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John Kerry says the technology to fight climate change exists. It just needs to scale

May 24, 2022, 7:00 PM UTC

“There isn’t any country on the planet that isn’t feeling and living the impacts of the climate crisis.”

Those stark words, spoken by former U.S. Secretary of State and Senator John Kerry, set the tone for the Safeguarding Our Planet and People panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday.

“We have the basic technologies now already deployed, to get where we need to in the next eight years to meet the goal of a 45% reduction [in emissions],” said Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate. “But we do not have yet the technologies fully brought to scale and developed sufficiently. We can’t do it, folks, if the new theology is going to become, ‘We’ve got to build out a massive gas infrastructure without regard to abatement and mitigation of that gas.’”

The event, moderated by WEF president Børge Brende, brought together experts, executives, and activists from around the world to discuss the existential threat of climate change and the actions governments and corporations can take to prevent its catastrophic effects.

Much of the conversation involved sounding the alarm on the many natural disasters and foot shortages that are occurring today, as well as the lack of cooperation from many nations and businesses towards the goals set up by the Paris and Glasgow agreements. As Kerry noted, 35% of countries did not agree to the pact that came out of COP26 last fall, while emissions and coal usage went up by 6% and 9% respectively in the past year, before the war in Ukraine led to increased instability in the energy world.

Geraldine Matchett, co-CEO of Royal DSM, noted that food production accounts for one third of all emissions of methane, which is 20 times more harmful than CO2, yet $600 billion in subsidies for agriculture don’t include plans for sustainability. Brende, meanwhile, pointed out that the globe is currently on pace to limit warming to two degrees by 2030, which, even though it’s only a half-degree off the 1.5 goal, could be devastating.

Thankfully, the panelists offered actionable suggestions and messages of hope, with the reminder that, because global warming is a manmade problem, it can be remedied with manmade solutions. A running theme throughout the event was the need for cooperation among nations, with Kerry highlighting the work he’s done with fellow panelist Xie Zhenhua, China’s special climate envoy.

“In recent years in China, the proportion of coal in the energy system has dropped from 74% to 56%,” Xie said. “We have developed renewable energy and the capacity has already reached the 1 billion kilowatts per hour and for seven consecutive years, our investment in sustainability has been over 100 billion yen. Our focus is trying to build a system based on renewable energy and we are trying to move away from fossil fuels. Also, we have announced that we will stop building coal power plants abroad. In terms of a green cover, China accounts for 25% of the world. In the following decade, China plans to plant 700 million trees to make our contribution [to our joint agreements]. So, it doesn’t matter how you say it, what matters is how you do it.”

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff had strong words for the international business community, saying he’s ready for “environmental capitalism” and exhorting every WEF attendee to get to net-zero emissions. “That’s one of the reasons why the First Movers Coalition that we announced is so important. We are going to pre-buy $100 million dollars of capability to extend our net-zero status and I hope that every company will join us,” he said. “I’m so excited that we saw not only the governments of China and the governments of the U.S. make major commitments to invest in trees and carbon sequestration and creating carbon markets so that we can enable and energize a new ecopreneurs’ revolution.”

“There’s absolutely no doubt that the climate crisis and the climate battle has to do with energy. It also has a lot to do with nature,” added Matchett. “Photosynthesis is a very strong power to sequester carbon, so my last thought for us today is to really hone in on the innovations that can leverage the power of nature to help us win this battle. There are a lot of innovations out there that we can scale. Regenerative agriculture doesn’t need to be invented, it needs to be scaled. This is something which is entirely in our hands.”

Kerry also mentioned the need for scaling in the energy world, especially in response to Russia’s gas supply being cut off in response to its invasion of Ukraine. “There’s a headlong plunge to say, ‘That means we’ve got to drill a lot more and pump a lot more and we’ve got to build out more infrastructure in order to be able to deliver the gas to Europe,’” he remarked. “Well, Europe has made a decision to completely accelerate their deployment of renewables, and France has determined that they’re going to have to double down on nuclear and make different choices. All of us need to recognize that.”

Environmentalist and Green Generation Initiative founder Elizabeth Wathuti closed out the panel with a passionate plea for everyone to change their attitudes towards this fight.

“We know that a future that has a stable climate, clean air to breathe, clean drinking water, food to eat is very possible,” she said. “But again, we need international cooperation and solidarity for us to achieve this. What is needed now is actually courageous and urgent action from each and every person each and every sector. We all know that time is running out. We have been saying that time and again. We have to make sure that we are turning our words into action and we have to be born of compassion and respect for ourselves and all of life on Earth.”

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