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Kerry on Biden climate pledge: 'We had to prove that we were serious'

·White House Correspondent
·3 min read
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White House climate envoy John Kerry acknowledged Thursday the skepticism he has encountered from foreign allies about the U.S. commitment to fighting climate change in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“We had to restore America’s credibility. We had to prove that we were serious. And I think today does that in many ways,” said Kerry.

The former secretary of state then lamented Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris accord, which Kerry himself had signed.

"Regrettably, without any facts, without any science, without any rationale that would be considered reasonable, the former president decided to pull out,” Kerry said.

President Biden signed an executive action to rejoin the agreement on his first day in office. It was, as Kerry noted, the first in a series of steps the administration is taking to try to repair global alliances and slow climate change.

On Thursday, Biden hosted an international climate summit with world leaders at which he pledged to cut U.S. carbon emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030 over 2005 levels.

Joe Biden with John Kerry, right
President Biden and climate envoy John Kerry taking part Thursday in the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Kerry and White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy joined reporters in the White House Briefing Room on Thursday to highlight announcements made at the two-day summit.

Several key allies welcomed the United States back into the global conversation during Thursday morning’s introductory sessions.

“It is so good to have the U.S. back on our side in the fight against climate change,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

Kerry stressed to reporters that simply laying out a lofty goal is far from enough when it comes to achieving the mammoth task of keeping global temperatures from rising about 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond that threshold, most climate scientists warn, the planet will face catastrophic consequences, including weather disasters, mass extinction and crippling drought.

John Kerry
Climate envoy John Kerry. (Evan Vucci/AP)

While noting the growing anger of many young Americans who believe that those in power have failed in their responsibility to preserve the environment for future generations, Kerry acknowledged that curbing rising global temperatures was not an easy matter.

“Today we’ve built a huge foundational building block ... the world came together,” he said. “I’m not sanguine. The next six months of diplomacy will be absolutely critical.”

“It’s progress,” Kerry said of commitments from world governments to cut emissions, “but we still have a heavy lift and no one should doubt the challenges of the road ahead.”

Asked what he could do now to ensure that another president couldn’t simply undo the steps the Biden administration is taking to cut emissions, Kerry cited support from the private sector.

“I want to begin by pointing out that there’s a company called Tesla, which is the highest-valued automobile company in the world. Why? All it makes is one product: electric vehicles,” he said. “That is what is happening. That’s a signal. That’s the market saying, ‘Here we are, this is going to happen.’”

McCarthy stressed that the U.S. commitment to cutting emissions did not have to come at the expense of economic growth.

Gina McCarthy
National climate adviser Gina McCarthy. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

"We see multiple pathways across all sectors ... to grow our economy and to reduce our emissions,” she said.

McCarthy pointed to the administration’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure package as an example of legislation that could help the U.S. realize a sustainable future. That plan faces widespread Republican opposition on Capitol Hill, however, and GOP lawmakers have long criticized Democratic climate plans as job killers.

In his remarks at the virtual summit on Thursday, Biden sought to counter that perception.

“When people talk about climate, I think jobs,” he said. “Within our climate response lies an extraordinary engine of job creation and economic opportunity ready to be fired up.”

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