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John Kerry is counting on the private sector to help solve climate change

U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry is facing criticism from some climate experts for suggesting that the private sector is key to solving the climate crisis.

Kerry said last week that no government in the world has enough money to boost investment in clean energy at the scale necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The private sector, he said, can fill that gap in investment.

  • “There are literally trillions of dollars under management,” Kerry told CNBC at the Reuters Next conference. “There's a great deal of money chasing good projects and good deals. I believe the private sector has the ability to win this battle for us.”
  • Kerry added that private sector funding could support technological breakthroughs in areas such as battery storage, green hydrogen and direct air carbon capture, which could be “game changers” for reaching net-zero emissions.

Those comments drew some pushback on Twitter.

The New Republic's Kate Aronoff:

Daniel Aldana Cohen of the University of California at Berkeley and the climate + community project:

Leah Stokes, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told The Climate 202 that “there are real limits to relying on the private sector" without complementary climate policy from the federal government.

“This is why passing the Build Back Better Act is so important. It's going to get the private sector going in the right direction,” Stokes said, referring to Democrats' $2 trillion social spending bill, which includes a historic $555 billion investment in clean energy.

Leehi Yona, a graduate student at Stanford University who studies climate policy, told The Climate 202 that “there's no scenario in my mind where we address climate change, and we do so by only having corporations carry that effort.”

“If we're relying on the private sector, we're inherently relying on the voluntary efforts and the good faith of corporations to do the right thing,” Yona said. “But we don't really have any oversight to ensure that their actions are anything more than hot air.”

State Department clarifies

Asked for comment, a State Department spokeswoman clarified that Kerry thinks climate action from the private sector should complement — not replace — climate action from world leaders.

“Secretary Kerry has said many times that both governments and the private sector must step up to accelerate the decarbonization of the global economy and reach our climate goals. We must meet this challenge together," the spokeswoman said in an email.

As an example of the private sector stepping up alongside governments, the spokeswoman cited the First Movers Coalition, a partnership that Kerry led with the World Economic Forum. The coalition brought together 34 companies, valued at $6 trillion, to reduce emissions from “hard-to-abate” sectors such as aviation and shipping.

President Biden announced the First Movers Coalition at the United Nations climate conference last month in Glasgow, Scotland, where the private sector made some splashy commitments. For instance, a coalition of private financial institutions that collectively control $130 trillion in assets pledged to reach net-zero emissions in their investments by midcentury.

Some experts back Kerry

Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University and author of the book “The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet,” said he agrees with Kerry.

“The private sector can — and must — be an ally in the climate battle,” Mann said in an email. “In ‘The New Climate War,’ for example, I talk about the important role that the finance industry can play here in denying financing for new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

And Jason Bordoff, a dean of Columbia University's climate school and founding director of its global energy center, told The Climate 202 that Kerry's comments are supported by recent findings from the International Energy Agency.

In a May report, the IEA found that for the global energy sector to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, clean energy spending will need to increase from about $2 trillion to $5 trillion per year. “Most of that is going to need to be private capital,” Bordoff said.

Greta Thunberg pages Gandalf

This is not the first time that Kerry has rubbed climate activists the wrong way. Earlier this year, Kerry irked some activists with remarks about the need to invent new technologies to curb global warming.

  • Kerry told the BBC in May that 50 percent of the emissions reductions needed to reach net-zero emissions by midcentury “are going to come from technologies that we don’t yet have."
  • Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg responded sarcastically in a tweet: “Great news! I spoke to Harry Potter and he said he will team up with Gandalf, Sherlock Holmes & The Avengers and get started right away!”

On the Hill

Climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act hit the ‘Byrd bath’

The Senate parliamentarian will decide over the next week whether the climate provisions in Democrats’ nearly $2 trillion economic package, known as the Build Back Better Act, fit the rules for reconciliation — a special budget process that allows Democrats to bypass a GOP filibuster.

Senate Republicans have indicated that they will try to use the procedural review, known as a “Byrd bath” after former Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), to challenge various provisions in the bill by arguing that they are only incidentally related to the budget. Climate provisions that could face challenges include electric vehicle subsidies and a methane fee, Manuel Quiñones of E&E News reports.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) reiterated in a letter to colleagues on Monday that he hopes to pass the bill before Christmas, meaning it could come to the floor as soon as next week.

Climate solutions

Three Nobel Prize winners called climate change the biggest threat

Chemistry laureate David W.C. MacMillan, physics prize winner Klaus Hasselmann and economics prize winner Guido Imbens held a virtual news conference in which all three called climate change the biggest problem facing humanity. 

Despite their grave concern about global warming, the laureates expressed optimism that humanity would rise to address the challenge, Jill Lawless and Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press report.

“Climate change is something which is clearly going to have a large impact on society,” MacMillan said. “But at the same time given the science, given the call to arms among scientists, I really feel more optimism. And I feel there’s a real moment happening with scientists moving toward trying to solve this problem.”

Hasselmann, a German physicist who was recognized for his work modeling the Earth's climate, said he has more hope now about efforts to address climate change than he did 20 or 30 years ago. He credited the world's youths with “getting across the message to the public that we have to act.”

Bezos Earth Fund awards $443 million in grants to environmental justice, conservation organizations

The money will go to 44 organizations working on climate change, environmental justice and land restoration, the fund announced. The grants include:

  • $130 million to organizations to advance the Biden administration's Justice40 Initiative, which aims to ensure that at least 40 percent of the benefits of federal investment in climate change go to disadvantaged communities.
  • $261 million to further the goal of protecting 30 percent of the land and sea by 2030, with a focus on the Congo Basin and the Tropical Andes.
  • $51 million to support land restoration in the United States and Africa.

The grants come as part of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's pledge to commit $10 billion to tackling climate change. (Bezos also owns The Washington Post). 

Extreme events

Droughts and wildfires are pushing coyotes into cities

Coyotes and other wildlife have become the newest “climate refugees,” as extreme weather pushes them into urban areas in search of food and water, Bloomberg’s Todd Woody writes

In Berkeley, Calif., some residents worry that the coyotes will prey on their pets, while others have petitioned officials to reduce the animals’ numbers. But experts say it’s unrealistic to expect that humans will be able to keep wildlife outside of cities, and they emphasize that efforts are better spent learning to coexist. 

Coyotes aren’t the only animals seeking the food and water present in residential areas. Climate change is also shifting the movements of bears, bobcats, feral pigs and elk.

Wildfires produced record-breaking emissions in some areas in 2021

Some parts of the world saw their highest levels of emissions from wildfires since at least 2003, when the European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service began collecting data, Kate Abnett of Reuters reports.

Wildfires emitted 1.76 billion tons of carbon globally in 2021 — more than double Germany's annual carbon dioxide emissions. Emissions were at the highest recorded levels in some hot spots, including parts of Siberia's Yakutia region, Turkey, Tunisia and the western United States.

The global climate

Glasgow installed a sculpture to commemorate COP26

A public sculpture in Glasgow pays tribute to the city hosting the COP26 climate summit, the Guardian's Severin Carrell reports. The sculpture is in a woodland park that once was Glasgow's last working coal mine.

Artist Steuart Padwick said he has been troubled to see children anxious about climate change and he wanted to spread hope for a positive future.

“It is reaching out across Glasgow. Its message is very simple: why would anyone want to poison their future,” he said.

Viral

In case you missed it, Scottish actor Brian Cox, who plays Logan Roy on HBO's “Succession,” spoke at COP26. (Yes, we may be a little obsessed with “Succession.")

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