Countries with new fossil fuel projects should zero out emissions -U.S. climate envoy

Countries developing new oil, gas and coal projects should make sure they come with technology that can reduce the emissions to zero, John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, told reporters on Thursday.

“It’s a real challenge and nobody can duck it,” Kerry said in a news conference. “There’s an incumbent responsibility on any country that says it’s going to have a new project to make sure that there’s no emissions coming out of it.”

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in May in its starkest warning yet on climate change that investors should not fund new fossil fuel projects if the world wants to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Kerry, who visited Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in mid June, said countries might have between one to three years of transition on investing in technologies such capturing carbon and storing it.

“There are a couple of years here that you could play with it a little bit, but not a lot and, and I think that the IEA is quite correct in pushing the notion that you really want to try to avoid the new (fossil fuel projects) rather than compounding the problem.”

Below is a full rush transcript of the press conference by Special Briefing via Telephone with  John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

Secretary Kerry:  I’m very pleased to be able to be with everybody and share a few thoughts about my second trip to the region in recent months.  The first trip, of course, was hosted by the UAE and by His Royal Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and the government, and we had Dr. Sultan Jaber who hosted us very specifically in a very, very well-run and comprehensive conference that included 11 nations from the region, many of them oil producers.  

So it was extremely productive and it was the prelude to the meeting that I just had, where I went not only to the UAE to discuss the agriculture initiative that we put together, but also to talk about India and the deployment of some 450 gigawatts of renewable energy which the UAE is going to partner in.  And finally, to go to Saudi Arabia to meet with key government officials there regarding the Saudis’ plans and our efforts, hopefully, to see Saudi Arabia make some announcements over the course of the next months, which I believe they are very deeply involved in developing, regarding steps they will take to try to step up their activities, particularly with the hydrogen, green hydrogen initiative, Neom, which is a very significant, important potential contributor to a transition in our energy mix right now.

And then finally, of course, Egypt may well wind up most likely will wind up being the presidency of the COP next year, so the first year of follow-on to Glasgow will depend significantly on what Egypt is doing.  

And Egypt, the prime minister, the foreign minister, and the environment minister made it very clear to me that they intend to move now to open up new projects for renewables and expand their renewable base.  So we’re going to partner very closely with Egypt and assign one individual from our team who will work with them very closely to help marry large, capable renewable energy companies with the projects that they need to move on very, very quickly.  

So all in all it was a packed schedule over several days with good consequences, and I think the joint statements that we issued speak for themselves. 

Question:   How do you see the Trump administration’s withdrawal and then the Biden administration’s return to the Paris Agreement impacting global efforts to address climate change?

Secretary Kerry:  Well, President Trump’s withdrawal was obviously a blow to the momentum, but not a death blow to America’s participation, and far from it.  And I think it’s one of the things the president really didn’t understand because it was a decision that was not based on substance, it was not based on science, it was not based on evidence; it was based on his impulse to undo things that President Obama had done.  Excuse me.  Not exactly the most thoughtful way to approach global policy on scientific challenges.

The truth is that the day after Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing, I can remember standing up in New York with Governor Cuomo and Governor Jay Inslee of Washington and Governor Jerry Brown of California as we announced a movement called “We Are Still In.”  

And the fact is that some 37 governors in the United States, Republican and Democrat alike, basically stayed in the Paris Agreement and continued to do what their renewable portfolio, laws that their states had passed – what those laws required them to do, they continued to do.  

In addition, there were more than a thousand mayors in America – the mayor of every major city in the United States stayed in the Paris Agreement.  And so the United States actually made some progress.  

it was a huge symbolic blow, but as with much that Donald Trump did, symbolism trumped any any kind of substance.  And America has been able to move back very rapidly.  I think our credibility took a hit.  There’s no question about it.  And we come to the table with humility because of the four years of absence, which was inexcusable and reckless.  But now we’re going to push very hard to try to make up for it, and that means making sure we’re dealing with the truth, making sure we’re dealing with science, with real evidence, and making tough decisions that we all have to make.  

We’re all in this together.  No one nation can solve the problem of the climate crisis.  It’s physically impossible.  And so we all have to join together, and this will be a test of every country whether or not people are truly prepared to be part of a solution to what is in fact an existential crisis already today for many people, and will be a growing one for people all across the planet.  

Question:  You visited KSA and UAE and Egypt twice, as you said, since assuming office.  How do you evaluate the work done by Gulf countries in tackling climate change and what factors make UAE a strong contender to host the COP 28?

Secretary Kerry:  Well, I think all countries in the region are beginning to move.  I don’t think I can tell you that they’ve done everything that they need to do, and they don’t think they have.  

So there’s a road for all of us to travel here; we all have a lot of work to do.  But I think Egypt is very, very committed to deploying renewable energy projects, and the prime minister could not have been more clear.  He said:  Bring me the projects.  Get these projects moving and we’re ready to embrace them and we’ll move very rapidly.  I think Egypt is committed to trying to expedite its process, recognizing that you can’t get locked in to one bureaucracy or another.  That’s a battle we face in all countries, ours included, and we need to move with speed.  

So the test will obviously be in the doing of it, not the talking about it, and we’re going to be following up with each of these countries over the course of the next months.  Now, I think Egypt historically and economically is a very key country to Africa, and Africa is sort of in line here in terms of the COP process.  So I think people feel that there’s a capacity to be able to manage the large presence that comes with one of the COP meetings, and also a readiness to try to lead on the issue.  So I think that there are a lot of reasons to move forward.

Question:  And about the factors that make UAE a top contender to host the COP 28?

Secretary Kerry: I think the UAE has been one of the leaders, way beyond a lot of other countries.  They’ve deployed already one of the largest solar fields in the world.  They are planning more.  They have a number of major solar projects that are doing research.  They’re involved in green hydrogen research. They hve taken a very proactive role in the dialogue, the regional dialogue that took place, and helped to produce a very strong statement about the actions which will guide us, all of us going forward.  And I think they’re contemplating even more moves now regarding net zero by 2050 and other things.  

So I think there’s a level of leadership and engagement and creativity and of a readiness to embrace the urgency of the challenge that makes it a leader, and that’s what you need right now is leadership in order to use these next 10 years to their fullest.

Question:  How can the U.S. commitment to work with Middle East countries to fight pollution and have better cooperation to combat climate change extend to places such as Iraq, Syria, and Yemen where the environmental situation is made worse because of wars and conflict?

Secretary Kerry:  That’s where the funding is so critical.  The world has to get serious about this issue.  We can’t run around the world talking about what a crisis it is and what a major challenge to humanity, and then nobody is willing to invest in the technologies and the solutions and just processes.  

I mean, not all of it is technology-based at all.  There are very basic things that can be done in agriculture, in shipping, for instance.  It doesn’t take a lot of technology to change diesel engines and get them out of these ships.  If ships were a country, ships would be the eighth largest polluter in the world.  So ships are a – shipping is a serious challenge, and that is not an enormous technology challenge.  So we need to get about the business of transitioning, and that takes leadership in each of these countries.

I think that there’s a recognition that the region has big challenges in a lot of ways because it’s been an oil and gas, fossil fuel producer.  Their economies are very dependent on that at the moment. 

Though I might add, if you look at a country like UAE, they’ve transitioned very significantly off of their own production of oil and gas so that now, as a mix of their economy, I think it’s only about 40 percent of the revenue.  So they’re already diversifying, and I think these other countries need help to be able to diversify, and that’s where I think the developed world needs to come to the table and be helpful.

Question:  Qatar will host the first carbon-neutral FIFA World Cup next year.  And it has also announced its donation to island countries to deal with climate issues.  What is your assessment of such initiatives and its importance, and the Qatari role in this regard?  And what are the nature and prospects of cooperation with Qatar in the years to come? 

Secretary Kerry:  I mean, we hope that the cooperation will be very significant.  Qatar has a great ability to be able to make an example through, first of all the World Cup, I understand, is going to be a sustainable event, and they’re working very hard to make that happen and to offset emissions and so forth. 

I think that Qatar is well placed to be one of those countries that helps in the transition that I talked about earlier.  And Qatar has taken part in this regional dialogue.  

So we have high expectations that leadership by example will be part of the transitional process of diversifying economies in a part of the world where everybody has been super-dependent, obviously, on one source, one particular source of revenue.  And Qatar, I think, is very well placed to be able to lead in that transition also.

So because it is engaged in these public initiatives, it has an example , it has an opportunity to set the example for how you do those particular initiatives in a sustainable manner, and I think that’s a key.  And I know that the leaders of Qatar have said they are committed to doing that, so that’s a very big, important first step.

Question:  If you can provide further details on how you view the Saudi green initiative and the larger green Middle East initiative ?

Secretary Kerry:  Well, I’m happy to try to provide further detail.  I spent a good part of the day with His Highness – with His Royal Highness Minister Abdul Aziz, who manages the energy sector and has had years of experience in doing so.  And Saudi laid out for us a very developed, well-thought-out plan for how to make this transition and where they see the opportunity to reduce emissions in the largest amounts and the fastest. 

I think that the project at Neom, which seeks to deploy a massive amount of solar, which Saudi can do both in its ability to purchase as well as produce solar panels; but then, in addition, to use that as the energy provider for the electrolysis process that is necessary at a commercial scale to separate hydrogen from water and create green hydrogen.  

That project could become, using existing infrastructure, the Saudi ability to pump the hydrogen through pipes and deliver to Europe or deliver to Africa or elsewhere. It is very significant.  And Saudi Arabia is in a position now to be able to invest itself a certain amount of that money.  It doesn’t have to rely on external finance to make this happen. 

So I think wherever we can race to green hydrogen, we need to do so.  That can become an enormous reliever of the burden of coal.  And the sooner we can begin to reduce the levels of coal that are in too many economies around the world, the greater the chance that we have to be able to meet our goal of holding the Earth’s temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. 

So I think Saudi Arabia has defined a project of great interest, of great possibility.  Now it remains to implement.  And we intend to work with Saudi Arabia to make sure that that happens.   

Question:  You mentioned about helping GCC countries to diversify its economy away from oil and gas.  How do you see Qatar efforts in this regard?  What kind of help that you can offer for the GCC, especially Qatar?

Secretary Kerry:  Well, I think that, like other economies in the region, and looking very specifically, obviously, at UAE or Saudi Arabia, there are different challenges to different places.  I know that Qatar, like UAE, has been trying to diversify by bringing in different kinds of economic stimulus – for instance, university or museum or tourism, other kinds of things that have an ability to be able to attract people and revenue. 

I haven’t been able to get to Qatar yet.  I look forward to it; I want to come and get a deeper briefing on specifically what the vision is, the longer-term, larger vision.  But I do know that the leaders I’ve talked to indicate that this is something they’re very seized with.  

They know that no matter what happens, with or without climate crisis, oil and gas are not renewable.  They get used; they’re gone once they’re used.  And ultimately, the reserves would be gone if we just were continuing business as usual and there was no climate crisis.  

it would be farther in the future, obviously, but it’s the same challenge.  Every society dependent on a non-renewable resource is going to have to find alternatives for the future.

So this is something that people have been seized with for some period of time.  I think they’re at different levels to which people have moved effectively, and I will be very interested to get up to speed, up to date, if you will, when I do visit Qatar.

Question:  I have a question regarding OPEC countries.  There are countries like Saudi Arabia planning to boost production from 12 to 13 million in the production capacity, UAE from 4 to 5 million production capacity by 2030.  What are the expectations that they’ll be able to reduce emissions at the time when they’re increasing their oil production and at the time also when the IEA has said that there should be no new investments in oil and gas in order to reach zero target by 2050?

Secretary Kerry:  That’s a very good question and it’s a real challenge, and nobody can duck it.  The reality is that the IEA is pushing that there be a reduction in those efforts because we don’t yet have the ability to completely reduce the emissions or to capture the carbon. 

And I think there is an incumbent responsibility on any country that says it’s going to have a new project to make sure that there’s no emissions coming out of it, because you cannot have policies which are adding emissions.  And we have to be very clear about that everywhere that the United States, we’re also – we’ve seen our emissions go up in the last months.  

And those of us who are trying to move this process are very concerned about it and engaged in discussions to see how we avoid that.  So everybody bears a responsibility not to increase emissions.  

Now, it’s understandable that there might be one or two or three years of a transition, and you’re going to have some – we get that.  

Everybody understands that, providing there’s a real plan in place for how you’re going to meet the goal that the scientists have set, which is reducing emissions overall within the next 10 years.  So if you have a year or two of increase, or whatever, as long as that plan going out is one that shows how you turn that curve around and you bring it down and you’re getting down to be able to meet the net zero by 2050, as well as meet and as I said earlier, can’t do net zero by 2050 if you don’t do enough in the course of 2020 to 2030.

So, yes, there are a couple of years here that you could play with it a little bit, but not a lot, and I think that the IEA is quite correct in pushing the notion that you really want to try to avoid the new ones rather than compounding the problem.

Question:  what is the role of the Mediterranean Basin in this energy transformation, in your view?  And if I may, what is the U.S. have new national contributions for the Paris Agreement.  I was wondering if you can tell us what will be the concrete measures that the U.S. will apply to reach the new targets on climate ?

Secretary Kerry:  Well, we all have great anticipation for Italy contributing significantly, and I met with some of your key industrialists when I was in Rome and they are engaged in some very exciting efforts on green hydrogen, on new technology, and Italy does technology very well.  So we’re hopeful that Italy specifically is going to be a major contributor to the success of the COP, which it shares the presidency of.  

Italy is a co-president.  A lot of people aren’t aware of that, but we are very mindful of that.  And when I went to Rome, I met with Mr. Cingolani, and he’s very much seized by this issue and is moving forward on it, so I think Italy will make a very big contribution.

Also, I look forward to being in Naples in this month of July when the G20 ministers’ meeting will take place and we will meet to try to prepare for the G20 meeting in October.  And obviously that will be a very, very key meeting on the road to Glasgow.  So we have high hopes that all Mediterranean countries – Morocco, Egypt, the French, obviously, and as you know, even small little Monaco, the – is seized by the issue and shows a lot of leadership on it.  

So I think it also can become a key part of the transport of fuel, whether it’s by pipe or by ship.  The Mediterranean area will be very important to the movement of gas out of the Middle East and to Europe and elsewhere.

The United States, having rejoined the Paris Agreement but also having put forward its 50-52 percent reduction, is already moving very fast to try to implement some of that under President Biden’s leadership and his directives to the EPA and the Energy Department and so forth.  So grants are being filled out.  

People will be pursuing new technologies.  We will be doubling our contribution to adaptation.  We’ll be tripling our contribution to resilience.  We will be working hard to achieve the $100 billion promised out of Paris.  

We are going to be building out some 500,000 charging stations across the country for electric vehicles.  We will be putting in place, we hope, incentives for the purchase of those vehicles – investment tax credit and production tax credits for solar and wind, et cetera.  

In addition, President Biden has set a goal that by 2035, our power production will be carbon-free, which is an ambitious and very important goal that there will no longer be carbon involved in the production of any of our power in the nation.  

So I think we’re planning in the infrastructure legislation that the President is fighting for right now, we’re hopeful to get the funding for a new grid – for a grid.  We don’t even have a grid nationally in America, so this is an effort to build out a smart grid which will have artificial intelligence and capacity to be able to send energy from one part of the country to another.  And we’re going to be moving very, very rapidly to do everything in our power to meet the goal of the 50-52 percent reduction.

Question:  How do you describe the United States role in achieving the goals of such initiatives in the Middle East?

Secretary Kerry:  Well, I think it depends on what Saudi Arabia wants from us, but they have expressed to date a genuine interest in having help in terms of technology and, obviously, helping to work through the administrative and developmental challenges that exist in something like that so that we can expedite the deployment as fast as possible.

we’ve agreed that that is imperative and now for instance, we’ve been working with the six largest banks in the United States to try to calculate what kind of funding might be available for investment in worthy projects that have revenue streams that are commercially viable.  And we want to get a sense of what is possible and also encourage countries that there will be finance available.

So those banks – Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the Bank of America, J.P. Morgan, State Street, Wells Fargo, and we’re talking to other asset managers and banks still – but they have announced publicly the amount of money that they intend to try to segment into renewable energy projects and into sustainable projects.  And that amount of money is $4.16 trillion over the course of the next 10 years, and that’s a floor, not a ceiling.  So I’m very hopeful that we can help bring to the table that capital which we hope to bring to the table capital which can accelerate the deployment of the new technologies, particularly this green hydrogen project, and hopefully even push the curve on innovation and technology innovation.  And that could be very, very exciting for everybody.  

So we look forward to defining with our – with the Saudi ministry of energy and others exactly how we will create this partner – develop this partnership in a very fulsome and robust way.  But I think there’s no lack of things to do, that’s for certain.

Secretary Kerry:  I’m sorry for those of you who are on the line who we were not able to get to, but I’m sure there will be occasions in the future.

But let me just say to everybody:  You all are journalists and you report on what people say, but you also help shape opinion with the facts that you present and the way – the amount of time and effort you put into informing people.  

And I think it’s very, very important now for us to make sure we are really articulating in very clear terms that are not hysterical, but are based in science and fact and evidence, how urgent it is that we move faster. 

The bottom line right now for all of us is the job is not yet getting done sufficiently.  And every country has got to stop and take a look at where they are relevant to where we need to be, and people are going to have to make some big decisions to move us faster in order to achieve this transition.  

Our citizens will demand it and, believe me, the health, safety, welfare, livelihood, wellbeing of people all around the world is going to be dependent on our ability to be able to do better than we’re doing today and to get the job done.  And I hope you will contribute mightily to that dialogue and that transition.