Move boldly to reduce greenhouse gases, perhaps tax carbon, Climate Envoy John Kerry says – NOLA.com
The world must move boldly over the next decade to reduce greenhouse gases in hopes of keeping global warming at manageable levels, and that might require a return to taxing companies responsible for carbon dioxide emissions, U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry told American Geophysical Union’s annual conference Tuesday in New Orleans.
Kerry was preaching to the choir, as it is scientists such as those of the 60,000-member professional association who have outlined the threat of climate change since the 1950s. But in his virtual keynote speech to the conference, he urged them “to help validate the consequences of not taking action” to the public and government leaders in the United States and the world.
“It is a crisis. We’re seeing it unfold before our eyes, and many people are suffering the consequences already, whether it’s fires, mudslides, drought, extreme heat or floods,” Kerry said. “Unfortunately, Mother Earth is screaming at us, giving us feedback loops to tell us over and over that we’ve got to move faster, we have to deal with this.”
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Kerry stressed the need to educate the world on the relationship among warming oceans, increased moisture in the atmosphere and more intense storms. In 2019, he said, the U.S. spent more than $265 billion to recover from just three hurricanes: Harvey, Maria and Irma, all of which were later found to have been exacerbated by global warming.
“Irma had the first sustained winds of 185 mph for 24 hours. Harvey dropped more water on parts of Texas and Louisiana than falls over giant Niagara Falls in an entire year,” he said
He also stressed the health effects of greenhouse gases: Emissions containing carbon and methane often have other pollutants linked to world health problems, including cancer, emphysema and complications among those with COVID.
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“The single largest cause of children being hospitalized [in the U.S.] is environmentally induced asthma,” he said, “and we spend upwards of $50 billion a year just paying for that.”
“Those who are spewing the pollution today that is warming the ocean and clogging the atmosphere with CO2 and methane leaks and so forth have to bear responsibility, and they have to step up fast to begin to help us adapt and build resilience and mitigate, to avoid the worst consequences,” Kerry said.
He pointed out that the U.S. and other countries used to follow a strategy of “polluters pay,” and he hinted it might be time to consider some form of carbon tax. “Obviously pricing carbon is one of the most significant movers of the needle, if you will, in terms of temperature increase or decrease,” he said.
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But while excited about that prospect, Kerry said the U.S. and other countries just aren’t moving fast enough to keep temperature rises in check in either the near term, the next 10 years, or by the 2050 deadline set by the 2015 Paris Accords for reaching a net zero level of carbon emissions worldwide.
“If we don’t reduce somewhere in the vicinity of 45 percent or more emissions globally in the next 10 years, then we … we can’t achieve net zero by 2050,” he said.
“No one country has the amount of money to affect this transition,” Kerry said of the switch to a zero-carbon economy. That leaves it to the private sector to come up with the money. The U.S., he said, already has won a commitment by a half-dozen major U.S. banks to invest $4.16 trillion in carbon-reducing projects over the next 10 years, and won similar investment commitments from a number of other U.S. private investment organizations.
Countries still not committing enough economic resources to carbon-reducing economic choices include China, India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, he said.
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“The International Energy Agency tells us … we have to be deploying renewables five times faster than today,” Kerry said. “We have to be planting trees five times faster than today. We have to be phasing out coal six times faster than we are today. We have to be deploying electric vehicles 22 times faster.”
“We are not doing that.”
He said President Joe Biden’s administration has committed to requiring a full environmental analysis of any decision made by government, and to focus on assuring a “just transition” to a carbon-free economy without leaving people behind. And it’s gaining traction, he said.
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“The fastest growing job in America last year was wind turbine technician,” he said. Third on that list was solar panel installer.
“Unfortunately, the second-fastest growing job was nurse practitioner, for reasons we all understand and don’t like,” Kerry said, referring to the demand for health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.