerate reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions – specifically a reduction in all fossil fuels – but the language did not make it into a final agreement.

COP27 will leave the world on a dangerous warming path despite the climate fund

In many cases, rich countries would not agree to what they had previously opposed – paying climate-affected countries – without getting what they wanted, such as reduced emissions. But the United States gave in without much recompense, and gave few excuses.

Kerry’s senior officials left the meeting before the final session and waved off reporters asking questions. The US government’s statement on the final COP27 agreement came out six hours after the meeting ended, and Kerry’s office declined a request for comment.

In a speech of 2,020 words, Kerry mentioned every failure or failure from COP27. He joined many Western leaders in downplaying the lack of climate change he publicly sought. Instead, Kerry presented a long list of the US delegation’s achievements and praised the conference for progress to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

“In the real world of climate science, the math is really important when you think about the microscale: a 10th percent increase in global warming will reduce droughts, floods, and sea levels. in the sea a little, very bad weather,” he said in his speech. “It means lives saved and losses prevented.”

Although Kerry is older than many of his government colleagues, his age and flexibility make him a valuable asset to the White House — so much so that Biden named him one of his first positions. Kerry’s long history in public life, as a soldier, activist, presidential candidate, government representative and even socialite, gives him the edge in a career that requires frequent travel around the world and constant dialogue. To succeed, Kerry must connect with youth activists as well as bankers, Chinese officials and Emirati sheikhs.

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In a speech repeated here on Tuesday morning, the presenters at the Egyptian stadium used the honor that corresponds to his long career. They announced the former US senator as “honorable,” and a coalition of countries and non-profit organizations supported by the UN named him the honorable John Kerry. His staff called him secretary, dating back to his time as secretary of state during the Obama administration.

Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua, have spoken publicly about their relationship. And they exchanged emails even though the talks were suspended. At the previous two climate summits in Scotland and Egypt, Xie made unexpected appearances with Kerry, last week he surprised the crowd by joining a COP27 event on methane emissions.

“You’re probably wondering why a Chinese climate delegate would be there at the world methane summit,” Xie said, according to an interpreter, after Kerry briefed him. “My good friend Secretary Kerry told me about the meeting this morning.”

Yet even with such gestures, the world’s two biggest emitters have done nothing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week, Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at the G-20 summit to work together on climate change. But Xie did not commit China to a global methane pledge at a press conference he attended at Kerry’s request, and he did not announce any new climate policy.

In his speech on Sunday, Kerry’s only regret was for China, although he said talks between the two countries would continue.

“I am pleased that we have discussed climate with China here in Sharm el-Sheikh, following the meeting between President Biden and President Xi in Bali,” Kerry said. “Because of the long discussion period, unfortunately we only made a little progress here in Sharm.”

Kerry is in a tough spot politically, several former staffers and allies said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the difficult issues. Congress and the US electorate are reluctant to support the kind of US international aid that would help it build a stronger alliance abroad. And international audiences can also be difficult to please, Kerry allies said.

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In his speech, Kerry highlighted the support of the US government around the world and fundraising with partners to help Indonesia with $ 10 billion and Egypt $ 250 million in energy development.

The money is seen as part of a US policy to direct less money to developing countries – but it comes with a clear problem: Other countries feel they don’t have the same special support, said Laurence Tubiana, a French economist. the architect of the Paris agreement, he said in an interview.

Mistrust between developing countries and the United States led to the silence at the meeting, said several negotiators here. Although the United States stopped creating a fund to pay for countries damaged by climate change, it did not establish an agreement with developing countries to help reduce emissions. The reason: Many countries are disgusted by Washington’s failure to fulfill past promises of climate aid.

This debate was central to the divide between rich and poor countries that dominated COP27, a more difficult conference than Glasgow. Kerry’s fight against covid-19 did not help the United States to resolve such conflicts.

Kerry, who will be 79 next month, could have avoided this difficult situation by resigning as special climate envoy, and some EU leaders and others were surprised that he was staying on. But allies said Kerry finds his cause inspiring, despite frequent arguments.

He has not said whether he will step down any time soon, although two people who spoke on condition of anonymity said they would consider it and could easily find work in the private sector.

Kerry is not driven by opportunity like most political leaders, Tubiana said. He works to use political power to solve the problems he thinks about, and he has seen climate change as A global problem for many years, he added.

“If you believe that it’s world wars that we have to face – and he is convinced … you don’t care if you win … you’re fighting,” Tubiana said. “He’s really dedicated and doesn’t care. If this isn’t a glorious COP, they don’t care. They should.”

Mufson said from DC


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