Former US secretary of state John Kerry has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump for withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. As opposed to Trump, Kerry believes that climate change is not talked about enough and should be a ballot box issue.
Kerry, 75, was in India as senior advisor of the private equity companyTPG’s RISE fund programme and to speak about its interest in investing in the Indian renewable space. RISE fund is focused on impact investing.
Kerry said Prime Minister Narendra Modi is very committed to climate change but US President Donald Trump is misleading people. "When former US President Barack Obama and I were working on the climate deal, Modi was a terrific partner, very committed and he continues to be committed," Kerry told CNBC-TV18.
In a wide-ranging interview with Parikshit Luthra, Kerry also talks about climate change, Iran sanctions, US-China trade war, G20 and the 2020 Presidential election.
Edited Excerpts: Are you satisfied with the progress made since December 2015, when the Paris agreement was signed?
No, I am not satisfied. Lots of countries including India have made really good efforts to move forward, but the truth is that none of us in Paris agreed to do what is necessary to guarantee we hold the world temperature where scientists recommend.
We are behind now. The latest reports say we need to do historically unprecedented things to get the job done. India needs to help as many other countries to move away from fossil fuels and move to alternate renewable energy. That is what brings me to India. I am working with the RISE fund and with an Indian company called Fourth Partner Energy to make sure we are deploying solar energy as fast as we can
India says it needs time to move away from fossil fuels, would you agree?
That’s correct and I am sympathetic to India’s needs to be able to attract money to do some of the new developments. I am doing some work with RISE fund which is focused on impact investment. I am trying to invest with values in a way that lifts people up and makes things better.
One of the things we can do is deploy solar energy faster and the company that we are particularly trying to help is Fourth Partner Energy. It is doing distributed energy either on rooftops, on sites, parking lots which can reduce the cost of energy by 30 to 60 percent and is clean, so this is the future and what we need to do is to move faster.
India has a legitimate complaint that it has to catch up and keep its economy moving. What we need to do is to help India do it in a way that is most efficient and uses renewable alternative energy as much as possible.
What do you feel about India’s initiatives in the renewable space?
I think it’s terrific. When former US President Barack Obama and I were working on the climate deal, Modi was a terrific partner, very committed and he continues to be committed. But there are things we think India can do that would facilitate development faster, for instance, there is a limit in different states for distribution of solar power to 1 megawatt and the Fourth Partner Energy company is developing a 29-megawatt plant in one state. So if you limit it to 1 megawatt here and you do 29 megawatt there you are not maximising the availability of social power.
India has been focusing a lot on climate finance. Global community displayed unprecedented speed in ratifying Paris climate deal and meeting climate finance obligations also deserves the same momentum?
I agree. I am very upset personally that G20 went to Argentina. 20 most powerful economies meet but they still don’t meet the obligation of putting $100 million into the green climate fund which is critical for small developing nations who can’t afford technology. Applaud India for raising the issue.
Would you agree we are not talking enough about climate change and climate financing has also reduced?
Regrettably, we are seeing countries respond to the fact that the President of the US decided to pull out from the agreement. We have lost momentum, we don’t have the leadership we had previously, he is mocking what is happening in Poland and he is not supportive of what scientists have told us is the truth.
Do you think he is misleading the Americans on the climate deal?
Yes, he misleads the Americans when he withdrew from the Paris agreement. He said the agreement places too great an economic burden on us and therefore we need to get out of it. He is wrong and dead wrong and that is not true and it is a lie. He should know better. The fact is that the Paris agreement does not place a burden on other countries, every country designed its own programme. It’s a lie to say that the agreement burdens countries.
The current President called climate change a hoax?
We are all used to what our President says today but he is actually insulting the intelligence of every single world leader, he is insulting the intelligence of every scientist, he is insulting the intelligence communities of the world who tell us that this is going to be the cause of refugees growing, it is going to be the cause of dislocation of food production, it is going to be the cause for more fires, more flooding, look at what happened in Bangladesh. It is a tragedy to have the President of US not accepting science.
Has it undermined the fight against climate change?
No, it hasn’t, ask Modi when the deal was signed. He said we are not doing this because any country is pressuring us, we are doing this because it is the right thing and what we believe in and I think it is what leaders believe all across the world and that’s why I have confidence about our ability to make this happen even in the US. Let me share in the US 38 states have already passed renewable energy laws that require them to move to renewable energy.
Those 38 governors are implementing that, more than a thousand governors are saying we will stick with the Paris agreement. So Donald Trump may have moved out but those 38 states represent 80 percent of the American people. Americans have not pulled out. That’s why I have hope that despite the difficulties we can get the job done but we got to speed up.
The US China trade friction, is it undercutting the climate deal?
I think it’s bigger than the climate deal, what its doing is creating a dynamic in the global economy, which you are seeing reflected in the stock market. There is great concern about the potential of recession on a global basis. If you raise tariffs step by step you are making lives costly for the average folk and people who struggle to pay their bills.
It is possible but at some point people will get back to the table. The question is how much damage will be done in between and my hope is we have a sensible negotiation that begins to calm everyone down.
The US trade war could lead to severe economic consequences, do you believe that? The world needs a better sense of equilibrium, a sense of calm and goals which the world can share, rather than just saying me, we are going to be greater and to hell with the rest of you. That is not in keeping with the spirit of the US. We built institutions like the UN. I think it is very dangerous where people are appealing to populism, to a nationalism, to bigotry in some cases, to extremism, to negative impulses we will have to fight hard to stay away from all this. Implications of US withdrawal from Iran deal?
Well, I think it is dangerous. We lost an opportunity to reasonably resolve some differences between the US and Iran. We have differences, we don’t like the missile programme, we don’t like support for Hezbollah, and these are legitimate issues to raise but the question is how do you best resolve them? I think the climate has been made more difficult and not less difficult to try and resolve them.
Do you feel climate change will be an issue in the 2020 Presidential election?
Yes, I do and it should be. It’s one of the most critical issues we face on the planet today. When the life in an ecosystem is threatened and human beings don’t have all the answers we are playing with real fire. When scientists tell us these are the simple things you can do to fix it but we are not. We need leadership that is prepared to fix it.
I have said very clearly that I haven’t kept anything off the table and that’s exactly where I leave it. It doesn’t mean I am actively preparing, it doesn’t mean I am thinking about it or I have made any decisions. I am just satisfied saying I am not taking anything off the table, period.
Will you be running for President in 2020?