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Kerry expects ‘very tricky’ year for climate fundraising

White House envoy says climate conference in Egypt ‘fell slightly short’ of making collective progress

Climate envoy John Kerry speaks about the Biden administration’s climate policies at home and abroad with Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee. (Kaz Sasahara for The Washington Post)

Fresh off some setbacks at a global climate summit, White House climate envoy John F. Kerry said he expects a challenging year ahead in raising the trillions of dollars necessary to address climate change.

Kerry, speaking Thursday at a Washington Post Live event, said that last month’s U.N. Climate Change Conference in Egypt “fell slightly short” of making progress collectively among global governments. While roughly 30 countries raised their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the summit — known as COP27 — too few are moving quickly enough to avert a global crisis, Kerry said.

Now the world faces a year of “very tricky … very complicated” negotiations on how to fulfill one of the major steps forward from the summit, a new fund to compensate vulnerable countries for harm caused by climate change, Kerry said. He added that while the United States must lead in such financing, China and other countries must pay, too, while other funding must come from Wall Street and international development banks.

“There aren’t many legislatures in the world that are prepared to put up public money in the sums that we need,” Kerry said in an interview with Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee.

His remarks come a day after Vanguard Group, one of the world’s largest asset managers, said it is pulling out of a major initiative among financial firms to address climate change. The company said it was withdrawing from the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative because of confusion the group was creating over the implication for index funds popular among Vanguard clients.

White House climate envoy John F. Kerry expressed disappointment on Dec. 8 with lacking commitments to emissions cuts secured at COP27. (Video: Washington Post Live)

Kerry has championed that initiative and similar Wall Street coalitions as a way to get banks and investment houses to channel trillions of dollars of private-sector funds away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy and other climate-friendly projects. In a follow-up interview Thursday, he said that he doesn’t think Vanguard’s decision will be damaging for those efforts, and that the Biden administration is working with major philanthropies to help resolve friction over these programs among Wall Street firms.

“I think that there are many people trying to sort through that and want to be good actors and continue to go forward,” Kerry said. “And hopefully this can be resolved.”

Climate financing has become a top issue this year as these U.N.-led conferences shifted to focus more on how the nations of the world can implement past promises to reduce emissions. Developing countries have demanded that industrialized nations, especially in the West, come through with more funding and new vehicles to provide money quickly to account for how their decades of emissions — still lingering in the Earth’s atmosphere — have fed extreme heat, rising seas and other disasters that have often most affected poor and island nations.

In historic move, nations agree to pay to help vulnerable countries with climate disasters

Negotiations at COP27 hinged on this friction and ultimately produced a first-ever deal to create a “loss and damage” fund to assist developing countries in the crosshairs of global warming. It came after U.S. leaders softened their long-standing opposition to such a fund. Left unresolved was which countries will pay into the fund and what they might pay — the focus of more talks in the months to come.

“Yes, we’re the largest economy in the world,” Kerry said Thursday. “We have to step up to lead. But we have to also demand that everybody else is at the table. And that means China, too, and other countries.”

Congress, however, has yet to approve the $11 billion President Biden promised to the international community on climate aid. And with Democrats losing control of the House in last month’s midterm elections, Kerry acknowledged “there’s cause for some concern” that Republicans may block the U.S. government from providing any of the money it has promised.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of the Republicans friendlier to efforts to address climate change, in part criticized Democrats’ climate spending when he spoke after Kerry at the Post Live event. Romney said some of their programs are likely to be a waste and ineffective.

The COP process would produce better results, Romney said, if the United States, instead of spending more on tax subsidies for clean energy, implemented a carbon tax and import tariffs tied to greenhouse gas emissions. That would be more effective at encouraging other countries including India, Brazil and China to pursue innovations that cut both emissions and costs, he said.

“That’s what we have to do, do things that get accepted globally not just because people want to be proud at the next COP, but because they want to reduce cost and provide better services to their people,” he said. “A lot of what we’re doing sounds good, but won’t make a difference.”