US Green Diplomat Previews Glasgow

US Climate Envoy John Kerry prepares for COP26

For the United States, the post-Trump, pre-COP26 road to Glasgow has been paved with ambition and humility. In a major speech, the President's Envoy, John Kerry, previewed the results of his climate diplomacy before heading into two weeks of intense deliberations of world leaders.

Speaking at the London School of Economics -- a nod to COP 26's UK hosts, Kerry struck a tone of determined optimism. He argued that "Glasgow has already summoned more climate ambition than the world has ever seen." He pointed to recent announcements from Japan, Indonesia, South Africa, Canada, and the United States as evidence that "nations representing nearly 65% of global GDP will arrive in Glasgow committed to the 1.5 limit -- including more than half of the top 20 economies in the world." He particularly emphasized areas of promise, from a Global Methane Pledge to private sector commitments and promising technology.

But Kerry leavened his optimism with measured sobriety: "Is all the world fully aligned with what science says we must do to avoid the worst of the climate crisis? In two words -- not yet."

LSE: In Conversation with John F Kerry, October 28, 2021.

Why This Matters

The US acknowledges it's been the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the past, but today the country contributes only about 12% of emissions, and even that number is dropping. In April, the US committed to reducing emissions even further -- to 50-52% of 2005 levels by 2030. More of the world needs to increase its emissions reductions targets and strengthen their commitments at COP26 in order to make the progress the world needs. That America's top diplomat struck an optimistic note heading into Glasgow is important, but he also stressed difficult challenges ahead: "Some countries are still building new, carbon-polluting coal plants, and planning to break ground on more ... At Glasgow, it will all be held up to scrutiny -- with transparency and accountability."

One Tough COP

Last November, President-elect Biden announced a new role -- Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change -- reporting directly to the Oval Office, and filled it with the former Secretary of State. Kerry faced a front-loaded climate calendar: a US Climate Leaders' Summit in April and COP26 in November. He's had to negotiate increasing climate ambition for dozens of countries even as the world reeled from COVID and allies wondered whether agreements made with the US were truly "future-proofed" -- given the volatility of American politics.

WW0: Climate Avengers - Iron Man talks to Secretary Kerry, January 13, 2021.

WW0: All Roads Lead to Glasgow, April 28, 2021.