News From Davos: US Vows to Throw Weight Behind Climate Change Fight

Special envoy John Kerry said ‘we wasted four years’ under the Trump administration.

The US announced its return to the fight against climate change at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry said the country “wasted four years” under the Trump administration, which refused to acknowledge climate change and withdrew from the Paris Agreement in 2017.

“President [Joe] Biden is totally committed to this fight,” Kerry said in a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday. One of Biden’s first actions when he took office was having the US rejoin the Paris Agreement.

Kerry said every country needs to come up with a plan to fight climate change, adding that “genuine scrutiny and measurement” of each country’s plans for emissions reductions is necessary. He also singled out China as having a commitment to reduce emissions that is vague, and a strategy that is opaque.

“China has said they’re going to do something by 2060, but we don’t have a clue really yet how they’re going to get there,” Kerry said. “I hope we will be able to work with China. I hope we will be able to get China to share a sense of how we get there sooner than 2060.”

And while he acknowledged that “China has done a lot” to fight climate change, he added that the country is also funding coal-fired power plants around the world.

Since taking office last week, Biden has signed an executive order that establishes climate considerations as an essential element of US foreign policy and national security and set a goal for the US to be a net-zero economy by 2050.

“It’s realistic,” Kerry said of the executive order, “and it’s going to be the most massive mobilization of our government around this issue in history.”

Speakers on the panel included Ben van Beurden, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell; UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed; and World Economic Forum President Børge Brende, among others.

During the discussion van Beurden said that “nobody in their right mind at the moment denies this is an issue,” and added that Royal Dutch Shell, which has been in the fossil fuel business for more than a century, is committed to becoming a net-zero-emissions business by 2050 or sooner.

While Kerry pledged the support the of the US government to fight climate change, he also said he was “looking to the private sector” to help lead the fight.

“Several major asset owners and asset managers have committed to holding by 2050 investment portfolios that add up to net zero,” Kerry said. “That’s going to be gigantic.”

Kerry also mentioned BlackRock CEO Larry Fink and his most recent letter to CEOs, which he said “underscores the change that is bubbling up as corporate board rooms are dealing with ESG [environmental, social, and governance issues] and SDGs [the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals] and there’s a tremendous amount there we can tap into.”

Kerry also said more needs to done to research alternative energy sources, specifically naming fourth generation modular nuclear technology, a relatively new technology championed by Bill Gates and his TerraPower nuclear reactor design company.

“It is zero emissions,” Kerry said.  “If it pans out to be able to do what designers say it can do, which is not melt down, not have proliferation challenges, not have waste challenges, then wow.”

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