John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate change, warned Tuesday that the war in Ukraine could undermine international progress to cut carbon emissions.
“You have this new revisionism suggesting that we have to be pumping oil like crazy, and we have to be moving into long term [fossil fuel] infrastructure building, which would be absolutely disastrous,” Kerry said, speaking on June 7 at the TIME 100 Summit in New York City. “We have to push back, and we have to push back hard.”
Kerry characterized the rising energy prices caused by the conflict as a destabilizing force that could affect U.S. resolve, both in its support of Ukraine, and efforts to cut carbon emissions. “It will change politics. And that’s probably exactly what Putin wants,” Kerry said, speaking to TIME Senior Correspondent Justin Worland. “We have to stand strong and fight back.”
That effort to fight back was the reason Kerry gave for President Joe Biden’s recent efforts to increase supplies of fossil fuels, which he characterized a short term measure. “We have to get through the crisis,” he said. “To get through the crisis you need to obviously maintain political stability.”
Kerry also acknowledged that the war in Ukraine had “interrupted the momentum” that world leaders had built during last November’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Speaking to Worland, Kerry characterized the talks as a relative success. “We left Glasgow in what was much more [of a] forward leaning accomplishment than most people have caught on to,” Kerry said. One achievement of the talks was a pledge by 40 countries to stop using coal power and a surprise agreement between the U.S. and China to work together to cut emissions, which was brokered by Kerry and Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua. However, the agreements announced at COP26 do not add up to a successful solution that would limit global increases to below 1.5°C. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine taking center stage, there are concerns that less attention is given to the climate fight with the focus instead on security issues and efforts to lower exorbitant energy prices set off by the conflict. “What we can’t allow to happen, is what is beginning to happen, which is a false narrative being created by those very people who never wanted to deal with the climate crisis anyway,” Kerry said.
In Europe, fears over many countries’ dependence on Russian gas for heating and electricity have accelerated some efforts to transition more quickly to renewable energy, but have also prompted nations like Germany to greenlight new infrastructure to bring liquified natural gas from suppliers like the U.S. and Qatar. And despite their promises at the end of COP26, big, polluting nations still haven’t been coming forward with tougher climate plans.
In the U.S., Democrats have still failed to pass significant climate legislation during a period that many observers say is the last chance for the U.S. to stay in line with plans to keep temperature rise below 1.5°C. The U.S. has also fallen behind other countries due to lack of climate action, according to a recent report by researchers at Columbia and Yale. Meanwhile, market jitters have caused some to question whether businesses that have made big climate commitments will live up to their pledges if the economy goes south. Kerry suggested that climate legislation may still get through Congress in the next few weeks (“It won’t be what was originally proposed, but it’s possible that it could be really important to the [climate] effort,” he said).
On the business front, Kerry said he was concerned that the private sector could pull back funding for energy transition efforts if the market goes south, even though such efforts are still one of the best investments out there. “Shareholders will begin to squawk and people will pull back a little bit and look for safer and different kinds of investments potentially,” he said. “My hope is that the stalwarts will hang in there and recognize you can’t do that.”
“There’s going to be a mixed reaction,” Kerry added. “But what I know is this, the greater risk to any capital in the marketplace is in not investing, [and] not moving in this direction.”
The TIME 100 Summit is the live event extension of the annual TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. It convenes leaders from the global TIME 100 community to spotlight solutions and encourage action toward a better world. This year’s summit features a variety of impactful speakers across a diverse range of sectors, including politics, business, health and science, culture, and more.
Speakers for the 2022 TIME 100 Summit include Apple CEO Tim Cook, producer Mindy Kaling, filmmaker Taika Waititi, musician Jon Batiste, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, NBA champion, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Dwayne Wade, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, ACLU deputy director for transgender justice Chase Strangio, Christian Siriano founder and creative director Christian Siriano, Brother Vellies founder and creative director Aurora James, Netflix head of global TV Bela Bajaria, author and poet Cathy Park Hong, Olympic freestyle skiing champion Eileen Gu, author, poet, and president of the Mellon Foundation Elizabeth Alexander, filmmaker Betsy West, filmmaker Julie Cohen, BioNTech SE senior vice president Dr. Katalin Karikó, Ukrayinska Pravda editor in chief Sevgil Musaieva, and TIME co-chair and Salesforce chair and co-CEO Marc Benioff.