US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry announced the US would formally engage in IMO-based efforts to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions ahead of a Biden Administration announcement that the US will target a 50% cut in overall emissions by 2030
In the context of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), set to be held in Glasgow in November 2021, Mr Kerry said decarbonising shipping is now an official goal of the Biden Administration.
Asked what, specifically, the US would be doing to limit ocean pollutants, Mr Kerry said the first target is the international shipping sector and expediting investment from the sector in known decarbonisation technologies.
"The United States is committing to work with countries in the International Maritime Organisation to adopt the goal of achieving zero emissions from international shipping by 2050 and to adopt ambitious measures that will place the entire sector on a pathway to achieve this goal," he said.
"The international shipping sector produces a level of greenhouse gas emissions that is the equivalent of the emissions from a major international economy," he said.
"But the technologies we need to decarbonise shipping are known to us. So, they need investment and they need to be scaled up."
Mr Kerry said all nations must "send a clear signal to the industry so they will make those investments in the near future" before announcing a US commitment to pushing IMO decarbonisation efforts further, faster.
Former US secretary of state Kerry announced the US’ re-engagement with and formal backing of IMO emissions reduction efforts during a conference with environmental NGO Ocean Conservancy and ahead of a Biden Administration announcement that the US will cut its overall emissions by at least 50% by 2030.
"Building on past US leadership, including efforts by states, cities, tribes and territories, the new target aims at 50-52% reduction in US greenhouse gas pollution from 2005 levels in 2030," a fact sheet on the initiative from the White House said.
Among the many tenets that form the plan, ocean-based emissions reduction was mentioned once in the White House summary.
"The United States can reduce emissions from forests and agriculture and enhance carbon sinks through a range of programmes and measures including nature-based solutions for ecosystems ranging from our forests and agricultural soils to our rivers and coasts. Ocean-based solutions can also contribute towards reducing US emissions," the White House statement said.
However, Mr Kerry expanded on the Administration’s position on shipping emissions in his interview, saying land-based and ocean-based pollution is inextricably intertwined.
"Here’s the bottom line: you can’t solve the climate crisis without addressing the problem of the ocean," Mr Kerry said. "And you cannot solve the ocean crisis without dealing with climate."
"No silos, no separation. Climate is ocean, ocean is climate, and we need a major leg of the Glasgow product that is addressing the ocean."
To maintain temperatures within the Paris Agreement goals, Mr Kerry said the world would have to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 but also to remove carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere. Citing scientists who have said 50% of the overall emissions-reduction puzzle would require technologies that have not yet reached the market as commercially viable products, Mr Kerry said he still believed "we can get there".
According to Mr Kerry, with current emissions practices in place, the world is on track to warm by more than 4°C. This outcome would blow past the goal of capping global average climate warming at a maximum of 1.5°C that was set forth in 2015’s Paris Agreement, in which special envoy Kerry participated as US representative under the Obama Administration.
"If we were doing everything in the Paris Agreement, we’re still going to have warming of about 3.7°C, and we’re not doing everything that we said we would do," Mr Kerry said. "We’re at 1.2°C today."
"Can we get there (to cap warming at 1.5°C)? The answer is yes," he said. "but we can’t wait until five years before net-zero 2050 to start doing that. The essential decade to start is this decade, now, 2020-2030."
Mr Kerry said the oceans get "the worst of" global pollution due to their size, noting that ocean chemistry was changing more now than they had over the course of the preceding several million years.
"We actually don’t know what the saturation point (in terms of carbon dioxide capture) is for the oceans," he said.
You can watch special envoy Kerry’s interview in full below.
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