U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is in Europe, plotting with fellow ministers on getting a handful of big emitting nations to “up their game.”
They are zeroing in on a simple answer: buy them off.
If the world is to “avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” said Kerry, the challenge boils down to changing economic policy in a small group of large countries that he said were not doing enough to lower their greenhouse gas emissions.
He called them out by name: “China, Russia, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa and Saudi Arabia.”
Kerry spoke to POLITICO from a train leaving Brussels, where earlier on Thursday he met with Germany’s newly-appointed Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans. He’d arrived on the Eurostar train from London, where he held talks with U.K. COP26 climate summit President Alok Sharma. On Friday, he will meet French officials in Paris.
A focus of those conversations, according to Kerry and others who were present, was working out how to weave together the differing priorities of rich, Western donor countries with the needs of less wealthy nations that rely on fossil fuels or deforestation.
First comes the money.
“Trillions can clearly — and will need to — be invested,” said Kerry. That would come from a variety of sources, including partnerships under development among rich countries, multilateral development banks, philanthropies and the private sector.
“We are working out the details of these different options right now. We want to be very specific. None of this should be pie in the sky. It needs to be real and economically viable,” he said.
This “big cooperation agenda,” von der Leyen later tweeted, would be delivered through a newly-launched set of global investment programs devised by the West as an answer to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative: namely the EU’s Global Gateway, the U.S.’s Build Back Better World and the U.K.’s Clean Green Initiative.
The goal is to align these programs to shift policies in polluting countries.
South African template
It’s a model they road-tested in Glasgow last month.
France, Germany, the U.K., U.S. and the EU agreed — pending the outcomes of a task force — to shift an initial $8.5 billion to assist South Africa to retire its fleet of coal-fired power plants and retrain mine workers. South Africa in turn significantly raised its 2030 climate target ahead of the COP26 climate summit.
Kerry said the South Africa model was “a pretty damn good template.”
Timmermans told a POLITICO event on Wednesday that other countries “like Indonesia, and indeed, India” were interested in similar deals.
But South Africa’s position was unique. The financial woes of public power utility Eskom meant it had a “unique problem” for its partners to solve, said Kerry. “Every place is going to have its own set of challenges.”
Other deals will have to be individually crafted.
“In Indonesia, for instance, you have a combination of palm oil deforestation challenges and you have coal,” said Kerry. “We’re prepared to help bring finance and technology to the table and work diligently with them, as we are in these other countries.”
A spokesperson for the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), which was a partner on the South Africa deal, said: “There is growing interest from CIF partners in bringing similar initiatives to other coal-dependent developing countries, including Indonesia.”
One of the other biggest emitters — India — has invited a discussion about a deal, or deals, to reshape its enormous coal power sector. The U.S. has an advanced partnership with New Delhi and Kerry said he hoped European countries would join in.
He said the U.S. and others wanted to provide tools and investment to change the course of a nation of 1.4 billion people, one expected to be a huge future emitter if coal remains a major power source.
China, on the other hand, is being approached altogether differently. The world’s second-largest economy and largest CO2-emitter is an equal and a rival — there will be no buying off Beijing. Kerry wants China to fund other countries’ renewable energy sectors, but he didn’t invite China to partner in any of the specific deals the U.S. and Europe are working on.
Relations between Beijing and Washington are tense. The Trump administration’s backtracking on the Paris Agreement has China questioning whether the U.S. will stick to its renewed climate commitments if a Republican wins the presidency in 2024.
But even if the White House does change hands, said Kerry, “I don’t believe any president or any prime minister or any finance minister can stand in the way of what the marketplace is now doing … I think anybody who’s serious knows that these things are happening, these investments are being made, this transition is undertaken. And I don’t believe a politician can turn it around.”
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