John Kerry rejects leading climate scientist's claim Paris talks were 'fraud'

Kerry defends agreement after James Hansen, considered the father of climate change awareness, condemned talks over lack of potential for carbon tax

John Kerry has rejected criticism from prominent climate scientist James Hansen that the Paris climate talks were a “fraud” and insisted the resulting deal will spur a global transition from fossil fuels towards renewable energy.

The Paris accord, the culmination of 20 years of often fraught climate talks, has been hailed as a success by various world leaders after 195 countries agreed to curb greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to hold global temperatures to 1.5C above preindustrial levels.

The 31-page agreement, thrashed out following two weeks of talks on the outskirts of Paris, also sets out the transfer of $100bn to poorer countries to help them adapt to the consequences of climate change.

But Hansen, a former Nasa scientist considered the father of wider public understanding of climate change, tempered optimism by telling the Guardian on the eve of the deal that the talks were a “fraud” and a “fake” because they would not result in a carbon tax that would drive down fossil fuel use.

Asked about Hansen’s comments by ABC, in an interview broadcast on Sunday, Kerry, who led US negotiators in Paris, said he disagreed.

“Look, I have great respect for Jim Hansen and I was there in 1988 when he first warned everybody climate change was happening,” the secretary of state said.

“But with all due respect to him, I understand the criticisms of the agreement because it doesn’t have a mandatory scheme and it doesn’t have a compliance enforcement mechanism. That’s true.

“But we have 186 countries, for the first time in history, all submitting independent plans that they have laid down, which are real, for reducing emissions.

“And what it does, in my judgment, more than anything else, there is a uniform standard of transparency. And therefore, we will know what everybody is doing.

“The result will be a very clear signal to the marketplace of the world that people are moving into low carbon, no carbon, alternative renewable energy. And I think it’s going to create millions of jobs, enormous new investment in R&D [research and development], and that R&D is going to produce the solutions, not government.”

Hansen and Kerry have previously clashed over the idea of a fee on each tonne of carbon dioxide emitted. Hansen told the Guardian he spent an hour trying to convince Kerry of the merits of the idea shortly after Barack Obama became president, only to be rebuffed.

Hansen said the subsequent cap-and-trade plan, which was later abandoned, was “absurd” as it did not properly price fossil fuels in relation to their damage to human health and the environment.

Hansen said he “foolishly” had high hopes that Obama would convince hostile Republicans and the public that a carbon fee was needed to tackle climate change.

“But he’s not particularly good at that,” Hansen said. “He didn’t make it a priority and now it’s too late for him.”

Republican opposition to any action on climate change, including the Paris agreement, could still hamper US efforts to reduce emissions and provide more than $3bn to nations considered at risk from rising sea levels and extreme weather.

The Republican-controlled Congress has passed bills to overturn Obama’s plan to use the Environmental Protection Agency to cut emissions from power plants. A future Republican president would be unlikely to veto such legislation.

Kerry said he didn’t think the American public would accept US backtracking on climate change in the wake of the Paris deal.

“I think, frankly, a lot of members of Congress are on the wrong side of history,” he told the ABC.

“And I don’t believe you can be elected president of the United States if you don’t understand climate change or you’re not committed to this kind of a plan.

“Obviously, if a Republican were elected, they have the ability, by executive order, to undo things … but that’s why I don’t believe the American people – who predominantly do believe in what is happening with climate change – I don’t think they’re going to accept as a genuine leader someone who doesn’t understand the science of climate change and isn’t willing to do something about it.”


Oliver Milman in New York

The GuardianTramp

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