John Kerry on protecting the ocean amid climate change

John Kerry is a lifelong lover of the oceans and a longtime advocate of protecting them. It is this passion that prompted the US special envoy on climate change to launch the Our Ocean conference in 2014 while he was Secretary of State in the Obama administration. The annual gathering brings together countries, civil society and businesses to work together and make commitments to protect the oceans. Kerry believes that the conference has effectively raised the ocean’s profile in the climate discussion in recent years.

“I think we’ve managed to get everyone to understand that you can’t solve the climate crisis without the ocean,” Kerry said in an April 13 interview with TIME on the sidelines of this year’s Our Ocean conference in the Pacific island nation of Palau . “And you can’t solve the marine crisis without reducing emissions.” This year alone, 410 pledges were made and $16.35 billion allocated to marine conservation.

Although the conference focused on sea-related issues, Kerry’s keynote also touched on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how the events unfolding there underscore the urgency of accelerating the transition to an independent and clean energy future. In an interview with TIME, he addressed these issues. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This is the first time an Our Ocean conference has been held in a small island developing country that is particularly vulnerable to climate change. How does being here in Palau demonstrate your commitment to ocean conservation and the need to do so?

It’s not all that new, having been to island nations before, but it’s very clear in the way it illustrates the reality of their problems. You see the poverty and you see the reduced options and you can attune much more easily to the fact that the impact of a marine reserve has more impact here than in more affluent places, be it the state of Washington or Oregon or Massachusetts or California. Obviously, management is a much more difficult or disruptive process here. So I think it just underscores it.

Palau is blessed in the sense that it has altitude and therefore sea level rise may not be the same as if you were an atoll nation. If you’re an atoll nation, it’s a more immediate crisis. But still, the lack of resources, when you hear what the budget is or what the needs are, it just puts an exclamation mark.

What would you like to see from COP27 in terms of marine conservation?

I think it will be time to have more transparency and accountability about what people are doing and making sure their mitigation efforts are taking place because if you don’t do something you can’t heal the ocean. So I think that mitigation having a sufficiently central position at COP27 is the big key.

Do you think the oceans and their role in climate change are now getting the focus they deserve?

starting to. I think the last few years have been a build-up process. I think what we achieved in Glasgow – when oceans were included in the text of the COP for the first time – was a big step forward that signaled the success of what began with the Our Ocean conference in 2014.

I think we managed to get everyone to understand that the climate crisis cannot be solved without the ocean. And you can’t solve the ocean crisis without reducing emissions. The warming of the earth and the acidic particles that fall when fossil fuels are burned are changing the chemistry of the oceans. So that’s now fully baked into what happens at COPs.

you addressed it Events in Ukraine in your keynote speech at the conference. How do you get people thinking about climate change and how do you ensure leaders make progress on climate change when there are so many competing priorities?

Look at what Europe is doing. Europe has doubled, tripled the use of renewable energy. Europe is freeing itself from its dependency on Putin when it comes to gas. I think it really regrets the politics of the last few years where they kind of played into that complacency and comfort that it wasn’t going to be armed or that Putin would never do anything. So now people are forewarned and react clearly.

The sooner everyone stops fomenting the war, the better. The downside of the region’s dependence on fossil fuels has been highlighted and exposed in dramatic and horrific ways.

US officials have warned China on sanctions should they support Russia’s war in Ukraine. Do you think China and the US can continue to work together on climate change?

We’re testing that right now. We’ve exchanged several calls over the past month and a half or two. We’ve had a couple of Zoom meetings and we’re really trying to figure out how closely related the issues are.

Does the situation in Ukraine jeopardize the US climate agenda?

There is a chance to influence it. Could it be negative or very negative? Yes. is it today We do not know yet.

Continue reading: The Biden administration is already calling on China to do more on climate change

There are many Americans who are currently struggling to pay for gas. What would you tell them about climate protection?

Rising gas prices are having a huge impact on people’s lives and I’m very aware of that. But the quickest thing we can do is to break away from our reliance on fossil fuels like gas and oil and make the transition to a clean energy economy. And the sooner we do that, the less likely we are to fall prey to these kinds of price swings.

Which measures to combat climate change would you like to see in the next decade?

All. We’re way behind. We know that, no wonder. I’ve been saying that speech after speech for a few years. Despite Glasgow we are far behind.

Obviously COVID-19 had some impact on that and of course Ukraine had some impact on that. But it’s much more the entrenching of particular interests to protect themselves and adopt policies that lead to greater fossil fuel production and an overt strategy to pretend everything Ukraine owes it that it doesn’t case is.

The IPCC report makes it absolutely clear that if we are to avoid spending trillions of dollars on addressing the worst effects of the climate crisis, we must greatly accelerate the pace at which we are currently tackling greenhouse gas emissions. That means much faster in our use of renewable energy. That means we’re moving to electric vehicles much faster, much faster in our efforts to curb methane. At every step we have to accelerate. We need to treat this like the existential problem it is. Don’t say the words, just do the things and take the actions needed to make the transition.

We just have to continue with the technology we have today so that we can still reduce enough to get to net zero by 2050. It’s all connected. If anyone suggests a net zero 2050 [plan], my first question for her is: “What are you doing between 2020 and 2030?” Then if you don’t do enough, you won’t make it.

TIME is media partner of the Our Oceans Conference.

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Justin Scacco

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