John Kerry: Pope Francis one of greatest voices on climate crisis

After meeting with Pope Francis, Special US Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry speaks to Vatican News in this exclusive interview about this meeting and his work in promoting cooperation on addressing climate change.

Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry made a special visit to the Vatican on Saturday and met in private audience with Pope Francis. He is currently in Europe visiting Rome, London, and Berlin, to meet with European government officials and business leaders on to strengthen cooperation on dealing with climate change. The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet later this year.  

After his audience with the Pope and Vatican officials, Mr. Kerry sat down with Vatican News' Christopher Wells for this inteview.

You’re on a very important mission here to Europe to speak with world leaders and especially European leaders about the climate crisis. Why is it important for you to include a visit with the Pope on this journey to Europe?

Well, the pope is one of the great voices of reason and compelling moral authority on the subject of the climate crisis. He's been ahead of the curve. He's been a leader. His encyclical Laudato si’ is really a very, very powerful document, eloquent and morally very persuasive. And I think that his voice will be a very important voice leading up to and through the Glasgow conference, which I believe he intends to attend. So, we need everybody in this fight. All the leaders of the world need to come together and every country needs to do its part. And I think, I think his Holiness speaks with a moral authority that is quite separate. It's unique and we need all the power we can bring to the table.

And, in fact, on that note, Pope Francis has also spoken about the importance about getting everybody to the table and to dialogue in order to reach a consensus, especially with regards to concrete actions to move forward. At the same time, there are very different interests at stake. You have very large countries, very small countries. You have economically very powerful countries like the United States, but you also have developing countries that have a stake and an interest in the question as well. In practical terms, how do you advance the dialogue? And what is the US prepared to do in terms of both offering something and asking something of other countries?

You’re absolutely correct. There are differences between countries and what they can do and what they're doing today, that is part of the problem versus part of the solution. There are differences, of course. And those differences have been embraced in the language of the Paris Agreement and before that would the phrase ‘common, but differentiated responsibility’. We all have a common responsibility, that's key. No, country is exempt from needing to take measures to deal with this crisis. On the other hand, we don't expect a very small economy, a very small country, and a very small emitter of greenhouse gases to step up and do the same thing we're going to do. We accept – we are the second largest emitter in the world. China's first, behind us is India and then you have Russia and other countries coming. But the bottom line is this: no one country can solve this problem. We all have to take steps and the issue is finding the reasonableness, that point at which people are doing what they reasonably should be expected to do and can do. So, the United States has to put up its fair share of funding for adaptation for resilience. We have to lead in helping to cut our emissions – and we are! President Biden has set a target of reducing our emissions over the next decade by 50 to 52%. But we need other big emitting countries to step up and also offer some reductions. You can't just keep going along with a coal-fired power plant or with more coal coming online and really be the part of the solution that we need to have here.

Everybody shares an obligation here. No one country can get this job done. If the United States was at zero-emissions tomorrow, we’d still have crisis. We are only 11% of all the world's emissions. So, 89% is other countries. 20 countries are responsible for about 73, 75% of the emissions. So those 20 countries, which are the most developed in the world, have a special responsibility. But everybody has a responsibility to be part of the solution here. And I think His Holiness, the Pope Francis speaks with unique authority, compelling moral authority, and that hopefully can help push people to greater ambition to get the job done.

We can do this. That's the important thing. People need to know this is doable. And in the doing of it, we can create millions of jobs. We can have cleaner air. We can have better health. We can have less cancer. We can have less air problems where people are choking and kids are going to the hospital in the summer because of environmentally induced asthma. And we can be more secure in our nation's because we can depend on energy that's at home – renewable energy, alternative energy, sustainable energy. And in the creation of those alternatives, there's enormous wealth to be created. Do you know the two of the three fastest growing jobs in the United States last year? One was wind turbine technician and the other, the third fastest growing, was solar panel installer. So, this is there to be grabbed by people. And what we want to show people is we’re not looking for unfairness. We're not looking for people to do the impossible. But no nation has the right to say, we don't have to do anything. Or we don't have to step up. Because no one country can solve this problem. It takes all of us together to get it done.

Your optimism, that we can do this is an echo of what our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has said – that we can do this together. Let me ask you a question very concretely about practical steps on a diplomatic level. How does the US as a superpower, an economic and political superpower, and the Holy See, as a very small nation, but as a moral and spiritual authority, how can they collaborate in fighting together for a positive global economy and to fight against climate change?

The Holy Father is one of, if not the, one of the most powerful voices on the planet and he's been extraordinary in the eloquence of his call on people to do to step up and be reasonable and to live out our responsibility as human beings in caring for God's creation. And we all have to be stewards of that creation, that's his message. But because he is above politics and outside of the hurly-burly of day-to-day, national conflict, etc. I think he can sort of shake people a little bit and bring them to the table with a better sense of our common obligation. And I think that the Vatican may be a small entity, but the flock is enormous on a global basis and His Holiness, Pope Francis, has the ability to help galvanize action from countries. He has the ability to be able to affect citizens in many different countries all at the same time and have them call on their governments to be responsible, to do what we need to do to preserve the planet. So, I think that the world has a special respect for Pope Francis and there is no question that he has already been a significant leader in this endeavor. And we look to him for further guidance and help in getting this job done.

Different entities will make different contributions to this effort. There are very small nations, some of which don't emit a lot, like Norway or Sweden and some Scandinavian…Denmark is an example. There are plenty of countries, Kenya and places where they're reducing emissions – and they're small. But the power of their message is enormous right now because they're effective and that's one of the compelling aspects of this. Big, powerful nations, like the United States, have had the ability over years to be emitting and growing, but now we're at a day of reckoning with respect to what are the consequences of the way we've been growing. And I think that the Holy Father speaks with special authority to our sense of obligation to each other, and the ways in which we need to all step up now together, given the divisions of the world and some of the polarization and the ideology and conflict. That voice is more important than ever.

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15 May 2021, 16:20