U.S. and E.U. climate envoys on how China, developing nations can help combat crisis

The U.N. warns that unless the world acts faster than promised, Earth's temperatures will rise to catastrophic, irreversible levels. The U.S. calls the upcoming climate summit the last chance for the world to avoid disaster. Nick Schifrin discusses the crisis with John Kerry, the president's special envoy on climate, and Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Commission.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The top American and European climate envoys met in Washington today to coordinate their efforts ahead of a major climate summit.

    Nick Schifrin sits down with the envoys for their first joint interview.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The climate crisis is here. You can see it in the extreme weather, from floods to fire.

    You can see it in the data. The U.N. warns the world that, unless the world acts faster than it's already promised, temperatures will rise to catastrophic, irreversible levels.

    The U.S. calls the upcoming climate summit the last chance for the world to avoid disaster.

    For more on that, I'm joined by John Kerry, the president's special envoy on climate, and his European counterpart, Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Commission.

    Welcome, both of you, to the "NewsHour."

    John Kerry, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change: Thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    John Kerry, let me start with you.

    There have been three decades of negotiations on climate change, and the bottom line is, emissions have gone up. Does that suggest, at the end of the day, the world has approached this in the wrong way?

  • John Kerry:

    Yes.

    It has not raised the ambition to the level that we need to. The scientists are clear now. We have a certain period of time, this decade, within which we have to implement, make and implement key decisions to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.

    Happily, on the good side, the United States, the E.U., the U.K., Japan, Canada, have all made commitments of reduction of emissions that do put us within range of keeping the 1.5-degree limit in warming, to keep that alive.

    But unless we are joined by other countries with sufficient levels of ambition in this next decade, to race towards the 45 percent or greater reductions that the scientists have called for, we're in trouble.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Frans Timmermans, are we in trouble?

  • Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President, European Commission:

    We are.

    But we can fix it. That's the good news. But it had to come to this. It had to come all this erratic weather patterns, to all the tornadoes and storms and failed harvests, before people understood how serious the situation is. But we can still fix it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We're sitting here in Washington, and I want to ask you a little bit about American politics.

    And I'm struck by something that an Indian official said to you, Mr. Kerry, recently. What happens if the next Republican president once again pulls out of the Paris climate accord?

    So, Frans Timmermans, let me start with you. Are you worried about that? Is the U.S. a reliable partner on climate?

  • Frans Timmermans:

    Yes, I think it is, and it will be.

    By the way, I'm not so sure there will be a next Republican president. But that's another discussion. Even if there is, corporate America is moving in the right direction at lightning speed. And, as I know, the Republican Party usually listens quite well to corporate America, and they will have to wake up and smell the coffee. And I'm pretty confident it is going to happen.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S. is not on track to meet its own goal of cutting emissions of 28 percent by 2025.

    What does it say, John Kerry, about the U.S.' commitment to climate change that the president's agenda on climate, frankly, can be stopped by a senator who happens to have a lot of ties to coal and gas?

  • John Kerry:

    I think everybody understands that this is a critical moment.

    And more and more Republicans on the Hill are beginning to try to hunt around for some way to be able to respond to this. But on your former question, I think it's impossible for any future politician to reverse what the private sector is going to be investing in remarkably heavily.

    Ford Motor Company, GM have committed by 2030, 50 percent of the cars we're selling are going to be electric. I don't think any politician would stand up and try to reverse the trillions of dollars that are going to begin to move and are moving in this direction.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Let's move to China.

    This week, Xi Jinping spoke at the U.N. General Assembly, promised that China would stop funding coal plants around the world as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

    But China's own addiction to coal remains very strong. China burns half of the world's coal.

    Frans Timmermans, let me start with you. Is China doing enough?

  • Frans Timmermans:

    Well, China is moving in the right direction, which is good news. We didn't hear that for a bit.

    And China clearly understands that, for its own survival, for its own opposition in the future, it needs to wean itself off coal. The only question is, at what speed?

    And I think both U.S. and Europe are trying to convince China to move faster than they had anticipated so far. Nobody's doing this to do us a favor. Everybody's doing this because they understand they need to do it for themselves, including China, although I believe that, from a U.S. and E.U. perspective, we would like them to move a bit faster than what they have done so far.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Xi Jinping has promised to reach peak emissions by 2030, become carbon-neutral by 2060. As you just said, both of you have called for China to move faster. Beijing wants concessions.

    Would the U.S., John Kerry, be willing to give some concessions, whether on major grounds, like Xinjiang or South China Sea, or remove sanctions that were currently recently imposed on solar panels, in order to get Chinese cooperation climate?

  • John Kerry:

    Well, our presidents talked just a few days ago.

    President Biden and President Xi had a very, very constructive conversation. I was privileged to be there. And President Xi embraced the idea of getting some things done together and moving on climate.

    Obviously, both countries have concerns about other issues. That's — everybody in the world knows that. But our presidents originally stated that climate stands in a special place. It's about the survival of the planet. Every country has its own urgency for dealing with it. And it cannot be held hostage by any of those other issues.

    You're not going to have a tradeoff of one thing for climate and then give up something that's a matter of principle. Those things are going to have to be argued out between our presidents, discussed between our presidents.

    What I'm confident of is this. I know this, and so does France. President Xi is serious about this. He understands the implications for China. He is already presiding over a country that is the largest producer of renewables in the world, that has deployed more renewables than anybody in the world.

    And the population of China wants cleaner water, cleaner air, safety and security with respect to the climate crisis.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    I know you described the conversations between Presidents Biden and Xi, but let me ask you about what you have just experienced, in terms of China coupling climate with all the other policies.

    You were just in China, and you were forced to talk to the foreign minister via video link. The official who did meet with you in person lectured you and said that you — quote — "were guilty of strategic miscalculation" because climate could not be decoupled from China's other requests.

  • John Kerry:

    That was a very recent turn of events that we were very up front about.

    But that was at a point in time where there had been not a lot of communication between the administration and China. We were sort of operating on a separate track.

    And, since then, the presidents have talked. And there was a very clear understanding that we need to try to make some progress on the climate issue.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Part of this is about helping developing countries become more resilient.

    President Biden increased the pledge of the United States. But the bottom line is that the industrialized world is short of $100 billion of its pledge.

    Frans Timmermans, what stops developing countries from saying, hey, you haven't done enough when you arrive in Glasgow?

  • Frans Timmermans:

    Well, they will be saying that we haven't done enough. But we're trying to get there. And I think we will get very close.

    And I also believe that developing countries are discovering for themselves that, just by saying that we haven't done enough, and, through that, stopping the process, doesn't help them either. So we need to keep them on board. We need to engage with them.

    I was just — I'm just coming back from a meeting with the small island states in Antigua. And if you see the suffering already now, we have an urgency here that we need to address. And we will get close to the 100 billion. We will have to look beyond that.

    And we will also — it's not just about the public money we put on the table. It's about the investment we make possible. It's about the technology we transfer to them. It's about the transition we help them make.

    So, I think there's a case to be made that we can come close together with the developing countries. They're looking for this cooperation. And I think we can really conclude on a positive note in Glasgow.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Frans Timmermans, John Kerry.

  • John Kerry:

    Thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you very much to you both.

  • Frans Timmermans:

    Pleasure.

  • John Kerry:

    It's good to be with you.

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