The world is at a crossroads for a cleaner future


July 22, 2021

La seguente intervista è apparsa sul daily “La Repubblica” del giorno July 22, 2021
by Maurizio Molinari

“By protecting the environment, we have a real possibility of improving people’s lives; we are on the eve of the biggest change since the industrial revolution ”. The President’s Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry, accompanied by Senior Advisor and Former Ambassador to Rome David Thorne, meets us at Villa Taverna. He carefully examines the preparatory documents for the G20 environment, climate and energy forum which opens today in Naples. Kerry is aware of Beijing’s resistance and inter-European tensions, but he looks beyond: he believes “in a convergence of the G20 on the commitments of the G7”, he speaks of “a possible collaboration with Moscow”, he applauds the “cohesion of the EU” despite the controversies over the “Green Deal” and he looks forward to the UN conference scheduled for November in Glasgow because “the co-presidency of Italy and Great Britain gives us high hopes ”.

Secretary Kerry, you are asking the G20 summit to follow the G7 in its commitment to climate protection. Do you think the Naples summit will listen to this suggestion or will it be blocked by cross vetoes?
“My impression is that individual countries want to do better when it comes to protecting the environment and they want to do it now.”

However the differences are there and the top appears while uphill….
“There can be differences of opinion on whether one decision is enough or whether someone is doing better than others. So we have to listen to everyone, carefully. And that’s what I will do at the Naples summit. But the G7 was a big success in terms of the commitments that were made – no funding for coal-fired power plants abroad, reducing emissions by 2030 and limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees – and I believes that we can continue on this path with the full support of the G20. We have more options in Naples.

Italy, the rotating G20 presidency, is trying to facilitate a deal at the environment summit. Will it be successful?

“Absolutely. Your ministers, Cingolani to name but one, are doing a great job, they are very competent. I met Prime Minister Draghi and he described very clearly Italy’s ambitions: not only to lead COP26 towards success but also showing the way forward. The co-presidency of Italy and Great Britain at COP26 gives us great hopes “.

The European Union is committed to achieving zero emissions by 2050, reducing greenhouse gases by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels. Is this a realistic target or could it cripple our savings?

“This is a realistic, achievable and positive goal for the economy. We are facing the possibility of the greatest economic transformation since the industrial revolution. Millions of jobs will be created. there is no doubt. For example, in America we need to create a national power grid – which we don’t have – and that means jobs, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, construction workers, heavy equipment workers. We are facing the need for massive construction and other countries are in a similar situation. In addition, new technologies must be developed: green hydrogen, electrolysers all the less expensive the more efficient they are. Hydrogen is zero emission if it is not produced with fossil fuels, that means we can produce clean hydrogen. Of course, there is also blue hydrogen that can be made with gas, but we want to reduce all emissions. can we do this? Yes. Is it clear how we’re going to get there? No. We must raise our ambition. And that is why we will meet again in Glasgow, in November, during the UN COP26 ”.

The EU wants to introduce a tax on imported goods produced creating harmful emissions. It is a kind of environmental tax. What is the position of the United States on this?

“President Biden asked me and my team to assess the impact of this possible European tax. We have no idea what effect this would have on the production chain, if it could negatively affect trade and employment. We need to carefully assess all of these things. But the idea that a country can export cheap products because it does not meet environmental standards is not acceptable. There are countries that must answer for such actions. It’s just. There can be different ways to do it, but we can take the basic idea.

More broadly, do you think that the European Union and the United States will succeed in harmonizing environmental laws and regulations?

“I do, absolutely. The more harmony we can create among ourselves, the better it will be for everyone. It is important to reach common principles and rules in environmental matters.

In mid-July, you met Russian President Putin in Moscow, who spoke of “common interests with America” ​​in environmental matters. How can the Kremlin help reach a UN deal in Glasgow?

“Russia can do a lot. Putin has made it clear that he also sees climate change as a problem for his country. Russia has methane and in its northern regions it’s a problem where it’s leaking into the thawing tundra, into the permafrost. Large buildings and entire cities have become unstable due to thawing and melting of the soil. Plus, Russia has gas, and while it’s not the ultimate solution, the use of gas can help bring the solution closer. “

In short, you looked President Vladimir Putin in the eye and you had the impression that he really wants to protect the climate. Is that the case?

“I’ve been in diplomacy long enough to know that words are just words and cost very little. So words are needed to reach agreements which, once signed, become facts and are observed by all. This is why commitments are necessary. I believe Putin sees the problems but it remains to be seen when he will achieve his goals ”.

China continues to support the financing of coal-fired power plants abroad. Why is President Xi moving in this direction?

“You have to ask the Chinese. I think it’s a problem, it’s a challenge, for which Beijing must be responsible. We know that some countries regard these plants as crucial for their energy production, but we no longer believe that to be the case: today we have wind, solar and other renewable sources available and cheaper. . It is up to countries like China to take advantage of these advantages ”.

In your speech in London on Monday, you offered China the opportunity to ally with the West to protect the climate. Do you think they will accept?

“Until they refuse, there is a possibility that they will accept. I have worked a lot with the Chinese. I had 14 virtual meetings with them and on one occasion when I went in person to Shanghai the outcome was positive. So I think China will agree, because we all know that without it – like without the other big economies – we can’t do it. If we go zero emissions and Beijing’s emissions continue to rise, we will fail in protecting the planet. It is not about politics or ideology but mathematics and calculation: and scientists know very well what we have to do ”.

On the road to the United Nations Climate Summit in Glasgow, can we say that the biggest obstacles are China and India?

“No. They are part of a patchwork of challenges we face. The climate challenge is different in every country. Some have no electricity, others have huge amounts of energy but no gas. . We need to take advantage of new technologies to respond to this agenda. Of one thing I am sure: the climate issue can only be tackled and resolved if all countries participate. It can generate jobs and wealth practically everywhere We need regional river water agreements, for example, so that everyone can benefit from clean hydropower.

In short, do you believe in the possibility that the EU will overcome divisions and join the United States in the fight against climate change?

“Yes, Europe has overcome Brexit and is now facing the climate crisis with determination. Thanks to its leader, Ursula von der Leyen and Vice-President Timmermans, he can succeed. He can join the United States to promote new alternatives, green technologies, financial solutions, clean energy sources and power plants that make a season of discovery possible. It’s a great time for all of us because we can make people’s lives better. It is an opportunity for all of humanity.

Traduzione di Luis E. Moriones

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