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U.S. envoy says climate summit can yield ‘enormous progress’

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John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, arrives at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, arrives at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, Pool) Photo Gallery

MILAN — U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said Saturday he thinks “enormous progress” can be made at the upcoming U.N. climate talks in Scotland but more governments must come up with concrete commitments in the next 30 days.

Kerry attended a preparatory meeting in Milan where delegates from around the world sought to identify where progress can be made before the U.N. climate change starts in Glasgow on Oct. 31.

The 12-day summit aims to secure more ambitious commitments to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius with a goal of keeping it to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The event also is focused on mobilizing financing and protecting vulnerable communities and natural habitats.

“The bottom line is, folks, as we stand here today, we believe we can make enormous progress in Glasgow, moving rapidly towards the new goals that the science is telling us we must achieve,’’ Kerry said. That means achieving a 45 percent reduction in carbon emissions in the next 10 years.

“This is the decisive decade,’’ Kerry said.

Kerry, a former U.S. senator and secretary of state, said that countries representing 55 percent of the world’s gross domestic product — Britain, Canada, Japan, the United States and the 27 European Union members — have submitted plans that hit the 1.5 degrees target by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the American diplomat also noted that the 89 new national submissions ahead of the summit would only cut emissions by 12 percent, and that the sum of all 191 submissions as they are currently written would increase emissions between now and 2030 by 16 percent.

Kerry declined to single out any country but said there are ways to achieve lower emissions that aren’t that expensive, including organizing power grids and making transmissions more efficient.

China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and the United States is second. Kerry said U.S. President Joe Biden has had “constructive” talks on the subject with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Kerry also highlighted commitments by India’s leader to install 450 gigawatts of renewable power over the next decade.

“Glasgow, my friends, is around the corner. It is the starting line of the race of centuries and the race of this decade,” he said. “All countries have to sprint and join together to understand that we are all in this together.’’

Kerry added “This is the test of collective multilateralism to the highest level that I have seen in my public career.”

The European commissioner for climate action, Frans Timmermans, separately underlined the importance of meeting the $100 billion annual funding commitment to help vulnerable countries fight climate change during 2020-2025, as demanded by youth activists who met earlier in Milan.

Timmermans said the financing needs going forward would be much greater than that amount and that public funding alone would not be able to cover the anticipated price tag, which runs in the trillions.

Already the Earth has seen a 1 degree Celsius temperature change and unpredictable weather patterns that have destroyed harvests and killed livelihoods around the world, Timmermans said.

“So there can be no doubt in anybody’s mind that we are fighting for the survival of humanity, and that the climate crisis and the threatening ecocide are the biggest threat humanity faces,’’ Timmermans said. “We need to change, and we need to change radically and we need to change fast. That’s going to be bloody hard. That’s the bad news.’’

Alok Sharma, Britain’s president for COP26, said “delivering on (the) $100 billion is absolutely a matter of trust.” He also said the presence of youth delegates and activists, including Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate, ahead of the climate summit preparatory meetings had energized the process.

“As we go forward of the next few weeks and into COP, we must always keep the voices of the young people foremost in our minds and think about what their response would be to the outcomes that we reach,’’ Sharma said.

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