Former Secretary of State John Kerry attends the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2019. President Biden has appointed him special presidential envoy for climate. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – The United States is returning to the Paris climate accord and multilateral climate action “with humility for the absence of the last four years, and we’ll do everything in our power to make up for it,” President Joe Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry told an international “climate adaptation summit” on Monday.
“President Biden has made fighting climate change a top priority of his administration,” the former secretary of state told the virtual meeting. “We have a president now, thank God, who leads, tells the truth, and is seized by this issue.”
Rejoining the Paris climate accord could come with a multi-billion price tag for U.S. taxpayers.
Hours after his inauguration, Biden signed an executive order on rejoining the Paris climate accord, the U.N. agreement from which President Trump formally gave notice of withdrawal in 2017. The exit took effect in December, but the new administration’s written notification to the U.N. means it will become a party once again in 25 days’ time.
“Three years ago scientists gave us a pretty stark warning,” Kerry said in his video statement.
“They said we have 12 years within which to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Now we have nine years left, and I regret that my country has been absent for three of those years.”
“We’re proud to be back. We come back, I want you to know, with humility for the absence of the last four years,” he said. “And we’ll do everything in our power to make up for it.”
The summit, held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, was hosted by the Dutch government. Other participants included the British, German and Dutch heads of government and French head of state.
‘We intend to make good’
Kerry told the meeting, without providing details, that the administration plans to “make significant investments in climate action.”
“We have already launched our work to prepare a new U.S. nationally-determined contribution [NDC] that meets the urgency of the challenge, and we aim to announce our NDC as soon as practicable.
The 2016 Paris accord aims to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, by achieving net-zero emissions by the second half of the century. The United States’ NDC, put forward by President Obama in 2015, was to reduce U.S. emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels – by the target date of the year 2025.
In addition to domestic measures, Kerry told the summit on Monday, “internationally, we intend to make good on our climate finance pledge.”
“Well, Mr. Kerry, it’s wonderful to have you back,” the event host, Dutch television presenter Sacha de Boer, said after he completed his statement. “Thank you very much. The world is grateful for the reinstatement of climate ambition from the U.S.A.”
In 2014 Obama unilaterally pledged $3 billion over a four-year period to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a U.N. mechanism designed to help developing countries reduce their carbon emissions (“mitigation”) and cope with phenomena attributed to climate change, such as rising sea levels (“adaptation”).
By the end of Obama’s term in office, $1 billion had been sent, in two equal instalments – the second just three days before Trump’s inauguration.
In keeping with a campaign pledge to “cancel billions in global warming payments to the United Nations,” Trump halted the funding. The GCF still considers the U.S. to be in arrears to the tune of $2 billion.
In his campaign climate plan, Biden pledged to recommit the U.S. to the GCF and to “meet America’s climate finance pledge,” with no specific sum mentioned.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), in a Foreign Affairs article last week, said Congress should provide the funding for the U.S. to meet its original $3 billion pledge to the GCF, and then put the U.S. “on a schedule to double that amount by the end of the administration.”
According to a U.N. report issued late last year, U.S. per capita emissions of greenhouse gases have continued a steady decline since 2000, when they were measured at 25 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) per person. By 2019 they had dropped to 20 tCO2e per person.
China’s per capita emissions, meanwhile, climbed over that same period, from around 4 tCO2e in 2000 to about 10 tCO2e in 2019.
China remains by far the biggest overall greenhouse gas producer, emitting around 14 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2019 (more than a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions), compared to 7 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent in the U.S. (13 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions).