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Kerry Vows Aggressive Climate Steps as U.S. Rejoins Paris

Ari Natter and Will Wade
·4 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Presidential climate envoy John Kerry vowed on Friday that the U.S. would take aggressive steps to reduce its carbon emissions as the nation officially rejoins the Paris climate accord.

Under the agreement, some 195 countries set their own voluntary emissions-reduction targets. The goal is to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the country from the pact four years ago. But President Joe Biden, on his first day in office last month, notified the United Nations the U.S. would rejoin. That became official Friday.

“We know that just doing Paris is not enough,” Kerry said Friday at a virtual event hosted by groups urging action against climate change. Kerry helped broker the landmark Paris climate accord while serving as secretary of state under then-President Barack Obama and now serves in the newly created role of U.S. special presidential envoy for climate.

“If every country delivered, we’d still see a warming of planet Earth of about 3.7 degrees centigrade,” Kerry said. “Just catastrophic.”

Under Obama, the U.S. had pledged to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. But Kerry and other members of the Biden administration have signaled they intend to go well beyond that as they seek to re-establish their climate credibility with world leaders after four years of environmental rollbacks during the Trump administration.

Gina McCarthy, Biden’s domestic climate adviser, has pledged “the most aggressive” carbon cut the U.S. can make ahead of an April 22 climate summit Biden is hosting with world leaders. The U.S. is expected to announce its next emissions reduction goal, or Nationally Determined Contribution, at or ahead of that meeting.

“Nothing is off the table,” McCarthy said during Friday’s webcast.

The event was hosted by America is All In, a coalition of groups urging action against climate change that is co-chaired by Michael R. Bloomberg, the U.N. secretary general’s special envoy for climate ambition and solutions. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent company of Bloomberg News.

The World Resources Institute and other environmental groups have advocated a U.S. commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 50% over the next decade. Achieving that would require a broad mix of domestic climate action, including more zero-emissions vehicles and rapid shifts in how the U.S. generates its electricity.

Some activists are pushing even more rapid reductions before 2030. The U.S. Climate Action Network has advocated the U.S. cut its “fair share” of emissions by paring them 70% below 2005 levels by 2030 while helping developing countries stifle greenhouse gases too.

Whatever the U.S. pledges comes on top of a sweeping $2 trillion climate plan proposed by Biden that calls for an emissions-free electric grid in 15 years, and a target of net-zero emissions across the entire economy by 2050.

At a separate event Friday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres praised countries that have already pledged to reach net-zero by 2050, including Japan, South Korea and the European Union. He’s seeking to form a “net-zero coalition” ahead of the annual UN climate meeting that starts in November in Glasgow.

“My hope is that the U.S. will join, and present a concrete plan,” Gutteres said.

Trump formally pulled out of the Paris climate pact in November 2020, making the U.S. the first nation to quit the agreement. He had labeled the pact “a total disaster” that would harm American competitiveness by enabling “a giant transfer of American wealth to foreign nations that are responsible for most of the world’s pollution.”

“The Paris Agreement is an unprecedented framework for global action,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Friday. “We know because we helped design it and make it a reality. Its purpose is both simple and expansive: to help us all avoid catastrophic planetary warming and to build resilience around the world to the impacts from climate change we already see.”

(Updates with comment from UN secretary general in 13th paragraph.)

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