John Kerry to keep working on climate finance after White House exit

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John Kerry aims to remain involved in drumming up finance for the clean energy transition despite stepping aside as the top US climate official, at a time when the issue of paying for green investment is a flashpoint for governments around the world.

In an interview with the Financial Times in London marking his handover as climate envoy to John Podesta, another veteran White House adviser, Kerry said he would still be committed to the effort to tackle global warming.

“The reason that I’ve decided to transition from this job is not because we’re finished,” he said. “But as US envoy, I’m presently responsible for the US position, for what we’re doing here. If I’m out there as a citizen, I’m able to work with whoever I choose to work with in order to help accelerate this [transition away from fossil fuels].”

Kerry said discussions about the exact role he would play in climate finance were still in their infancy, but he added: “I’m going to personally try to help accelerate that process of deployment and pull the people together.”

While he would not have an official role in the US presidential campaign, Kerry said he would continue to support Joe Biden. He would be better able to speak out on climate issues when no longer subject to the Hatch act, a law that restricts political activities by federal employees, he said.

Kerry said the world had a “framework” following the agreement at the UN COP28 climate conference in Dubai in December to “transition away” from fossil fuels, while the science was clear about the need to limit the global temperature rise to no more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

“But we don’t have the money,” said the 80-year-old, who has been a key figure in international climate negotiations since his appointment as the first US special presidential climate envoy by President Biden in 2021.

“We have to put in place more rapidly the funding mechanisms that are going to actually fuel this transition at the pace it needs to be.”

A report by the Climate Policy Initiative think-tank said last year that climate finance must increase at least fivefold, from about $1.3tn in 2021-22, as soon as possible, to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Last year was the hottest on record.

Many governments are grappling with how to fund the shift to a greener economy at a time of high inflation and an increasing pushback from voters concerned about how they might be financially affected.

Kerry said “huge progress” had been made over the past three years in addressing climate change, pointing to the discussions with China’s former climate envoy Xie Zhenhua — also recently retired — to boost action on methane emissions, as well as global agreements to triple renewable energy capacity and increase energy efficiency.

The former presidential candidate led the so-called Sunnylands agreement, where the world’s two biggest green house gas emitters agreed to “accelerate the substitution” of fossil fuels with green energy.

But existing financing efforts for green investment in developing countries, such as the so-called Just Energy Transition Partnership programme, designed to help fast-growing economies wean themselves off carbon-intensive fuels, “haven’t worked properly yet”, he said.

More work also needed to be done to make the best use of cash from multilateral development banks and to bring private capital on board.

“I want to focus on the one thing I think will have the greatest impact on this transition, and that is being able to show people you actually can get some revenue and make this work in the marketplace,” he said, adding that he would look at “every mechanism available” to try to raise funds.

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