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Kerry says other nations must do far more to address climate change

John Kerry, US special presidential envoy for climate, spoke onstage during the 2021 Concordia Annual Summit in New York on Sept. 20.Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

With carbon emissions rising at a rate the United Nations secretary general recently called “catastrophic,” Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said Thursday that he worries other countries won’t commit to sufficient steps to reduce their greenhouse gases at the upcoming international climate negotiations in Scotland.

“Most countries will raise ambition; regrettably, a good number probably won’t raise it enough,” he said in an interview at the inaugural Boston Globe Summit, a free virtual conference open to all through Friday. “So we’re going to have to keep pushing. That’s just part of the course of things, but we will have the highest level of ambition ever set forth, even though it is clearly not enough.”


At the UN General Assembly on Tuesday in New York, Secretary General António Guterres noted that existing emissions reduction commitments have the world on a “catastrophic pathway” to a hike of 2.7 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels later this century. He urged countries to increase their commitments to reduce emissions so that they live up to their Paris Climate Accords goals to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees.

“We need decisive action by all countries, especially the G20, to go the extra mile and effectively contribute to emission reductions,” Guterres said.

In Kerry’s interview with Globe reporter Sabrina Shankman, she noted that a recent UN report on climate change found that the world had to collectively reduce its emissions by at least 45 percent below 2010 levels by the end of the decade to have a chance at keeping temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees. The report found, however, that emissions are projected to rise 16 percent by then, based on existing national climate commitments.

Kerry said the United States was doing its part and “working like crazy” to persuade other countries to do more.


He noted that President Biden has rejoined the Paris Agreement, which his predecessor sought to exit, and has pledged to reduce US emissions by as much as 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade.

“We will achieve it,” he said. “We’re not Donald Trump’s administration.”

Kerry said the Biden administration was working closely other large countries, including Canada, Japan, and the European Union, to reduce their emissions sufficiently over the next decade “to keep 1.5 degrees alive.” Those countries, he said, account for 55 percent of global gross domestic product.

“Regrettably, we’re still working on the other 45 percent,” he said.

As part of that effort, Kerry said that he has plans to travel soon to Saudi Arabia and Mexico and that his team has been negotiating with China, India, Russia, Brazil, and other large countries that produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases.

China this week pledged not to build future coal plants abroad — a significant change, but it does little to address emissions within the nation’s own borders. Kerry said he was urging China to do more.

“We’re working with China to get a larger reduction of emissions over the course of the next 10 years,” he said.

China is now the world’s largest source of carbon emissions, responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases, according to the New York-based Rhodium Group. The United States is the second-largest emitter, producing 11 percent of global emissions in 2019, and is responsible for the majority of emissions released into the atmosphere over the past century.


In an effort to set an example at the upcoming climate negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland, Kerry noted that Biden this week announced that the United States would double the amount of money it spends each year to help developing countries address climate change.

He also pointed to a Biden administration announcement Thursday that it was establishing a program to cut the use of hydrofluorocarbons in the United States by 85 percent over the next 15 years. The chemicals, which are used in refrigeration and air conditioning, are a significant source of greenhouse gases.

“It’s a matter of public pressure and cajoling and also providing help,” Kerry said. “The US, we can proudly say, is geared and totally fixed on a course that would do our part to keep 1.5 degrees alive. We need to bring other countries to the table.”

The Boston Globe’s three-day virtual gathering, which kicked off Wednesday, features national thinkers, speakers, and local leaders in business, health, and technology with a focus on the economy, health, innovation, and sustainability.

People can register at Globe.com/summit for access to all the panels and the ability to watch recorded events for at least one year.

David Abel can be reached at david.abel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.