US secretary of state John Kerry made a stirring appeal Wednesday to all countries — including his own — to press ahead with the fight against climate change, saying a failure to do so would be a “betrayal of devastating consequences”.
Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, Kerry’s speech at the UN climate talks was partly aimed at the Republican president-elect who has called global warming a “hoax” and has pledged to “cancel” the Paris deal limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
“No one has the right to make decisions that affect billions of people based solely on ideology or without proper input,” Kerry said.
With 2016 on track to be the hottest year on record, Kerry said the impacts of global warming are now evident across the world with record-breaking droughts, rising sea levels, unusual storms and millions of people displaced by weather events.
“At some point even the strongest sceptic has to acknowledge that something disturbing is happening,” he said.
The US election outcome has created deep uncertainty about the US role in international climate talks — and about the Paris Agreement adopted last year by more than 190 countries. But Kerry said the US was already in the midst of a clean energy transition that would continue regardless of policy-making.
“I can tell you with confidence that the United States is right now today on our way to meeting all of the international targets we have set,” Kerry said. “Because of the market decisions that are being made, I do not believe that that can or will be reversed.”
The Obama administration pledged during the Paris negotiations to reduce US emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025.
Bill Hare, director of the Climate Analytics research group, said the US in on the right path toward meeting its target “but a bit more is needed to get there”.
He said if Trump dismantles Obama policies such as the Climate Action Plan and Clean Power Plan, then US emissions would stay at current levels instead of decrease.
Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate adviser, said clean energy and efficiency investments by US businesses and consumers are likely to keep American emissions falling overall.
However, he added that “most analysts believe it will take additional government policies that Trump is highly unlikely to pursue to meet the sharper emissions cuts the US has pledged by 2025 under the Paris agreement”.
Kerry said an “overwhelming majority” of Americans know that climate change is happening and support the US commitments under the Paris deal.
Falling short in the fight against climate change would be a “moral failure, a betrayal of devastating consequences”, he said.
Kerry said climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue and noted that military and intelligence leaders have recognized its potential as a “threat-multiplier”.
He asked leaders in all parts of the world, “including my own,” to inform themselves about climate change by talking to scientists, economists, business leaders and other experts.
“I ask you on behalf of billions of people around the world … do your own diligence before making irrevocable choices,” he said.