John Kerry on the costs of climate change

We can still fight the worst of climate change, former Secretary of State John Kerry says. At an event sponsored by the Center for Global Development, anchor Judy Woodruff spoke with Kerry, the first presidential envoy on climate, about the cost of climate change, U.S. progress on climate goals and whether Congress will give money to help poorer countries adapt to the changing planet.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Staying with climate change, I spoke earlier today with John Kerry, President Biden's special envoy for climate, at an event sponsored by the Center for Global Development.

    Here are some edited excerpts from our wide-ranging conversation. I asked whether he still believes Congress will approve more money to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, given the political divisions and high oil prices.

  • John Kerry, U.S. Special Envoy For Climate Change:

    I have hopes that, still, the Congress can pass the climate legislation.

    And I know folks are talking even now, in these next days. And I remain very hopeful that we can get some kind of a climate piece of legislation.

    It is really hard for me to fathom that the United States Senate that I served in for 28 years, when we used to be able to deal with each other on a bipartisan basis and get things done, that now there are a group of people who don't even accept the science that's now settled on this and that we're not able to move forward.

    Every single economic analysis that has — that is a serious economic analysis, that has been peer-reviewed and put out over the last 15, 20 years documents, that it is far, far more expensive to not respond to climate than it is to respond. If we respond to this crisis, we can win this battle.

    And, in the doing of that, we can create millions of jobs around the planet. We can have cleaner air. What we're talking about is reducing pollution. Methane is pollution. CO2 is pollution. Ten million people a year die from this pollution. And yet we're not reducing it. We're increasing it.

    If you ever want a definition of insanity, it's some of the behavior that the world is falling into at this point in not responding to this crisis. We can have a healthier planet, a cleaner planet, a more secure planet if we do things that are on the table to have clean energy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Continuing on this, Secretary Kerry, it's been reported that you told the White House national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, that the new U.S. commitment on fossil fuels needed to be at least 50 percent reductions by 2030 for the U.S. to be a credible negotiator.

    Is that a goal that's still realistic?

  • John Kerry:

    Well, Gina McCarthy didn't need me to suggest a level. She's very savvy and knows exactly what we needed to do.

    And she did an incredible job with her team in pulling all the efforts of the United States together to come up with a realistic target. We did not want to put something phony out there. We wanted to know this was something we could in fact reach.

    And so Gina and her team and the rest of us who were involved in the process all agreed that a 50 to 52 percent reduction was something we could achieve. It's realistic. It's more than a lot of other countries. Canada is not at that level, Japan, others, but others are doing what they can.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're saying that the U.S., Secretary Kerry, is on track for that 50 percent reduction, or…


  • John Kerry:

    We were on track. We're not — I don't think we're quite on track at this particular instant because of Ukraine and because of the additional production that needs to take place to deal with geopolitical economic realities. There's been a delay, I think, in the implementation, to some degree.

    The IPCC report of a few weeks ago made it crystal clear that we still have the ability to achieve what we set out to do in Glasgow. So it's a hard choice we have to make, which is, how do we do this in a way that deals with the immediate needs of filling power requirements, transportation requirements, but not something that's built out so long that it's adding to the problem in the long term?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned, Secretary Kerry, backsliding by others, given what's going on in Ukraine, given the current political, the current economic environment.

    Some of that backsliding has come on the part of the Biden administration, new ethanol rules the president announced just days ago, the opening up of many acres of federal lands for drilling. There are other decisions that are being made right now. People are watching.

    How much of a setback is all that inside your own administration?

  • John Kerry:

    I don't think it's a setback, because I don't think a lot of it is going to produce fuel that is drilled.

    The companies, the oil companies have massive numbers of leases today. Opening something up to a lease and then they buy the lease, that's not a well. That doesn't produce drilling or — I think that what you're going to see — I mean, and, by the way, as I said, gas over the next few years, as long as you have a plan for capturing the emissions as you go forward, that can be mitigated.

    And there are a vast number of leases held by these companies today, and they're not drilling in them. So this is going to be a demand curve-driven event, I think. And what you're going to see around the world is more and more technologies coming online that are producing cleaner and less expensive fuels.

    Solar and wind are less expensive than coal or oil or gas. They just are less expensive. And I think people are going to make choices based on economics. So I don't think it's going to amount up to a setback in the long term. The president needs to stabilize economies. The world needs to have our stabilized economies.

    And, unfortunately, that requires a temporary effort to make sure there's enough supply of fuel, enough supply of the essential ingredients of that economy that you stabilize and are not pricing everybody out of the market, because, if you price everybody out of the market, you're going to have either an implosion economically or a revolution, as people rebel against prices that they're just not able to pay.

    So there are some realities you have got to enter into here. I don't think the president has walked back one iota. I think he has very reluctantly and importantly had to make some tough decisions. But I think, ultimately, this will smooth out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Secretary John Kerry, who has been working on these issues for a number of years now, the U.S. special representative, presidential envoy for climate, thank you very much.

  • John Kerry:

    Thank you.

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