On the day the U.S. officially rejoined the Paris Agreement on climate change, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry noted that the move is only the start of the very challenging path toward achieving the accord's deep decarbonization goals.
The U.S. reentered the Paris accord Feb. 19, 30 days after President Joe Biden signed a document stating the nation's intent to rejoin. And since being sworn into office, Biden and his administration have taken dozens of steps aimed at reversing the Trump administration's fossil-fuel-friendly policies and re-initiating U.S. engagement in global climate discussions.
Parties to the Paris agreement aim to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. But the accord also includes a more ambitious target to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, which scientists have said will significantly reduce the economic and environmental damage from climate change compared to 2 degrees. Holding the world to 1.5 degrees will require achieving global net-zero emissions by around 2050, scientists have said.
Speaking at the opening of a two-day virtual United Nations Global Engagement Summit, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that the U.S. government's decreased participation in international climate talks "was a missing link that weakened the whole."
He asserted that the remainder of 2021, culminating with the gathering of Paris signatories known as COP26 in Glasgow in November, needs to be all about increasing global ambition around climate change, finding ways to finance the transition, providing financial assistance to countries most affected by climate change, and also ensuring a just transition for those affected by the clean energy transition.
Kerry echoed that sentiment and said countries need to "be real about what exactly we need to start doing now, what steps will we take in the next 10 years."
"This is the most important year in many ways," Kerry added. "I believe that Glasgow is our last, best hope."
The U.S. climate envoy went on to say that the "climate crisis" is the result of "bad energy choices, bad energy policy," as well as poor nature-based decisions. Kerry said the world needs to start making better energy choices such as stopping financing coal, transitioning to cleaner energy, increasing adoption of battery storage and using other low-carbon options like hydrogen.
Cost is another big reason to respond to the climate crisis now rather than wait, according to Kerry: "It's less expensive," he said.