John Kerry says we can't leave climate emergency to 'neanderthals' in power

It’s a lie that humanity has to choose between prosperity and protecting the future, former US secretary of state tells Australian conference

The former US secretary of state John Kerry has warned that humanity risks marching off a cliff unless governments take immediate action to fight the climate emergency.

In a keynote address to the Global Table food and agriculture conference, Kerry made veiled swipes at the Australian government’s lack of climate and energy policy. He also weighed in on the heated debate about the massive Adani coalmine proposed for north Queensland.

“We just can’t sit on our asses and leave the political process to neanderthals who don’t want to believe in the future,” Kerry told the audience in Melbourne. “We have a dearth of leadership, but this will turn.”

The former US Democratic presidential candidate said it was not a choice between taking action on the climate emergency and securing jobs and growth.

“They are not separate. And anybody who persists in putting forward that notion that you have to make the choice – you can either have jobs plus prosperity or you can protect the environment and the future. That’s a lie.

“We’ve got a whole bunch of people running around trying to save the status quo – when the status quo is actually feeding a lot of jobs that don’t make sense.”

He said the transition to carbon emission-neutral economies would create better jobs and noted that the fastest growing employment opportunities in the US were for solar power and wind power turbine technicians.

He contrasted the growing US solar workforce of 300,000 people with the declining coal workforce of 50,000. Two years ago 75% of new electricity coming online in the US was renewable energy compared with 0.2% coal.

“We have to make better choices,” Kerry said.

@JohnFKerry, 68th Secretary of State, delivering the opening keynote at Global Table x @SEEDSandCHIPS. Discussing the need for leadership, facts and vision during tough times. #GlobalTableAus #SaCGlobalTable

— Global Table Aus (@globaltable_aus) September 3, 2019

He cast doubt over continued investment in the coal sector, acknowledging the controversy surrounding the Adani coalmine in Australia. “I got to tell you, we should not be moving to coal, we should not be encouraging coal, we should not be building infrastructure around coal,” he said to rousing applause from the audience.

He talked up the future of small-generation nuclear power, citing its safe use by the US Navy. But experts have cast doubt on the technology because of cost, technical limitations and its failure to be deployed commercially anywhere in the world.

Kerry said people arguing that the cost of action to fight the climate emergency was too great were not factoring in the massive storm and disaster damage bills.

In 2017 the category five hurricanes Irma and Maria and the category four hurricane Harvey cost $265bn to clean up.

“Wait and see what happens with Dorian,” Kerry said.

He likened the money needed for climate action to the scale of the Marshall plan to rebuild Europe after the second world war.

The Australian government has resisted calls to invest more cash in the UN’s Green Climate Fund. Australia has previously pledged $200m to the fund to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change and cut their own greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s to help those developing nations leapfrog the mistakes and get modern technology,” Kerry said. “We said we would put $100bn in that fund to help these smaller nations do this transition … But do you know how much money is in that fund? Less than $5bn. Come on, folks, that’s not serious.”

He compared the global response to “lemmings marching off the cliff into the sea”.

Kerry was critical of the Trump administration’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate change action pact but said state governors and mayors across the country were stepping up to the plate.

The Global Table conference continues until Friday.


Lisa Martin

The GuardianTramp

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