John Kerry: Covid suffering will multiply 'many times over' if climate change continues

Tom Clarke

Former Science Editor

ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke reports on why the US views the Glasgow conference as so important to climate action

If you've been watching the news recently, featuring on an almost daily basis, extreme weather events from flooding in Germany to wildfires in Siberia, it's hard to overestimate the significance of today's speech by U.S. Special Presidential Climate Envoy for Climate John Kerry.

"I'm very sorry to say the suffering of Covid will be magnified many times over in a world that does not grapple with and ultimately halt the climate crisis," he told an audience sweltering in the heat of the hottest day of the year so far in the UK.

His words are important for two reasons. First, they represent a complete abandonment of Trump-era inaction on climate change.

But also because they come just 100 days before what's seen as the "make-or-break" moment for climate action: COP26, the international climate summit in Glasgow in November.

The time left to cut emissions to anywhere near the level necessary to keep warming below two degrees is fast running out he said.

"That makes this the decisive decade and it makes 2021 a decisive year, and most of all it must make COP26 in Glasgow this year a pivotal moment to come together to meet and master the climate challenge."

Rhetoric on climate action had to be matched with plans, he said. And that, perhaps gets to the very heart of the challenge at COP26. Because currently the plans still fall very short of where we need to be to prevent two degrees of warming.

ITV News flew along a river route in Belgium to assess the damage wreaked by heavy floods

I asked him about whether our government's actions are consistent with its rhetoric on cutting carbon - in particular the possibility the UK could approve a new oil field in the North Sea around the same time leaders convene for the climate summit in November.

"I'm mindful of what the [International Energy Agency] said which is we don't need new oil, gas and coal projects. People need to measure the need very carefully in making those decisions," said Mr Kerry. A diplomatic answer, I'd expect nothing less from a former US Secretary of Sate, but a warning nonetheless.But what of US rhetoric compared to action? US campaigners point to the Biden administration, despite its desire to address climate, has already approved around 2,500 oil exploration permits on public land.

Caravans, gas tanks, trees and scrap pile up metres high on a bridge over the Ahr in Altenahr, Germany Credit: AP

It is also yet to confirm its financial commitment to a $100bn per-year climate finance pot promised for poor countries to reduce their carbon emissions.

A commitment that Secretary Kerry admitted today was essential if the meeting in Glasgow was to be a success.

The reason US action is so important is that it's widely expected that China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, won't make more profound promises to change that unless it sees the US and other rich nations in Europe shift their position first.

Torrential rain leaves people and cars stranded as China becomes inundated with floodwater as deep as one metre

And without China taking part, the rest of the world would have an impossible task on its hands. Today, Mr Kerry effectively promised to put their differences to one side when it came to negotiations on the climate.

"It's not a mystery that the US and China have many differences but on climate cooperation, it is the only way to break free from the world's current mutual suicide pact", he said.