World ‘not doing enough to avoid climate catastrophe’, says John Kerry

US envoy delivers opening address at Dublin Climate Dialogues online conference

The world must face up to the reality that we are not doing enough to avoid a climate catastrophe, US climate envoy John Kerry has warned.

Even if all current commitments to counter a warming world from countries across the planet were delivered, it would still not be enough to contain temperature rise on the planet to within 1.5 degrees, he said.

In an address opening the Dublin Climate Dialogues (DCD), Mr Kerry said current pledges were not enough to avoid the climate catastrophe that scientists are warning about, which meant stepped up ambition was essential at the critical COP26 summit in November – especially by big carbon polluting countries.

“Your efforts are incredibly important because...what we are currently doing is not enough,” he told participants in the virtual conference hosted by UCD. “The scientists and the experts tell us that if we want to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis we need to limit the Earth’s warming to no more than 1.5 degrees. And they also tell us that we need to do that in the next decade.


“Even if everyone in the world right now - national governments, multilateral institutions, companies... hit the current goals on climate and we do so on time, that will still not be enough to hold the global warming to only 1.5 degrees,” he underlined.

“The truth is we’re not just getting the job done - yet. Currently, if you did everything we said we would do...we’re still going to see warming of about 3.7 degrees or more. So the fact is we have to strive even harder, urgently, to hold the warming of the globe to the 1.5 degrees the scientists warn us about,” Mr Kerry said.


“We can do this, but it will mean all of us not just governments, individuals, institutions, private companies All of us have to do much more. We have to set more ambitious goals...we have to act on those goals.”

What happens this decade was going to be decisive, he said, “because if we don’t do enough now you can’t keep global warming to the 1.5 degrees. And that means commitments we make this year are even more critical than ever”.

“That is why your discussions over the next two days on what more we can collectively do to raise ambition is so important,” he added.

Mr Kerry said US President Joe Biden knew the stakes on climate had never been as high as they are today. That was why the US rejoined the Paris Agreement and was taking bold actions. Its recent summit was to get leaders of the world's major economies "to set how we're going to get this done".

With 20 countries being responsible for the equivalent of 75 per cent of all emissions, “it is more critical than ever that those countries take the load in helping all the others to adapt and find the resilience necessary”, he said.

“It was great to hear other leaders at the summit discuss what more we can all can do to address the climate crisis, including Minister [for Climate] Eamon Ryan’s comments on the importance of supporting climate adaptation and resilience in agriculture,” he said.

Mr Kerry confirmed that world leaders at the summit had committed to net-zero emissions by 2050, which accounted for 55 per cent of world emissions and to keeping global warming to within 1.5 degrees.

"But obviously that means we still need the other 45 per cent, especially in Asia, " he added. "No government in the world has the amounts of money, the trillions of dollars necessary to get this done. No government alone is going to resolve the crisis itself. What we need more of is, everybody has got to chip in here," he said.


“This is going to be the greatest economic transformation that any of have seen since the industrial revolution. But it’s a transformation that will require trillions of dollars in private capital.”

Mr Kerry noted six leading US banks had pledged to raise $4.15 trillion in capital by 2030 to mobilise this effort. It was the beginning of the opportunity that had to be seized, while an estimated $1 trillion to $2 trillion a year was needed annually on the energy system alone.

Though the the climate crisis was an existential threat, Mr Kerry said he was optimistic because in history, technological fixes were always found “when we want to”.

A global, all-of-society effort was now required and to seize what he believed “is the greatest opportunity for partnership and prosperity” he had ever known.

As the world prepared for COP26 , “we are going to need your innovation, your leadership and your partnership. We are going to need the ideas that spring from your discussions on how to raises climate ambition”.

He was certain the dialogues would help build momentum, and looked forward to hearing its outcome; notably its final declaration.

DCD chair Pat Cox said "Planet Earth is perilously close to the abyss. Now is the time when we truly must act together."

The dialogues were a pre-COP26 call to action, he added, recognising the key was not just about action but about “acting fast enough” in a scenario where 2021 the critical year for setting the new course.

“The spread, scale and depth of the transition required is unprecedented and will yield many new opportunities. It will also require a just transition locally and globally, committed to leaving no one behind and to protecting the most vulnerable,” he added.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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