John Kerry is everywhere and does not stop for a moment at a difficult United Nations climate summit.
Kerry, United States President Joe Biden’s envoy in Glasgow, Eagerly seeks common ground on climate issues in talks with rival countries, China and Russia, and rushes to press conferences praising progress. Go to project presentations and reward executives and bankers for their emissions reduction efforts with congratulations and high-level meetings. The slender envoy smiles in a photo with indigenous Brazilian women, whose feathered headdresses barely reach his chin.
Towards the end of the first of the two summit weeks, Kerry’s voice began to sound hoarse from his work to advance global climate initiatives, which threaten to hit a wall in his country.
“The alternative is to do nothing, say nothing” about the weather, Kerry told reporters at the summit. “There are no promises, there are no commitments. And you just sit there waiting for disaster ”.
He spoke of a climate fight that becomes more urgent as global warming from the burning of fossil fuels intensifies, and more tense, because changing domestic politics in the United States jeopardize Biden’s climate efforts and threaten the global momentum again. about the topic.
At the height of the summit, the US House of Representatives approved a stalled infrastructure law on Friday that contains important measures to reduce US emissions.
But waning political support for Biden and Republican victories in last week’s election added to uncertainty that the US government could deliver on some of Biden’s most important climate promises.
Kerry, a former senator who was secretary of state during the presidency of Barack Obama, returned to the international level after Donald Trump’s term as Biden’s climate envoy.
The post has involved apologizing for the global chaos unleashed by Trump, who mocks science on climate change, when he pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which Kerry helped negotiate. Scientists point out that the ground lost during the Trump administration makes this decade the last chance to prevent global warming from reaching more catastrophic levels.
Kerry’s mission now is part diplomatic and part cheerleader. At the Glasgow climate conference, Kerry negotiates to nail down every possible detail of countries ‘and businesses’ climate effort, and then asks for more. Although the United States’ return to global climate negotiations has helped pressure its allies to promise more emissions cuts, the other big emitters besides the United States – China, Russia, India and other countries – make few promises, in The best case.
For Kerry, 77, this is another campaign in a personal crusade begun decades ago to combat fossil fuel emissions that are warming the planet.
Kerry “brings a deep understanding of what is at stake,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International and a veteran of climate negotiations. “He brings a long relationship with these negotiations and a spirit of collaboration.” However, he adds, “he is limited by what is happening in his country.”
If there is “no credible plan by the United States to meet its goals and move away from fossil fuels, it can only go so far here”Morgan said.
Conservative groups flag Kerry online and make jokes on social media about his fortune – in Glasgow he featured a speaker as his neighbor on the affluent island of Martha’s Vineyard – and alleged fondness for traveling the world by private plane.
His bid for diplomacy to try to get China, which is heavily dependent on coal, to accelerate its emission reduction targets, are also in contrast to Biden and some of the members of the government, who have openly criticized China, the largest emitter of carbon dioxide. carbon. The United States is the second largest emitter.
Before leaving the Glasgow summit, where he met more than 100 world leaders, Biden said that Chinese President Xi Jinping had made a “big mistake” by not attending.
“They have lost the ability to influence people around the world,” Biden said.
Veteran observers of the climate negotiations speak positively of Kerry’s more low-key work as a climate envoy.
Thom Woodroofe, a researcher on climate diplomacy between the United States and China at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said that Biden’s decision to appoint the former secretary of state to the post made countries like China “really understand how significant it is (…), the importance that the Biden government was going to give to diplomacy and its climate initiatives in his country”.
Although Chinese leaders openly criticize and despise members of the Biden government, veteran Beijing climate envoy Xie Zhenha told reporters in Glasgow that he estimated to have spoken to Kerry 23 times in the American’s current position.
When a news site posted a cartoon showing Kerry with one hand on Xie’s shoulder and the other holding the Earth and its future, Kerry had the cartoon framed and presented to Xie.
At the climate summit, Kerry’s height makes him easy to identify among the thousands of activists, officials and reporters at the compound, which stretches almost a kilometer. It is a combination of temporary and permanent structures along the River Clyde, with an airport atmosphere combined with a state-of-the-art military base.
Kerry is patient and polite with the succession of activists and journalists from around the world who address him at the summit.
Before COP26, several activists who were on a hunger strike in front of the White House recorded a video in which another member of the government looked at his cell phone impatiently when he was approached to talk to him about the need to take climate action.
REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo
Instead, Kerry went out and spoke to the young strikers about her environmental activism when she was young.
The diplomat has said that his first cause when he returned from fighting in the Vietnam War was activism for the first Earth Day, in 1970. His wife, Teresa Heinz, says they met on a later Earth Day, in 1990.
In 2015, his work on the climate negotiations and the trust Xie appeared to place in Obama negotiators, including Kerry, helped seal a climate deal in which more than 190 nations pledged to take action to reduce greenhouse emissions. .
The irreversible damage from global warming was even more apparent to all in November 2016, when Kerry made one of his last trips as Obama’s secretary of state, which made him the highest-ranking US official to visit Antarctica.
Trump had just won the US presidential election, and had already promised to pull the country out of the paris agreement. It would soon reverse several American climate measures.
Kerry donned some boots to walk on a frozen sea, catch the eye with a curious penguin, and chat with the American scientists on the spot.
Although the South Pole had the cleanest air in the world, he was told, it was also heavily polluted by coal and oil residues. The western ice sheet of Antarctica was melting below as the sea warmed, breaking up and the fragments floating away in the sea.
It was “one of the most impressive natural landscapes,” Kerry told The Associated Press last month, an image “mixed with the negative impact of human beings.”
(with AP information)