The costs of climate inaction are too great to ignore but private capital must mobilise quickly to invest in low carbon, says outgoing US Secretary of State
John Kerry, the outgoing US Secretary of State and environmental advocate, delivered his swansong with a personal and urgent tone at the UN climate talks in Marrakech on Wednesday. Meanwhile, colleagues in Washington grappled with the White House staff reshuffle overseen by incoming president-elect Trump.
Kerry, who signed the Paris Agreement at the official ratification ceremony in New York earlier this year, came directly to Marrakech from a visit to the Antarctic, where he witnessed first-hand the effects of climate change on the fragile environment.
The first high-ranking Washington official to visit Antarctica, Kerry told a packed conference hall how ice melt in the pole, which contains 90% of the planet’s frozen water, was moving much faster than anticipated. He added that if manmade global warming is not curtailed then sea levels could rise hundreds of feet over the coming centuries.
Amid fears that Trump, who has called climate change a hoax invented by the Chinese, will roll-back US climate action, Kerry offered reassurance that the US remained united in its commitment to climate action regardless of religion, nationality or political calling.
“No one should doubt that the overwhelming majority of the citizens in the United States know that climate change is happening and are determined to make sure our commitments are upheld,” said Kerry, adding: “My experience of public life has taught me that some issues look a little different when you are actually in office than when on the campaign trail.”
Markets trump politics
The US climate leader said that one year on from the historic Paris Agreement, the wide support of international business and financial markets was secured and would be the key to ensuring the agreement’s future success.
He cited the remarkable growth of renewable energy markets as evidence of private capital committing to decarbonisation.
Over the past decade the global renewable energy sector has expanded six fold. Last year, one million solar panels were installed per day on average. And this year, nations produced more energy from renewables than from fossil fuels.
“This trend will continue because the market place dictates it, not the governments,” said Kerry defiantly, and to rapturous applause. “I can tell you with confidence that the US is on track to meet all of its 2030 climate targets. And because of the market decisions that are being made I do not believe that they can, or will, be reversed,” said Kerry.
Finally, the Secretary of State predicted that the renewables market will be worth trillions of dollars in the medium-term. “No nation will do well if it sits on the sidelines, handicapping its new business from reaping the benefits of a clean tech explosion,” he warned.
Climate impacts being felt
The general consensus at this year’s climate conference is that, despite some progress, countries are not moving quickly enough to keep global warming within a safe limit. Climate change impacts are already being felt. In 2015, 22.5 million people were displaced by extreme weather events. In countries such as Fiji, communities living at sea level have been forced to relocate permanently because their homes – lived in for generations – are no longer habitable.
In addition to the loss of human life, and destruction of habitats and wildlife caused by increasingly severe weather events, Kerry emphasised that national industries are also at greater risk of disruption and financial loss. For example, in the first three months of 2016, US$27 billion was spent on climate damage in the US, with US$10 billion spent in repairing flood damage in Louisiana alone. Kerry said that policy-makers must factor such risks more fully into cost/benefit analyses when assessing the broader costs of decarbonisation.
Kerry made a number of suggestions as to how the world can effectively fight climate change. He stressed the need to immediately cease the construction of new coal powers stations, which produce 30% of global energy supply but also account for half of all greenhouse gases emitted. He said that developments in low carbon technologies will mean nothing if new coal power stations continue to be built, especially in developing countries experiencing rapid population growth and rising energy demand.
Kerry also stressed the need to improve carbon markets, and suggested that countries and businesses should set a price for carbon. Other priorities include fostering a bipartisan approach to climate action and tax credits for renewable energy.
The outgoing Secretary warned that failing to take quick and comprehensive action to mitigate climate change would lead to disastrous consequences that cannot be undone.
Please follow this link for a report on the US decarbonisation strategy up to 2050 released on Wednesday, November 16 at COP22.