John Kerry was the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change. He warned that the conflict in Ukraine could harm international efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
“You have this new revisionism suggesting that we have to be pumping oil like crazy, and we have to be moving into long term [fossil fuel] infrastructure building, which would be absolutely disastrous,” Kerry said, speaking on June 7 at the TIME 100 Summit in New York City. “We have to push back, and we have to push back hard.”
Kerry said that rising oil prices could be a factor in the U.S. decision to support Ukraine or cut its carbon emissions. “It will change politics. And that’s probably exactly what Putin wants,” Kerry said, speaking to TIME Senior Correspondent Justin Worland. “We have to stand strong and fight back.”
That effort to fight back was the reason Kerry gave for President Joe Biden’s recent efforts to increase supplies of fossil fuels, which he characterized a short term measure. “We have to get through the crisis,” he said. “To get through the crisis you need to obviously maintain political stability.”
Kerry also acknowledged that the war in Ukraine had “interrupted the momentum” that world leaders had built during last November’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Kerry spoke to Worland and described the talks in relative success. “We left Glasgow in what was much more [of a] forward leaning accomplishment than most people have caught on to,” Kerry said. The talks saw 40 countries pledge to end coal-powered power, and a surprising agreement was reached between China and the U.S. to reduce emissions. This was mediated by Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, the Chinese climate envoy. However, the agreements announced at COP26 do not add up to a successful solution that would limit global increases to below 1.5°C. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine taking center stage, there are concerns that less attention is given to the climate fight with the focus instead on security issues and efforts to lower exorbitant energy prices set off by the conflict. “What we can’t allow to happen, is what is beginning to happen, which is a false narrative being created by those very people who never wanted to deal with the climate crisis anyway,” Kerry said.
In Europe, fears over many countries’ dependence on Russian gas for heating and electricity have accelerated some efforts to transition more quickly to renewable energy, but have also prompted nations like Germany to greenlight new infrastructure to bring liquified natural gas from suppliers like the U.S. and Qatar. And despite their promises at the end of COP26, big, polluting nations still haven’t been coming forward with tougher climate plans.
In the U.S., Democrats have still failed to pass significant climate legislation during a period that many observers say is the last chance for the U.S. to stay in line with plans to keep temperature rise below 1.5°C. According to Yale and Columbia researchers, the U.S. is also falling behind countries because of lack of climate action. Market jitters are causing some people to wonder if businesses who have made major climate commitments will keep them true to those promises if things go south. Kerry suggested that climate legislation may still get through Congress in the next few weeks (“It won’t be what was originally proposed, but it’s possible that it could be really important to the [climate] effort,” he said).
Kerry expressed concern that private investors could cut funding to support energy transition projects if there is a downturn in the economy. However, such investments are some of the most profitable. “Shareholders will begin to squawk and people will pull back a little bit and look for safer and different kinds of investments potentially,” he said. “My hope is that the stalwarts will hang in there and recognize you can’t do that.”
“There’s going to be a mixed reaction,” Kerry added. “But what I know is this, the greater risk to any capital in the marketplace is in not investing, [and] not moving in this direction.”
TIME 100 Summit, an extension to the TIME 100 annual list of influential people around the globe is a live event. This summit gathers global leaders from TIME 100 to discuss solutions and promote action for a better world. This year’s summit features a variety of impactful speakers across a diverse range of sectors, including politics, business, health and science, culture, and more.
Speakers for the 2022 TIME 100 Summit include Apple CEO Tim Cook, producer Mindy Kaling, filmmaker Taika Waititi, musician Jon Batiste, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, NBA champion, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Dwayne Wade, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, ACLU deputy director for transgender justice Chase Strangio, Christian Siriano founder and creative director Christian Siriano, Brother Vellies founder and creative director Aurora James, Netflix head of global TV Bela Bajaria, author and poet Cathy Park Hong, Olympic freestyle skiing champion Eileen Gu, author, poet, and president of the Mellon Foundation Elizabeth Alexander, filmmaker Betsy West, filmmaker Julie Cohen, BioNTech SE senior vice president Dr. Katalin Karikó, Ukrayinska Pravda Sevgil Muzaieva is the editor in chief, as well as Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce and TIME), and Marc Benioff, co-chairman and chair at Salesforce.
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