Efforts to rein in climate change can't be stopped: US special envoy

People want action, so leaders who don't tackle issue will be thrown out, says John Kerry

No one politician can undo recent and ongoing efforts to rein in and mitigate climate change, said United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry yesterday.

He said global leaders have to address the issue and "grab on to this baton", or they will be thrown out because the public understands the situation and demands action.

Mr Kerry, who was US secretary of state from 2013 to 2017, was speaking on the final day of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in a video dialogue with Ms Stephanie Flanders, head of Bloomberg Economics.

Ms Flanders said future US leadership is uncertain and this can potentially impact climate efforts, given that commitment to the agenda appeared to be a partisan issue and that the Democrats, who are currently in power, are looking to be the underdogs in the next election.

She asked: "Why should the rest of the world believe this leadership is going to continue beyond the next two or three years?"

Mr Kerry replied: "For the very simple reason that the marketplace is going there, whether the government does or not. This is going to be a global revolution."

He added that the US will not be saying that they are the leader in efforts to tackle climate change, as everybody has to be a leader.

"Everybody's going to step in together," he said, noting that the US will be making up for what former president Donald Trump did during his term, such as his withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement.

In November last year, the US formally withdrew from the international treaty, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2 deg C - and preferably, 1.5 deg C - compared with pre-industrial levels.

Mr Kerry said: "So we're going to come back, we're going to do everything in our power, because our citizens are as exposed as citizens everywhere else in the world."

He said that 90 per cent of new energy is being brought online around the world today due to renewables and "this is happening without government".

"It's happening because the marketplace has made a decision and that's where we have to go… Believe me, folks, no one politician can undo what is about to happen."

He also highlighted the need for a strong collaborative effort between the world of high finance and the world of decision-making, such that money can be deployed in efforts to beat climate change. More headway can then be made in building the renewable energy base and transitioning out of coal, among other developments in technology.

"Fifty per cent of the emissions we need to reduce in the next 10 years is going to come - I am told by scientists - from technologies that are not yet at scale. So everybody is going to have to be part of this race to zero," said Mr Kerry, referring to the goal for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. "And really, what Glasgow did, I thought, was to rather brilliantly bring people together and fire the shot that begins the race of this decade," he added.

Earlier this month, world leaders gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, where Mr Kerry had declared the world was the closest it had ever been to "avoiding climate chaos".

Yesterday, he said: "Things are happening and the bottom line is we're all going to have to work overtime. The collaboration demand of the world in order to achieve our goals could not be higher or more important."

Businesses have stepped up on the sustainability front. Yesterday, global consulting firm McKinsey & Company launched a sustainability innovation hub for Asia here, to help governments and firms navigate the risks and opportunities in the transition to a greener future.

At another event, Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong said the country is keen to partner European businesses to develop low-carbon solutions and make strides in green finance as it establishes itself as a regional carbon services hub.

He said Singapore is happy to explore collaborations in the development and deployment of low-carbon solutions, in areas such as solar, hydrogen, and carbon capture, utilisation, and storage.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2021, with the headline 'Efforts to rein in climate change can't be stopped: US special envoy'. Subscribe