John Kerry, the former United States Senator and Secretary of State, has turned into a climate representative. A true defender of the planet, his plane takes him from country to country in which they unroll, in front of each of his interlocutors, an implacable sales pitch in favor of an environment in imminent danger.
He visited 14 countries in nine months, some of them more than once. At 77, all these trips are tiring, and President Biden's special climate envoy is under increasing pressure.
With just 40 days to go before world leaders meet in Glasgow, Scotland for a crucial UN climate summit, Kerry must convince other countries to pledge to abandon the use altogether. of coal, oil and gas and reduce the resulting carbon emissions. And they have to do it in this decade because the emissions of all these fossil fuels are warming the planet to dangerous levels.
His business approach is straightforward. “We have to do what science tells us to do,” he said.
But its task is enormous. Mr. Kerry attempts to reaffirm American leadership and illustrate Mr. Biden's claim that "America is back" . It is a very difficult position to hold when we come after former President Donald J. Trump, a convinced climate-skeptic who has never hesitated to question the merits of scientific declarations and who preferred to withdraw the States. -Unis of the 2015 Paris climate agreement; the only country out of the 197 to backtrack.
The allies openly ask Mr. Kerry if they can still count on the United States. “I said, ' Look, in the next election you might have Trump back ,' said RK Singh, India's Energy Minister, a day after meeting Mr. Kerry. " So what will happen then? "
Mr. Kerry's mission is made even more complicated by political divisiveness in his country and the fact that President Biden's ambitious climate agenda may not survive the division of Congress.
Republican leaders argue that the shift from fossil fuels that has underpinned the U.S. economy for more than a century poses a risk to national security.
"John Kerry has been a disaster for our country for a long time ," said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, a Republican and Republican leadership member in charge of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “There are ways to protect the environment without harming the economy - he apparently doesn't believe it. "
Mr Kerry described his decision to return to government emphasizing "the obvious struggle in public life".
"I deeply believe this is a major crisis for our world," he said, as he relaxed in his hotel suite after a series of meetings with ministers and chiefs Indian business. “And this is a time when we have the opportunity to act. And who can say no to a President of the United States who asks you to do so at this particular time. "
He doesn't have the wind at his back.
His trip last week ended without India, the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, committing to meet its climate change ambitions. He finished a recent trip to China, the world's leading CO2 emitter, empty-handed. Brazil, a country that plans to continue burning coal for the next 30 years and where Amazon deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, failed to show up at a virtual climate meeting called by Mr. Biden last week.
Richard N. Haass, chairman of the Council of Foreign Relations, said the signs did not bode well; Mr Kerry's efforts may well be in vain and the Glasgow meeting next November will be cut short.
Yet Mr. Kerry continues. He plans to meet again with China's top climate diplomat Xie Zhenhua. This will be the 19th discussion between the two men since January, according to his team.
As part of the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to limit the increase in global average temperature to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius and, preferably, 1.5 degrees, relative to temperatures of 'before the industrial revolution. Every time the climate warms by a fraction of a degree, the world will see more frequent, intense and deadly heat waves, forest fires, droughts and floods, and the extinction of species.
In addition, a new analysis released last week by the United Nations revealed that the Paris commitment is insufficient; Even if countries follow through on the promises they made in 2015, the global average temperature will rise 2.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. “The world is on a catastrophic path ,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
The objective in Glasgow is to force the most polluting countries to engage in more ambitious actions than those described in the Paris agreement.
Mr. Kerry said he believes nations will rise up to meet the challenge.
“I am optimistic,” he said. “I think most of the problems on Earth are caused by human beings. And if we cause them, we should be able to resolve or prevent them. "
In many ways, Mr. Kerry has built his entire career to come to terms with this moment; the organ point of a long journey
As a senator from Massachusetts, Mr. Kerry attended the first United Nations climate change summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, where he said the planet could not afford poor countries to develop like l 'have made countries richer, on the basis of fossil fuels.
In Congress, he had defended several proposals in favor of the environment and which faced opposition. They eventually collapsed, including an effort to raise auto fuel economy standards in 2002 and a climate bill in 2010.
"This has been a common thread throughout his career, even when the policy was not favorable," said David Wade, his former chief of staff who is now a lecturer at Yale University and a member of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank.
As Secretary of State under the Obama administration, Kerry believed that the United States and China could cooperate on climate change and end "You First." No, you first, ” a stalemate that had blocked action for decades.
He therefore began secret negotiations, in particular by welcoming Chinese leaders to a Legal Sea Foods restaurant on the docks of Boston Harbor. This laid the groundwork for a joint U.S. and Chinese commitment in 2014 to reduce emissions, albeit at different paces. The following year, in Paris, countries took the unprecedented step of committing to climate action in their own countries - a deal Mr. Kerry helped craft.
Mr Kerry's approach to diplomacy remains largely the same today: optimistic and relentless, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former aides and colleagues.
“He doesn't run away from obstacles, and that's his strength as a negotiator. If the door is closed, he looks for an open window , ”said Martin Indyk, former Kerry envoy to the Middle East.
“He's uniquely American,” Mr. Indyk said. “He never encountered a problem that he didn't think he could solve. "
Assistants say he is focusing on the details. He is texting his staff late at night to research solar capacity statistics or economic data for a country or with more obscure issues, such as Mr Modi's stated spiritual connection to environmental issues.
When Mr. Trump took office, he ruined Mr. Kerry's two iconic achievements: the Paris agreement and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which limited Iran's nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
During his brief hiatus from public life, Mr. Kerry created an interdisciplinary climate program at Yale University, his alma mater, and launched “World War Zero,” a bipartisan group of world leaders and leaders. celebrities to fight climate change.
His friends and colleagues were not surprised when in January he accepted Mr Biden's offer to serve as the first presidential climate envoy.
Retirement has never been convenient for Mr Kerry, who wants to be in the arena, said Thomas Vallely, a longtime friend who is a senior adviser for Mainland Southeast Asia at the Ash Center at Harvard University. . “It's like bullfighting. He's addicted. "
Upon returning to government, Mr Kerry said he saw the Trump years hurt America's credibility, saying it "was chewed up and spat out" after Mr Trump's decision to stand down. withdraw from the Paris agreement.
Therefore, Mr. Kerry's approach is a delicate attempt to try to understand what countries need, rather than making demands. In India, for example, he announced a partnership to help the country meet its goal of increasing its renewable energy capacity.
It won't even suggest what emissions target should be set by China, the largest emitter, even as the country plans to develop 247 gigawatts of coal power nationally, nearly six times the total capacity of the country. Germany in terms of coal. “I don't want to be in a position where China is like, 'Oh, there's Kerry telling us what to do. "
Mr. Kerry and his team of about 35 policy experts have had some success. President Xi Jinping told the United Nations on Tuesday that China would stop funding projects requiring coal overseas, an issue Kerry had made a priority in his discussions with Chinese leaders. Earlier this year, Canada, South Korea and Japan raised their climate targets, in large part due to incentives from the United States. And several administration officials said President Biden's announcement on Tuesday that he intended to double aid to developing countries on climate change was the result of direct conversations with Mr Kerry. , who argued that increasing climate finance would be critical to the success of the Glasgow summit.
Mr Kerry insisted he hoped the biggest economies would take meaningful climate action in Glasgow, if not because of the science-based imperative, but because of market forces. Capital is moving away from fossil fuels and turning to new global investments in wind, solar and other renewables that do not emit greenhouse gases, he said. About 70% of the $ 530 billion spent globally on new electricity generation this year is expected to be invested in renewable energy, according to the International Energy Agency. Technology is improving, clean energy costs are falling and markets are changing.
“You know, right now everything is a question mark,” Mr. Kerry said . But, he added, “I think the world is moving. "