John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
Seoul, Republic of Korea
April 18, 2021
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry: Anyway, good morning everybody, I’m happy to be with you.
U.S. Embassy Seoul Spokesperson William Coleman: Thanks again everybody for waiting. For those of you who I haven’t met, my name is Bill Coleman. I’m the spokesperson here at the Embassy. We’re very pleased to have with us this morning Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. Just a quick reminder of the ground rules: This event will be on the record and contents will be embargoed until the briefing is completed. So, with that, Secretary Kerry would you like to say a few words to kick us off before we go to questions?
Secretary Kerry: I am delighted to be back in Korea and the Republic of Korea. I had a terrific dinner last night and meeting with the foreign minister, with Minister Chung. And before that, I had a very good meeting with the environment minister, Han, and we had a great conversation about, about the road to Glasgow, about the climate crisis, and the many things that the Republic of Korea is engaged in to be climate responsible and to take leadership. So, we very much appreciate that. I also admire greatly President Moon’s initiatives and efforts. As a global citizen, he has a great sense of responsibility and it’s wonderful to see Korea taking the lead and caring so much about regional and global concerns. So, it’s a pleasure for me to be here and be back.
Mr. Coleman: Thank you very much. So, let’s go to questions. So, I’d like to start with…
Secretary Kerry: One thing I left out that I should have said. I apologize. My mission…President Biden has asked me to help organize our efforts to lead to Glasgow. The climate crisis – and it is a crisis – is growing. We all need to do more. Every country. We’re not here, I’m not here to point fingers at any nation. I’m here to talk about how we can transition faster to the new energy economy with all the jobs that it promises, and with the opportunities to move towards more sustainable practices, which everyone must try to embrace. It, it’s the biggest market the world has ever known. We are looking at the greatest economic transition since the Industrial Revolution. And we need corporations, manufacturers, technologies…all have to be at the table, because this is not something any one entity or one country can resolve. It requires major multilateral efforts, and every aspect of society needs to join in. Thank you.
Mr. Coleman: Okay, thank you sir. So, I’d like to give the first question to Joongang Ilbo, Ms. Park Hyunju.
Question: I’m Hyunju Park from Joongang Ilbo and thank you for taking your time out of your busy schedule. My question is: During your visit to China, have you discussed chances of Xi Jinping joining President Biden’s climate summit next week, and also did Beijing give you definite answers about whether Xi would attend the meeting or not. And also, China is saying that any cooperation with the U.S. must be on an equal basis, and they are responding to their climate crisis on their own, not because others ask it to, and what’s your view on this? And how are you going to persuade China to contribute to your initiative? And also, by any chance, is it possible that the Fukushima wastewater issue can be one of the agendas for the next week’s summit? Thank you.
Secretary Kerry: So, let me take the second question first. I don’t, I don’t set the summit schedules; I can’t tell you an answer, what, what the subjects would be in the next summit and I don’t even know that there is a next summit or which summit you’re referring to.
Question: President Biden’s climate summit next week; the virtual climate summit.
Secretary Kerry: Well I, you know, it’s, it’s not the topic. The topic is climate change and the climate crisis. But I suppose anybody’s, you know, free to say whatever they want. It’s not a censored event. So, but it’s not the topic of the…the topic is climate crisis and the need to raise ambition, to raise ambition across the board, all countries.
Now the first part of your question. China has to make its own announcement, its own decision about who participates. Now, President Xi is invited. We very much hope he will take part. And it’s up to China to make the decision and to release that information. So, I want to respect their process.
But in your comment about China says that each country has to do this at their own pace. Of course, every country will make its own decisions. None of us have the ability to force someone else, and we’re not seeking to force anybody. We’re seeking cooperation according to the highest standards of diplomacy and multilateral obligations, and global agreements.
We have all signed the Paris Agreement. We’re now back in, but we’re all in Paris. Paris requires us all to move towards well below two degrees or 1.5 degrees if we can. So I’m pleased to give you a document here which must be held in embargo. And it’s embargoed until an hour, an hour and a half from now. This will answer some of your questions about U.S.-China discussions, but please honor the fact that it is in embargoed for an hour and a half. And it very clearly says that the United States and China will work together to address the climate crisis. I think this is the first time China has joined in saying it’s a crisis, and that it has to be addressed with urgency. And they talk about enhancing – it says, “both enhancing respective actions.”
So the language is strong. It talks about cooperating. And it says we have to address it with the seriousness and urgency that it demands. And moving forward, we’re committed to work together, we embrace the goals of two degrees or 1.5, better. And it says both countries look forward to the U.S.-hosted Leaders Summit. And we share the goal of raising climate ambition. So you can see we agreed on critical elements of where we have to go. And, but, you know, the key is not the piece of paper. The key are the actions that people take in the next months, and we will work very closely to try to raise ambition across the planet, and to work together to affect this transition to the new energy economy. Mr. Coleman: Okay.
So next question to Wall Street Journal…Andrew Jeong.
Question: Sir, so quick question on the timing of the statement. I’m just curious why you gave it out to us here instead of, perhaps, in China.
Secretary Kerry: Because we needed to go home to both of our…you see it’s a statement from me and Xie Zhenhua. But, we both have to have it cleared at the White House, and Beijing. And we just, we made a few changes in conversation, and, and now it’s ready for release.
Question: Just one more follow up question…
Secretary Kerry: …Because I have a flight, I had to get on my flight and leave, I couldn’t just stay and so I came here, because I had meetings here.
Question: And the Chinese are also announcing this…
Secretary Kerry: …Announcing it and releasing it at the same time, correct.
Question: So, this might be a separate question but I’m just wanting to ask your views on China’s coal industry. I’m aware that the Chinese side had a talk with France and Germany while you were there, separately, and they announced something on coal, and the French and the Germans I think came out with a statement, praising the Chinese about an effort to reduce subsidies to the coal industry there, while the Chinese side I believe was silent about the issue. If you could offer your views on that particular subject.
Secretary Kerry: Well, we talked a lot about coal when I was in Shanghai, and I have never, never shied away from expressing our view shared by many, many people, that it is imperative to reduce coal, globally, everywhere. In the United States, we are addressing our own. We have some remaining coal mines and coal plants. We have phased many out. But China currently has about half of the world’s coal power. And in order for all countries to be able to achieve two degrees and 1.5, hopefully, everybody, all nations need to do things between 2020 and 2030. If we do not move in this decade, we cannot achieve the 1.5, let alone 2050 net zero. So, it is imperative to address the question of reducing coal dependency everywhere.
Question: Are you confident the Chinese will follow through on their…
Secretary Kerry: I, I’ve learned in diplomacy that you don’t put your bet on the words, you put your bet on the actions, and we all need to see what happens. And we all need to work together. This is not, I am not pointing fingers. We have, we’ve had too much coal other countries have too much coal. But China is the biggest…biggest coal user in the world. And because it’s such a big and powerful economy and country, it needs to move. Now it’s done some things: China has had an amazing deployment of renewables. And China is the major producer of solar panels in the world. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to reduce coal, we have to reduce coal. We had a long discussion about it. Much of the day. And, you know, we’re going to continue to discuss and work together to figure out how we can accelerate the transition. But the transition has to accelerate globally. The world, the IPCC report by scientists, two years ago, said to all of us: the world is not getting this done. I t didn’t point to one country or another, it said the whole world. So the truth is, everybody needs to do more.
Mr. Coleman: Okay, next question to Kyunghyang Shinmun, Ms. Kim Yujin.
Question: My question is about Japanese government’s recent decision to disclose polluted water that’s stored in the nuclear reactors site in Fukushima. I believe, Foreign Minister Chung has conveyed his grave concerns last night in your meeting. Does the U.S. also share concerns with Korea that Japan’s decision may entail and cause serious environmental damage and health risk to the people, the population around the Pacific Ocean. And do you think there’s room for U.S. and ROK cooperation in addressing these challenges? Specifically, the Korean government is requesting Japan for transparent information sharing. Is U.S. willing to convince Japan to do so?
Secretary Kerry: Well, the key of this is obviously in the implementation, and the United States is confident that the Government of Japan has had very full consultations with the IAEA, that the IAEA has set up a very rigorous process. And I know that, you know, Japan has weighed all the options and the effects and they’ve been very transparent about the decision and the process. What is key, is Japan’s continued coordination with the International Atomic Energy Agency as it monitors the process. And, and I think the key is in that coordination. So, our sense is that, that, you know, we support the nuclear safety standards and efforts of the IAEA, we’ve worked with them for years, and we must all work with them in this process. I think that that’s important to have the effectiveness of the implementation – the dilution process has to be carefully pursued. But we have confidence that Japan has worked very closely with the IAEA and will continue to.
Mr. Coleman: And next question to Mr. Kim Jaewon, with Nikkei Asia, please.
Question: Let me ask you about the Korean course , everybody’s talking about China and Japan.
Secretary Kerry: Good.
Question: What do you think of South Korea’s Green New Deal policy, and do you think it is possible for Korea to reach NDC at 50 percent, because some people say it is, is too tough to reach the goal.
Secretary Kerry: What was the first part of the question, what do I think of…?
Question: Moon Jae-in’s Green New Deal policy…
Secretary Kerry: I think Korea has set an ambitious target. And Korea is trying to do a lot. It’s not easy for any country. We all face this challenge. But Europe is set a goal of 55% reduction. The UK has set a goal of 68% reduction. Many other countries…Japan is considered a higher level than it’s at now by several, by a significant amount in the high 40s, I think, or somewhere. So, and we’re evaluating right now, what we ourselves can do with a view to try to raise the ambition. So, you know, I don’t want to be specific about a number here for Korea. I think that’s up to President Moon and your team.
But I said at the beginning of this conversation, and my whole purpose and what President Biden has asked me to do is to work with countries to raise ambition. And I think, usually there are things that countries can do: finding greater efficiency, or, you know, coordinating the power distribution differently, or, you know, transitioning to more renewable, faster.
India for instance, as a plan to deploy 450 gigawatts of renewable power. It’s hard. It’s going to be very tough, and we’re going to work with India in a partnership to help make it happen and bring finance to the table. But we’re convinced that if you can get that 450 gigawatts, India will be in compliance with holding the temperature at one degree and a half – 1.5 – increase. So that’s a big step. It’s… all of this is hard for everybody. But what’s going to be harder is cleaning up the damages from climate fiasco when the storms are more intense, when the fires are more prevalent, when the droughts last longer, when the heat is higher, when the ocean is higher. And that’s what we’re looking at. It is now cheaper – clearly – all economists will tell you it’s cheaper to do what we need to do, to respond to the crisis, than it is to do nothing, and to wait.
And we’ve seen that in the United States. We spent $265 billion two years ago, three years ago, cleaning up after three storms. 265 billion. We can’t find 100 billion for the Green Climate Fund, but we are throwing it away to clean up after the mess. We need to get ahead of these things, and we need to be smarter. So, do I think it’s possible for additional steps? I do think there are some things that could happen, but I’m not going to get into the specifics, I think that’s entirely the prerogative of your ministers and your president, and your government. And I don’t want to be inappropriately telling Korea when it can and can’t do.
Mr. Coleman: Thanks. Shall I go back to Joongang Ilbo, do you have another question?
Question: About the Fukushima wastewater issue, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Korea said that Minister Chung asked for your cooperation and your help in ensuring Japan to offer information in a transparent and strict manner. And aside from IAEA efforts and its coordination with Japan. Is the U.S. willing to take a certain role in the process like persuading Japan specifically to deliver a certain information that South Korean government have requested for them, like, are you going to play a certain role, about this issue?
Secretary Kerry: We think…we have confidence in the ability of the IAEA and Japan, and our relationship at this point with the agency…. We need to see how they progress and how they do. But we’re not planning right now…we don’t think it’s appropriate for the United States to jump into a process that’s already underway, where there are very clear transparent set of rules and expectations. Will we watch it, like other nations, will we be concerned to make sure that the procedures are followed? Sure. We take an interest in that, but not anything in a formal way in the process.
Mr. Coleman: Andrew, do you have another question?
Question: Yes. This is a question from a colleague, Tim Puko, which I believe you sat down with this week. He wanted to ask…so is China and the U.S. prepared to provide funds to developing countries as part of this climate change efforts, including Brazil, perhaps with regard to the Amazon or other countries in Asia…if the two sides are willing to put up money for these countries?
Secretary Kerry: We did not discuss any specific project or goal. We talked in general about helping to make finance available for countries to make a transition. And we did not talk specifically about Brazil. We talked about China-U.S. and coal and our challenges, but we are prepared. As we’ve said in the statement…it says very clearly here…where is it? Here. 4B. Both countries intend to take appropriate actions to maximize international investment and finance in support of the transition from carbon-intensive fossil fuel-based energy to green low carbon and renewable energy and developing. So, we’re committed to doing that. But it says, “where appropriate,” to take appropriate actions. And, you know, sometimes there are things one country thinks is appropriate and another doesn’t. Brazil is a particular challenge with respect to the Amazon.
We are in discussions with…We are – not with China – but the United States alone, is in discussions, as are some other countries, with Brazil to find out if there is a way to create greater accountability for the land grabbing and the destruction of forests that has been taking place on a regular basis, which is now dangerously at risk of having a negative impact on the ability of a rain forest to exist. So there’s a big issue. But we’re talking directly with the Bolsonaro administration, because one of the concerns obviously is follow-through. What’s the process by which you actually enforce the mechanisms that you put in place? And we have a lot of work to do before we’ve reached any kind of agreement or understanding at this point in time. But we think it’s really worth working at because the rain forest is so critical, as a carbon sink, as a consumer of carbon. And, and, and it is at risk. So, there is urgent compelling reasons for countries to work at that, but we did not talk specifically with China about that particular challenge.
Mr. Coleman: Okay, let’s go back to Kyunghyang Shinmun.
Question: So, in the broader context of U.S.-China relations, I think this statement is a strong sign that the U.S. and China can actually work together and cooperate, despite all those competition going on. What do you think is the nature of U.S.-China relations, and is there any expectations from the U.S. that Korea could play a role in addressing challenges as posed by China. And another quick follow up on the Fukushima issue because it’s such a public issue in Korea: Does the U.S. have any public health concerns for American people because the polluted water can actually go through the Pacific Ocean, it can affect all the people around, living in…
Secretary Kerry: Of course. Let me just answer the second question. Everybody has concerns, everybody. And that’s why we have an IAEA. That’s why we work with them. And we work with the rules and create transparency and accountability. We believe, as I’ve said previously, that a great deal of transparency and, and work has gone into with the IAEA, but we will always remain concerned that the process is carried out correctly, that, that the things that people say they’ll do are done. And we will watch and be engaged, like every country, to make certain there’s no public’s health threat. In, in the implementation of this process.
With respect to that. Would you ask about China…
Question: About China relations, and do you expect any more active engagement from the Korean government with China?
Secretary Kerry: With the Korean government? With China? That’s up to the Korean government that’s not our decision. I mean. We will continue to have our dialogue. We agreed to continue to meet. We agreed to continue to work at this and we will both be looking at the actions that each of us take in order to live up to the promises here, to the, to the expressed intent. And we both will work hard to make Glasgow a success.
We believe the United States, President Biden, that Glasgow is the last best hope to pull people together to take the actions necessary for this critical decade.
Many people are focusing on 2050 net this, and 2060 net that. That’s good, and we’re happy to have people do it, but not to the exclusion of being super-focused on this decade. If we don’t do what we need to do between 2020 and 2030, those other things become impossible. So nobody can use this moment to put things off. We’ve done that for too long.
I was at first COP in Rio. And I was there when Jim Hanson testified to Congress in 1988, and told us climate is happening, change. And then I went to Kyoto and many of the COPs in between. And I was in Madrid and I was in Copenhagen and I was in Paris, obviously, where I lead our team. And I’ve seen the promises made, and I’ve seen the promises broken. So, this is a moment for high visibility, high accountability. Citizens all across the world demand that.
And what is what is critical here is that we recognize that, even if we did everything we promised to do in Paris, that’s not enough. That’s still sees a warming of over three degrees centigrade. Our goal is to well below two degrees or 1.5. So the scientists from the IPCC told us two years ago, “You’re not getting it done. You governments around the world, you’re not getting it done, everybody.”
And, and so Glasgow, is the effort to raise ambition, which is what the Paris agreement set forth: that countries would come together, evaluate what they were getting done. And if they’re not getting it done, they would accelerate the process. We are at that moment of needed acceleration. And there is a new technology, which Al Gore and other people have worked on called TRACE. T-R-A-C-E. And the trace system is using satellites to in real time, measure emissions, right down to, you know, the town square, to a certain building, to a business. And this is going to create a whole new level of transparency and understanding of who is trying and who is not. And where the problems are. So, it’s a time of great opportunity. New economy new jobs, new technologies, hydrogen storage, carbon capture, all kinds of things. But it’s also a time of great challenge. Possibilities and challenges. And it’s up to us to decide which road we’re going to take.
Mr. Coleman: Okay, so we’re almost out of time, Mr. Kim, do you have a quick question, and then we’ll need to wrap up.
Question: I think you already addressed most parts of my question. Actually, it was about how President Biden is serious about climate change. I mean, he did a lot of things, but can you say how serious he is?
Secretary Kerry: President Biden is very seized by this issue. This is one of his top priorities. He has expressed that through the campaign. He expressed it in his inaugural address. He expressed it by joining the Paris agreement within hours of being sworn in. He expressed it by issuing executive orders that require all-of-government initiative – every department of our government has to think about climate in every decision they make. And he has created this summit, because he is focused on this issue. And he is going to…I mean, he also appointed first time ever, a special presidential climate envoy, and he appointed a White House adviser on climate, a friend of mine, Gina McCarthy, she’s working in the White House on it. So, there’s a huge effort here. And the President, I’m confident will address this very clearly in his comments next Thursday at the summit.
Mr. Coleman: Okay, so thank you all very much. We appreciate your time. Secretary Kerry, thank you.
SPEC Kerry: My pleasure. Good day everybody. As I said, good to be here with you, stay away from COVID. Good luck. And hopefully we all get vaccines, more and more and more in the next weeks and months. And, and we will get through this. Thank you. Thanks everybody.