Net-zero economy only possible if nations come together, IEA summit hears

‘I don’t want to be the scold,’ says US climate envoy John Kerry

Forcing countries to decarbonise in response to the climate crisis is not the way to go, according to the US government's climate envoy John Kerry.

Instead, the biggest emitters in the developed world should be invited to the table to agree on accelerated collective action, he told an International Energy Agency summit on achieving net-zero emissions. More than 40 countries participated in the virtual event on Wednesday.

"We need to go where the emissions are to start with," Mr Kerry insisted – noting the US, the EU and China, which were collectively responsible for more than 50 per cent of global emissions.

“But everybody needs to be involved. We don’t want to make the mistakes of the past going back to the 1800s... and none of us can do this alone. We must do this together,” Mr Kerry added.


"That is what we did in Paris. That is what we must do when we go to Glasgow, " he said in reference to the COP26 climate talks next November.

Mr Kerry said climate action is not “a pet project” among a few countries, nor does the US want to tell the world what to do:“I don’t want to be the scold”.

He added: “This is not about politics...The planet is screaming at us, with the feedback loops that are telling us every single day, ‘get this done’, not to mention the next generations saying ‘hey adults please be adults, make the decisions we need to make’.”

Even if the world did everything pledged under the Paris climate accord, the average global temperature would still rise to over four degrees this century – “we have to speed up,” he said.

“We can’t willy-nilly ignore the next 10 years. If we don’t do enough in the next 10 years, we cannot keep the Earth’s [average] temperature to 1.5 degrees,” he added.

The US is about to announce “several trillions of dollars” of investment in climate action and the transition to net-zero, he confirmed, and will embark on a strong national plan.

Clean technologies

IEA executive director Fatih Birol said existing technologies, such as wind and solar, will play a key role but will not be enough. Rapid global deployment of clean technologies across all the key sectors of the economy is required, while embracing carbon capture and storage, battery storage and hydrogen fuel production.

He confirmed the IEA will publish the first net-zero roadmap, outlining how the world needs to transform itself to reach carbon neutrality, on May 18th.

By countries working together, innovations would come on stream quicker and economies of scale would be more easily achieved, while driving investment, said COP26 president Alok Sharma, a UK government representative.

While 70 per cent of countries had committed to net-zero, it is not enough, given the likely temperature rise facing the world, “which would cause devastation in each and every country that is represented here today”.

And in many cases it would be “a catalyst for an apocalyptic future”. There is a requirement to convert remote targets into immediate actions, and to halve global emissions by 2030, he said. “We simply cannot afford another decade of deliberation. We need to make this the decade of delivery.”

Ending the use of coal is paramount, Mr Sharma said, and countries need to “stop funding polluting power abroad”. A date needs to be set for 100 per cent zero-emission vehicle sales only, and there is urgent need to get financial investment flowing, he added.

Pollution avoidance

EU vice-president Frans Timmermans said inaction would mean "our children will be fighting over water and food".

There is no choice but to create sustainable societies, he added, and it is possible to industrialise countries by leap-frogging into renewable energy and to avoid carbon pollution seen in the past.

The IEA's chief modeller Laura Cozzi confirmed its net-zero roadmap will analyse all relevant technologies and power generation across the planet with a view to "designing an orderly transition" of unprecedented scale and speed. That will include the use of ammonia to power ships and low-carbon fuels in planes as well as acknowledging the need for "a just transition".

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times