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John Kerry Discusses Biden's Pledge To Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions


In President Biden's first 100 days, he has put more of a focus on climate change than any of his predecessors. His first day in office, he signed an executive order to re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement. His $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan has a big climate component. And at this week's virtual climate summit, he pledged to cut U.S. emissions in half by the end of this decade by investing heavily in new technologies.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No single technology is the answer on its own because every sector requires innovation to meet this moment.

SHAPIRO: Another sign of this commitment - Biden created a new position, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry to the job, who joins us now. Welcome, Secretary Kerry.

JOHN KERRY: Glad to be with you.

SHAPIRO: So let's talk about the steps it'll take to get there because it's going to require a massive shift in technology. We just heard Biden say it will affect every sector. Most transportation will have to be electric. The U.S. will have to shift away from fossil fuels. Many of the technologies required don't even exist yet. So is this more a matter of shoot for the moon, and if you miss, at least you'll land among the stars?

KERRY: No. No, I think it's achievable. And I think that people who have really studied this, analyzed it and thought about it for a long period of time believe it is achievable. Already, the marketplace is moving towards electric. I mean, you know, Joe Biden didn't create the value of Tesla as the most valuable automobile company in the world. The market did that. And the market did it because that's where people are moving.

SHAPIRO: But right now only 2% of vehicle sales are electric. The scale of change that you're talking about in the timeframe that is required is something we've never seen in human history.

KERRY: So, Ari, let me put it to you this way. How many politicians, how many scientists, how many people have stood up and said, this is existential for us on this planet? Existential - that means life and death. And the question is, are we behaving as if it is? And the answer is no. So why are younger generation folks so angry? Why are they standing up and demonstrating and asking adults to accept adult responsibility to move our nations in the right direction? Because the scientists are telling them that.

SHAPIRO: You mention politicians standing up and saying this is existential. Climate change is still seen as a partisan issue in the U.S., and Republicans could take over Congress next year. A Republican could win the White House in three years. So why should global leaders view this as a reliable commitment from the United States when GOP leaders have not bought in?

KERRY: For two reasons. No. 1, when Donald Trump was president of the United States and he pulled out of the agreement, 37 governors in the United States, Republican and Democrats alike, stood up and said, we're still in. And states - those 37 states have passed renewable portfolio laws. So at the state level, people are moving because they know it's better for their state. It's a safer, better delivery of power to their state, and it's the way it's going to move.

SHAPIRO: But in effect, are you saying the federal government cannot be relied on for its work? I mean...

KERRY: But let me - yeah. That's the second part of the answer, Ari. Masses of capital, trillions of dollars, are going to move into the energy market, which is the largest market the world has ever seen and going to grow now - multiple double-digit trillions of dollars of market. And no politician can come along and tell those banks or those asset managers or those investors or those venture capitalists or the companies, the corporations that are doing this. They know this is where the market's going to be in the future.

SHAPIRO: Just to get specific, with this steep climb in a short timeframe, if the $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan that the president has put forth does not pass the Senate, does this goal to cut emissions in half by 2030 effectively die with the bill?

KERRY: Well, it doesn't die, but it certainly takes a blow, a serious one. But the companies I've talked about are going to move in this direction no matter what. I mean, if you look at the biggest companies in America, these folks are all pushing to get this done because they know that the world is going to be better off and that their businesses are going to be better off if we do that. This is a real challenge for all of us, and I think people are waking up to it all around the world.

Let me ask you a question, Ari. Why do you think 40 heads of state, including President Xi of China, President Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Modi of India - huge populations - come together and say, we have to do this? Do they know something that some of these opponents don't know or aren't willing to admit? I mean, the only leader in the entire world that saw fit to pull out of the Paris agreement was Donald Trump.

SHAPIRO: But it's so easy to make commitments, and we haven't seen countries follow through on those commitments. They haven't upheld the less ambitious commitments that they've made.

KERRY: This is accurate. No, they're doing things. They're not doing enough. There are very few countries that are doing enough. Most countries are not. And of the 20 countries that equal 81% of all the emissions, they are the critical ones that have to do more, and we're among them. We are 15% of all the world's emissions. China is 30%. Does China need to do more? Absolutely. All of the 20 need to do more.

SHAPIRO: Secretary John Kerry is President Biden's envoy for climate. Thank you very much for your time today.

KERRY: Thank you. Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.