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Yahoo Finance: John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry joins Yahoo Finance Editos-in-Chief Andy Serwer to discuss key takeaways from Davos World Economic Forum 2022.

Video Transcript

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ANDY SERWER: I'm here with us special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, nice to see you.

JOHN KERRY: Happy to be with you. Thank you.

ANDY SERWER: We're here in Davos. And I wanted to ask you what business you're bringing in your role and if you're going to be talking to people about some new initiatives?

JOHN KERRY: Well, we are talking to folks about new initiatives. We created, a number of months ago, an entity called the First Mover Coalition. And we had 35 major corporations from around the world who have decided to be leaders in creating a demand signal by opening up markets more rapidly through making their own commitments to make purchases or to behave in a certain way.

For instance, Maersk Shipping, largest container shipper in the world, has agreed the next eight ships they build are going to be carbon-free. Volvo and others have decided to step up and say 10% of the steel they buy is going to be green steel.

You have major airlines, United, Delta, Boeing, and Salesforce and Apple have all agreed that whatever flying operations those particular companies engage in, they will buy 5% sustainable aviation fuel, 85% reduction in emissions.

So there are a whole lot of things like that individual companies, banks, major financial institutions, and others-- and we'll have some important announcements about the new things that they're going to be doing and in new sectors.

ANDY SERWER: That's a lot of stuff with a lot of big name companies, Mr. Secretary. Do you personally get involved in the discussions with them about doing these types of things?

JOHN KERRY: Absolutely. And we have a terrific team of people. We're doing this in cooperation with the World Economic Forum. We announced it last year, actually, been working on it for some period of time.

But these chief executives, these CEOs really deserve the credit. They're stepping up. They understand the urgency. And they've decided they're going to be leaders in helping to send the demand signals necessary to change behavior.

So we've got folks working on aluminum and shipping and steel and concrete. And it's major. These have been the hard-to-do things. But we're moving into that sector and getting things done.

ANDY SERWER: Shifting gears a little bit here, obviously, Russia's invasion of Ukraine is front and center. And I want to ask you how that's impacting climate, because there's a lot of talk about Europeans turning to coal as a stopgap measure in lieu of Russian gas. What's your take on that?

JOHN KERRY: Well, coal is the dirtiest fuel there is, no matter what, if it's unabated. And most of it is not mitigated or abated. So that's a problem.

But Europe's big lesson out of this is that they want to be energy-independent. And they're going to move far more rapidly to get off of Russian gas, to separate themselves, and to deploy the renewable base of their grid so that they can be free from the emissions and from petro dictators who weaponize energy.

So I think at the end product, it could be very salutary. But you've got to avoid building out major long-term infrastructure that doesn't mitigate, that doesn't capture emissions and deal with the problem of the climate crisis. So you can't allow Ukraine to become an excuse for people to do things they wanted to do anyway, which is continue to simply produce the way they've been producing. And that's what we've got to avoid.

ANDY SERWER: Is nuclear part of that equation for you in terms of being able to shift away from oil and gas?

JOHN KERRY: The answer is, for President Biden, absolutely. He has kept nuclear on the table. It's a very important ingredient. Bill Gates is building a new design of a nuclear plant in Wyoming now and has put his own money into that effort, together with some federal money. There's another nuclear plant being explored and built out, a demonstration in Idaho at the National Laboratory.

MIT is doing work on small, container-sized nuclear battery. There's a tremendous amount of research effort.

And France is doubling down on nuclear. UK is looking nuclear. A lot of other countries have decided that they just can't get to Net-Zero 2050 without the use of a zero-emissions current technology capacity. And so yes, nuclear will be part of that mix.

ANDY SERWER: As a former secretary of state and now the envoy for climate, this type of environment seems to match both of your experiences or skill sets. Is it sort of unique in that sense?

JOHN KERRY: Well, I'm not sure what you exactly mean by that.

ANDY SERWER: Well, in that geopolitics and energy seem to be mixed in a way.

JOHN KERRY: Well, they always have been. It's just it has been without the focus that exists today on the climate crisis, which comes from emissions.

ANDY SERWER: Right.

JOHN KERRY: I mean, this is not complicated. It's basic mathematics and physics. Certain things are happening because human beings are choosing to provide for their power or their transportation by combustion, by burning fossil fuel. And if you don't lower the emissions, those emissions create a blanket which goes up in the atmosphere and warms the planet.

And there isn't anybody I know today who doesn't admit that the planet is warming and that life has changed as a result of this. If we want to stop spending literally hundreds of billions of dollars-- and over a long period of time, we've spent trillions of dollars just cleaning up after worse storms every year, after floods, after fires, after drought.

I mean, at some point, human nature has traditionally proven pretty apt at discerning a trend. And this trend is pretty obvious. The climate crisis is getting worse not better. And we have too much more rapidly be reducing emissions and taking the steps, not that politicians are saying we should do, but that scientists whose lives are dedicated to determining the mathematics and the physics of this particular challenge.

ANDY SERWER: And most business leaders seem to be on board as well at this point.

JOHN KERRY: It's unbelievable what's happening. The private sector is really moving. And yes, there's a gigantic shift, with the private sector taking the lead in many places. And that's all kinds of private sector institutions.

And by the way, some fossil fuel companies are now working very hard to become energy companies and transition to producing electricity and doing it in a clean way, either through hydrogen or nuclear or in other ways. So this is not something that leaves the world without options that work for our economy.

In fact, this is perhaps one of the greatest economic opportunities we've ever faced, potentially much larger than the Industrial Revolution, because we have to build out new energy grids. We're building out, now, new vehicles. Ford Motor Company and General Motors have both said they're going to have only electric vehicles by 2035.

So those companies are moving, because the marketplace is moving. And they know we have to do that.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, I was going to ask. You hadn't mentioned EVs. But is that something under your purview as well? Do you talk to Tesla and Elon Musk and you talk to people in Detroit about that?

JOHN KERRY: Well, I talk to them about the overall impact. But by and large, that falls into the domestic hat, which Gina McCarthy and her team have been working on. And they've done a terrific job.

I mean, these companies have made their own decisions, though. They're led by thoughtful, visionary folks who are looking down the road. And they recognize that if we are going to meet our goals with respect to climate, we have to have-- everything has to be part of the solution, agriculture, shipping, buildings, transportation, manufacturing.

We all have to look at the ways we can reduce the emissions, which by the way, are pollution. And 15 million people die every year because of the impacts of that pollution in the atmosphere. So the common sense thing to do is what we began to do years ago, clean up the air.

ANDY SERWER: Right.

JOHN KERRY: Not allow pollution to be dominating the impacts on our lives. And so we have to get back to that. And there's a lot of money to be made in producing the goods, in defining the new technologies, bringing them to market, bringing them to scale. And that's what a lot of venture capitalists and investment entities are now realizing.

And they're moving there. The market is moving and will move in this direction. We will get to-- I'm absolutely convinced we will get to a low-carbon, no-carbon economy at some point in time. The challenge is, will we get there in time to heed the warnings of the scientists and avoid the worst consequences of the crisis?

ANDY SERWER: Are you going to be meeting with your Chinese counterparts here in Davos? And if so, what are you going to be discussing? What do you hope to achieve?

JOHN KERRY: Well, ironically, I just met with my Chinese counterpart. I just came from that meeting. And we are going to meet again in Berlin, where we have G7 preparatory meetings coming up at the end of the week. And then we will be meeting over the course of these next months to work together to see how we can implement the promises made in Glasgow.

And in Glasgow, the US and China came to an agreement about addressing methane, reducing methane, which is one of the most important gains we could get in terms of reducing greenhouse gases. It's the most destructive. And it's just leaking in various parts of the world. We can contain that.

Secondly, we're going to meet also to discuss how to more rapidly transition from coal into, perhaps, gas or nuclear or whatever it's going to be. But that transition needs to take place all over the world.

And finally, we're going to be working on deforestation, which is a huge cause of some of the climate challenges. We lose the forests, which eat, chew, live off the carbon dioxide. And unfortunately, Illegal deforestation for other purposes, farming, cattle, palm oil, is really threatening the potential of our rainforests to be able to be rainforests.

ANDY SERWER: And quick last follow-up question then. Do you anticipate any sort of agreement with the Chinese? Or can you give us any more context in terms of how far those talks have progressed or what we can anticipate?

JOHN KERRY: No, I can't give you any of that today. We've always sort of proceeded pretty quietly, as we are now. But I'm hopeful that we can achieve progress. We have two very strong agreements on which to build. China has agreed that this year, they will submit an ambitious national action plan on methane to the meeting of the parties in Sharm El-Sheikh this November.

And methane, the world has now joined this battle. Methane was an afterthought at our last meetings, now it's front and center. And methane is where you can get some of the fastest reductions in greenhouse gases and also some of the most important because of how destructive methane is.

It's 20 to 80 times more damaging than CO2. And now, because of the thawing of permafrost, it just bubbles up in the Arctic, in Siberia, various places. And it's a genuine threat. But if you do reduce it-- and there's now a global goal that 116 nations have signed up to do this. They have a 30% reduction by 2030 in the level of methane.

If we achieve that, astonishingly, it is the equivalent of every car in the world, every truck in the world, every ship in the world, every airplane in the world going to zero emissions by 2030. That would be a great accomplishment. And we're trying to get, for certain, on that road.

ANDY SERWER: All right, we look forward to seeing more progress there. Secretary John Kerry, thank you so much for your time.

JOHN KERRY: My pleasure.

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