By ILIESA TORA
Nuku’alofa – June 21, 2021: 4pm (Nuku’alofa Times): The urgency to tackle climate issues is something that the media around the globe takes a special interest in.
As part of the 2021 US State Department Foreign Press Center Virtual Tour, foreign journalists were given the opportunity to hear some of the top US experts on the different climate issues and what they think.
One of those is Mr Jonathan Pershing, the Senior Advisor to the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change, John Kerry.
He was the special speaker on May 21 at the Washington Foreign Press Center.
Tonga, like all Pasifika Ocean states and other small island developing states around the world, face the greatest danger.
Simply because these countries do not have the resources to be able to deal effectively with the climate change issues.
Yet these countries are the lowest contributors to carbon emissions.
Tonga, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and Kiribati are some of the countries that are struggling with real threats now.
Low lying islands continue to face inundation of seawater daily – as is the case in the low lying areas of the Western side and Eastern sides of Tongatapu.
Tuvalu and Kiribati are always at the risk of giant high tides and giant waves that flush across the islands every time there is a change in weather patterns.
Bigger countries like the US of A, China, the United Kingdom, Japan and India are major countries guilty of messing up our Mother Earth.
So are there solutions? Are there possibilities of us managing things better?
Can we overcome these perils and ensure that we leave a bright future for our young ones growing up now?
Mr Pershing answers the questions here in this full Question and Answer session with Foreign Journalists from around the world who were part of the Virtual Press Tour program:
Audrey Tan of the Straits Times. “How were the 40 world leaders invited to the Leaders Summit on Climate selected? Singapore’s Prime Minister was one of those invited, even though it is a small country and contributes less than 1 percent to global emissions. What areas does the U.S think Singapore can contribute to the global climate action, whether that’s in domestic mitigation, galvanizing regional and international action?”
MR PERSHING: Thanks for that question. We had a number of criteria when we put together the list. The first is that the President had committed that we would reconvene something called the Major Economies Forum, the MEF. That’s a body, a group – a kind of informal group – that the U.S. has convened mostly during the Obama administration and a different form during the previous Bush administration, when it was called the Major Economies Meeting. But it’s essentially the world’s largest economies and – not by happenstance – also the world’s largest emitters.
They’re largely the G20. So we wanted that group in. That group collectively is responsible for on the order of 70, 7-0, percent of global emissions. So if you have them and they’re working jointly and with a concerted focus, you really get a substantial share of the total emissions in the world and therefore the problem, so we wanted to bring them together.
The second thing which we note is that that is an insufficient voice to really capture the diversity of both the issue, those who have solutions, and those who bear the impacts. It’s not as if some of these large economies don’t see the impacts; of course they do. You look at the population of a place like India, and coastal India is going to be deeply, deeply affected by climate change – sea-level rise, temperature increases. But they don’t speak with the same kind of existential threat in their future that plays out for a small island state; we wanted that voice at the table.
They don’t speak for some of the least developed countries in the world; we want that voice at the table. They don’t speak for some of the countries – and this is where I put Singapore – that are actually leaders, even though they’re not the big players in the space.
Singapore, as a city-state, has got some of the most innovative structures in the world around the management of urban planning and design, looking at how do you get to a deep decarbonization pathway while sustaining a very livable, workable city. How does that fit? How do you take advantage of those kinds of lessons?
There are others who are not in the Singapore camp but who have the same kind of innovative approaches to solutions. We invited New Zealand to come. New Zealand’s got among the most innovative programs in the world on agriculture, really thinking about how this works out. Other countries have adopted really innovative policy approaches to various kinds of technologies and solutions.
Still others have been at the forefront of thinking of new financial instruments and driving things like their sovereign wealth funds to find alternatives and choices. So we tried to get that cross-section and we also tried to keep it somewhat limited. The idea of a meeting where you actually have people engaging a little bit can’t be too many people or it doesn’t work. We were constrained by a virtual format because of COVID and not being able to be able to get together and have the side conversations, so we had this single focused discussion, and that by itself limited capacity. But that was the mechanism that we went through to determine who was going to come, and I think it was quite successful.
Mila Cherneva from Bulgarian newspaper Capital Weekly: Thank you. So yeah, you mentioned all of the kind of targets and aims that the U.S. has domestically, but what are the main – what is going to be the main challenge in actually achieving them? Is there a specific sector or any state or geographical area that needs the most work, if you could point one out? And how will these be tackled? Thank you.
MR PERSHING: Thanks very much. So the U.S. emissions profile is different from other countries. Some look like us; others don’t. The single largest share of emissions in the United States is coming from the transportation sector. The power sector – generating electricity – is second. Industrial activities is third. Agricultural land use remain – make up the remainder. So transport is the number one issue.
There are a number of options in the transport sector. We can divide it up into road transport and then shipping and aviation. Road can often be matched up a bit with rail, but we think about road as both heavy-duty vehicles as well as cars. That structure and that system is a focal point to the United States. So there’s been a lot of thinking done about what we can do with that.
One of the things that the President committed to was the installation of 500,000 charging stations, which makes it much more plausible that you can get electric vehicles recharged whenever you’re traveling somewhere, and therefore that anxiety about will your battery run out when you’re going to do grocery shopping won’t really play. But we’re also looking at finding ways to create incentives for the consumer to purchase vehicles and for the manufacturers to make more of them. And we’re thinking about the supply chain in batteries and how does that technology advance and where does that go. In that sense, it’s not the only sector, because once you’ve got an electric vehicle, you then have to charge it, and what is the power going to come from to make that vehicle run?
Well, at the moment the U.S. energy system has a pretty heavy share of fossil-intensive sources, including coal and gas, so very little oil in our power generation mix. But we’re so therefore looking at how do you decarbonize the power sector, what are the mechanisms through which you might do that, because that also plays back in. And at the other end, it’s very clear that we can do a fair amount with electricity in managing our industrial emissions. A lot of the lower-temperature industrial emissions can be managed with electric motors and electric heat. That’s a way to kind of take the same clean electricity and apply it to that sector.
So we’re looking at all of these and we’re looking at a bit of a balance here. While transportation is larger than power, it’s only a little bit larger, and power is a bit larger still than industry, but we’re having to work on all of them. Other countries are really different. Other countries have a fundamentally different trajectory.
I look at a country like an Indonesia, and one of its largest sources of emissions is its land use, and that’s partly been driven by a deforestation agenda. Its second number is electricity. Its transport emissions are relatively low, and that’s partly a function of the fact that it’s an archipelagic country with a thousand islands and therefore people aren’t driving quite the same way, and there’s a very different kind of emissions trajectory. So other countries have very different profiles.
New Zealand, for example, has a much higher methane profile, largely because of ruminant animals. So you’ve got really different obligations country by country and a policy choice is going to have to be tailored. Ours is tailored for our circumstances, and over the course of this year you’ll start seeing more coming out from the White House, being led by Gina McCarthy who’s leading the domestic policy program, as she and her team really delve in and develop and put out the recommendations for how we’ll reduce emissions from each of those sectors.
Ange de la Victoire Dusabemungu, TopAfricaNews.com in Rwanda: The U.S. is putting a lot of effort into tackling the effects of climate change. How do you plan to work with developing countries in that battle? Which priority areas will you be looking at as you renew your efforts in dealing with this issue?”
MR PERSHING: So thank you for the question. There are a number of different pieces which I alluded to in my opening remarks around the conversation, but I think they fall into two categories. There are really a number of developing countries which have substantial emissions.
The – China still qualifies in that box; it’s the world’s largest emitter. India is in that – is in that category; it’s the third largest emitter after the United States. So China is one, the U.S. is two, and India is three. These are both countries that really have significant capacity but also really face some hurdles.
For countries in those circumstances – and there are others also in the G20 – we are looking really to figure out how to work with them to reduce emissions. In some cases, they don’t need a lot of help; they need maybe some technical engagement, maybe there’s some financial relationships that you want to build out.
So India as a case in point: India has committed under Prime Minister Modi to install 450 gigawatts of renewable energy, primarily solar. But at the moment they don’t really have quite the wherewithal in a couple of dimensions. They’re still trying to figure out how to raise the capital for that. They’re trying to figure out, when they’ve got that much solar on their electricity grid, how do they ensure continued reliability? Because at night there isn’t sun, and so how do you maintain the capacity to give people power 24 hours a day instead of just while the sun is shining?
That kind of a structure is doable. We have battery technologies and backstop generation capacity and what they call spinning your reserves. You can do it, but it requires some redevelopment and redesign, and we help in those kinds of dimensions. There are many other countries that fall into that category: really are looking at making emissions reductions, but would like to find ways to engage both with the U.S. and with others both on the financing side and on the technical capacity side.
At the other end you have countries that are looking at that, certainly, because all countries are looking to reduce emissions. But their primary focus is how to adapt to the increasing problems of climate change itself: changes in water, changes in the timing of the water – the monsoon shifts, and that changes crop availability and therefore food availability – or you’ve got a sea level rise problem.
I spent some time in Gabon not very long ago, and one of the conversations was coastal erosion up and down the Gabonese coast. That kind of a shift is real. Or I look at a country like South Africa and look at a place like Cape Town, which a couple of summers ago had one of its worst droughts and was looking at a reservoir that may not have any longer – was within days of running dry, and the entire Cape Town community would have been without water.
Those dynamics, that’s no longer now about mitigation, that’s about adaptation. How do I manage these increasing risks? How do I pick up the cost for infrastructure? What am I doing to allow my people to cope with the increasing frequency of natural disasters? Those are things like insurance programs that let you spread some of the risk out.
The Caribbean nations have done some of that kind of work. But some of the African nations are also thinking about that. How do I think about structures of resilience? Part of it’s about information. Do I have warning, advance information about this – about the impending disaster so I can plan for it and get people out of harm’s way? Can I put in some infrastructure that does a better job about distributing water? Can I make available cooling stations so when it’s over a certain number of degrees, Fahrenheit or Celsius, I can get people to safety? Can I manage food distribution networks so if I’ve got a problem with my crop one year, I’m not leading to starvation for my community?
Those kinds of dynamics, those are things that we’re working on. We’re doing them both bilaterally, through USAID, through Millennium Challenge Corporation, though the Development Finance Corporation. We’ve got a series of those bilateral mechanisms to provide financial assistance and technical assessments and support. And we’re doing them with multilateral organizations like the World Bank and the African Development Bank and the regional development banks, but we’re also trying to leverage private capital, because in our minds it’s not going to be sufficient to make it a public national government program only.
You have to get the private sector involved. And that, to me, means two pieces. One, how do we from the U.S. help generate that kind of an outcome? How do we stimulate that kind of an investment? But at the other end, how does the host country attract that kind of investment? What are the barriers to why the money is not flowing, and can we work with that country to help reduce the barriers so the money moves in more effectively to really build the infrastructure, to build the resilience, and to build the capacity to minimize emissions that could reduce the overall impact of the problem? So those are the kinds of things we’re doing really in support of that agenda.
Michelle Soto from Ojo al Clima in Costa Rica: Thank you for the for the space. I have a question about – the United States is a major commercial partner for many countries. How can the U.S. motivate its commercial partners to join the transition through foreign and trade policy? What does the Biden-Harris administration plan to this issue? What benefits to countries that are already on the path of dis-carbonization can expect?
MR PERSHING: So thanks very much for that question. I think you’re quite right. The trade dimension here is one that we really have to really be thinking about. The new U.S. Trade Representative is actively engaging in that discussion. She’s only been in office for a little while, so the policy is just really being developed. But I think that her characterization and her assessment is that this is going to be an area of increased global trade interests.
I want to put a couple of examples on the table that might be really relevant to think about. Let’s take a look at commodities that have significant greenhouse gas emissions. One of them is illegally harvested wood and wood products. If what you can do is you can create mechanisms that create incentives for sustainably yield goods and services, you might get more of the good stuff. And if, at the same time, you create penalties for the import of the illegally harvested and logged space, you might put pressure against the bad stuff. We’d like both. Those are both interesting options.
In the United States, under something called the Lacey Act, we have a mechanism that Congress has provided to really ask are these things coming from sustainable yield forests. Other countries have similar programs. China actually has one, the Europeans have one – that’s a mechanism. At the other end, we can actually go in and help people with the development of sustainable yield intensive agricultural systems, which enable managed communities where you can have wood and wood products that are not damaging.
There are set aside areas where you can essentially farm forests. But it doesn’t go, therefore, in to the native and large old growth communities which are so central to maintaining global capacity. That kind of a model can work with trade as well as with assistance, and they’re tied up together in some very, very important ways.
I think as we go forward, these are going to be more and more common. I think that what we’re doing at the USTR is to think about the various institutions and mechanisms. How do they play out in the World Trade Organization? How do they play out in terms of our own bilateral trade interests? How do they work out bilaterally with key countries both with whom we have deep trade relationships, but also others where the trade is not yet as developed but it might be in the future? And I want to close with that thought, because there’s a certain new trade that’s coming along.
We may see a decline in some of the conventional things that have high carbon intensity. We’re going to see a radical increase in things that will be part of the new low-carbon world. That may be things like rare earths and critical minerals that go into renewable energy or into battery technologies. That’s going to change the nature of trade as well, and those are opportunities that we want to be able to seize for ourselves and for the world.
Lee Yaron, Haaretz newspaper in Israel: The Israeli Government currently doesn’t consider the climate crisis as a national priority, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in one of his only references to the crisis, announced during President Biden’s international committee last month that Israel will supply all electricity from renewable sources by 2050, but didn’t present a law that would promote its goal. Do you believe that Israel climate goals are satisfying? Have you, yourself, talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu and ask him to set more ambitious goals and laws to support (inaudible) ahead to the climate committee in the end of the year?
MR PERSHING: So thanks so much for your question, and I think it’s not just one that you might have, but might be shared by others. There are many countries that have announced preliminary goals. In some cases, they are framed in terms of a set date and a volume. So for example, the Indians with their 450 gigawatts of power. In other cases, they are set in terms of overall emissions. We will get to net-zero by 2045 or 2050 or 2060. In other cases, they’re framed by sector. So we’re going to really reduce our emissions in the transport sector. In almost all cases, they’re going to have to be backed up with discrete policies. These things won’t happen on their own.
Countries are going to have to step up and figure out how they’re going to implement. Those can be very diverse. If you think about a policy such as the one that Israel has committed to, there are a number of models. Israel has one of the most advanced venture capital communities in the world, very, very rapid ability to turn financing around and generate new technology and lead to its rapid penetration.
But Israel also has got a relatively conventional power market. And some of the dynamics around the Goliath fields and some of the structures in the offshore gas have led to certain constraints, and entrenched issues around coal have led to other constraints, partly consequences of Israeli security concerns, partly a consequence of price, and partly a consequence of these interests.
How do you overcome those? What are the next steps that you have to take? All countries have different balances of those questions, but we all have to do that. In the U.S. context, we’ve made the announcement.
President Biden gave us a 50 to 52 percent goal. We are now working to develop the detailed policies and programs, some which he’s already announced and has already come forward, but we think we’ll have to be held accountable to that. And we think others will have to be held accountable for the commitments made by their leaders, and the policies have to follow course.
It is insufficient to announce a high-level goal and then not to follow through. That’s not going to just be this year. It’s not just an announcement that you make in April on Earth Day, and then in Glasgow, you say, well, here’s my plan. It’s one that next year, we go back and look at it and say how did that go? Did you meet it? Are the milestones you set – are you on course? And if you’re not, how can we work with you to facilitate that? What are the reasons you couldn’t do it, and are you developing ways to overcome those barriers? That’s going to be the test. The world is not all that interested in the announcement. The science doesn’t see the announcement. What it sees is atmospheric concentrations; it sees emissions, and the temperature warms accordingly. So if we don’t implement all the world’s – all the words in the world won’t help that much. We have to have that implementation program.
Ezaruku Draku Franklin, Daily Monitor Uganda: My question is: During the Trump administration, the U.S. pulled away from the Paris Agreement. I wanted to know how far back that set the U.S. in its policies and the targets. And what is the Biden administration doing to catch up with the other countries that set targets and have moved ahead to implement those targets? Then secondly, the countries like Uganda that are yet developing, they emit – emitted little carbon, but the consequences that they suffer is bigger. So how is U.S. working with the countries like Uganda and other developing countries to make sure that the impact of global warming is mitigated and also (inaudible) in order to cope with the challenges that may come up?
MR PERSHING: The first one is, I think, quite important to look at and – so I came in with the Biden administration. I was also a political appointee during the Obama administration. And I am extremely disappointed that the United States withdrew and that the setback occurred. I think the absence of U.S. engagement had global implications, not just national implications.
Having said that, two other things are also true. The first is that the world did not stop working because the U.S. withdrew. It perhaps moved a little bit less slowly than it might have moved with U.S. pressure, but it did not stop moving forward. Europe was a leader during this period. But a number of other developing countries also stepped forward and really looked at what their commitments were and how they intended to meet those commitments. Some countries in Africa were among those leading communities.
I look at the process led by the minister in South Africa for the development of a program on emissions reductions, and they may have wanted to go faster, but they were stalwart, and they kept moving forward. I look at small countries like a Costa Rica that continued to announce new targets and meet them. So to me, the first point is the U.S. is absence didn’t stop the world. I regret that it may have slowed things somewhat.
On the U.S. side, things also did not stop, and that was a function of many people in the United States who believe the problem is real, even if the last president did not think it mattered very much. So that meant that a substantial number of sub-national actors – in the U.S. that means states and cities – moved forward. Under the last administration, we had as much as 70, 7-0 percent of the U.S. GDP in states that felt this was a priority and took steps to reduce their emissions.
Those are big states like California or New York, those are big cities like Los Angeles and Seattle, those are programs that led to not just things like renewable energy, but vehicular transport and investments in buildings. That did not stop. And one of the things that that meant is that the targets and the commitments that the U.S. had announced in earlier years were largely met even though President Trump didn’t think they mattered, even though he didn’t support them.
So the United States had committed to getting to a 26-28 percent reduction by 2025. We think we’re very close to that trajectory. And it’s not because the Biden administration has done some things this year. It’s because the American people and companies and states acted over the last decade. And it’s also because some of the things that we put into place in the Obama administration are continuing to bear fruit.
We put investment into renewables. That’s part of the reason renewables are now taking over as the number-one source of new power generation in the United States. It’s because the price has come down because investments were made a decade ago. And we said we’d be in the range of a 17 percent reduction by 2020, and we will be. We met that commitment from 2009.
So I regret deeply that we should have gone farther. We could have done more, but we didn’t stop, and to me, that’s going to have critical importance for other countries looking forward. What if the U.S. doesn’t sustain this particular administration’s approach? Will the next administration walk back? My answer is no.
My answer is that the seal in the ground, the commitments being made, the implementation agenda has longevity. You can slow things from going faster in the future, but things that are set in motion now are likely to continue. The 50-52 percent the President announced is one that we will meet because companies are investing, cities are investing, and the community is investing. Can we go beyond that? We have to. That’s going to be up to the next president and the next process, but this one? We’ll meet this one.
Your other question around impacts and consequences is also extremely important, and I think I mentioned a moment ago that for many countries, the issue is not their contribution to global emissions. They represent less than a tenth of 1 percent of the global total. For them, the issue is how to cope with the impacts and the damages. That’s a major agenda for the climate negotiations. It’s one that is increasingly occupying finance from countries around the world. We have committed, under the President – under President Biden to double our overall finance and to triple the amount of finance going to adaptation.
That’s going to be for countries like Uganda which need support, which need help in managing these kinds of impacts. So yes, we agree with you. These are dire times and the world needs to step up, and the U.S. is trying to be one of those stepping forward to help manage that.
Jhesset Thrina Enano, Philippines Daily Inquirer: Thank you, Dr. Pershing, for this opportunity. I just have two questions. The first is a bit related to just the point that you raised on climate finance. So can we expect the Biden-Harris administration to further step up on the climate finance? Because campaigners have said that President Biden’s plan to channel at least $1.2 billion to the GCF is – actually falls short of what is needed considering the delays that happened under the Trump administration. And my second question would be: Can we expect concrete partnerships and projects from the United States Government with countries in Southeast Asia, which is very vulnerable to climate hazards? Will President Biden or Secretary John Kerry meet with some ASEAN leaders for climate action?
MR PERSHING: So thanks very much for that. The answer to the question is yes, but I wanted to make a slightly more – a more nuanced answer. We believe that the doubling of the U.S. contribution is very much in line and begins to pay back some of the absence that we had in the last four years. So we think that we’re on the right trajectory, and the tripling of adaptation finance is also on the right trajectory.
But the thing that I think is different, that people I think need to pay more attention to is whether the mechanisms that we’ve got are sufficient to solving the problem. We’ve committed globally to get to $100 billion per year in mobilized funds – public and private funds – to really work on the problem. We’ve created some institutions to help with that.
One is the GCF, which has got a certain amount of capital, but others are the investment funds in the World Bank, the World Bank itself, the regional development banks. Collectively, we are getting close, but we have not yet met the $100 billion number. We have to do better and meet that target. That’s clear. But what’s also clear is that the $100 billion is the wrong metric.
The metric that we really want to think about is: What will it cost to solve this problem and what are the opportunities in solving this problem? And that’s measured at a scale that’s more like a trillion dollars per year, so a thousand billion dollars. That is a much different number. Our hundred is only 10 percent of the way there. And how do you do that?
That’s much more a function of the private sector. That’s much more a function of the asset pools that have to be redirected to clean energy instead of conventional high-carbon energy. Those are options that have to really examine what’s the world of the future going to look like and how do we invest in that future. It will be profitable, but it’s a different investment. That’s the investment that we want to unlock. To a certain extent, it doesn’t mean we don’t do projects. It means that we take this scarce resource of governmental capital and try to use it to change the risk profile so the private sector can come in with much larger sums.
That means if you want to build a power plant, you don’t want to be built by the government. You want to be built by the private sector and the government can help manage the risk. Those are different dimensions of the financial question that we now have to grapple with to get to scale.
So yes, we’re trying to raise the federal money. That is our commitment.
The President made his announcement about our own doubling and the tripling of adaptation finance. But at the same time, we’re trying through these new instruments, these new institutions – in our case, organizations like the Development Finance Corporation – to really think about risk, and how do you leverage public money and double or triple or a factor of 10 times as much in private capital? That’s a place we have to play. In terms of the questions of Southeast Asia, yes, we have been engaging there. We’ve been talking to countries both about projects, partly through our own Development Finance Corporation, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and our embassies and ambassadors.
Secretary Kerry has reached out to a number of heads of state in the region. We have been to some countries directly; he traveled, for example, to Bangladesh. But we are looking to do more of that. COVID makes it harder to see people in person, so a great deal is being accomplished by Zoom calls and by telephone. But we hope, when the COVID crisis has eased, to really be able to visit and to do in-person consultations and meetings. They are very powerful ways to raise the agenda and to fully engage.
Caroline O’Doherty, Irish Independent: I do have two questions, and one of them is: So far, everything we have heard from the U.S. around climate action has been very positive. The U.S. is going to lead by example. But I am wondering, is there – in reserve, is there a get-tough policy around the current work? The other question is about the U.S.’s exports of fossil fuels? What can you do about that? Thank you.
MR PERSHING: Thanks very much. You broke up a little bit, but I think I got both questions. The first: Is there a get-touch policy behind the current work? And the second is: What about U.S. fossil fuel exports? So on the first one, the answer is that I think the world collectively is getting tough. I don’t think it’s about the U.S. I think it’s about a vision that the damages we are trying to avoid necessitate increasing action, increasingly rapid and scaled action, in every country around the world. And what I’m seeing are the importunings of countries ranging from the small island states who stand to disappear if we don’t move, to concerns around Europe as a major player, looking at a carbon border adjustment, to countries like the U.S. that are bringing its diplomatic pressure to bear to urge countries to move forward.
I think that’s going to get more significant, not less. And I think as countries move forward, that’s going to be increasing. But I think that the thing that’s here that’s important is that this is not only a cost. There is a transition, but there’s also a benefit. If we capture that, you don’t really have to resort to anything other than the identification of opportunity. And to me, that’s the much more compelling pathway.
It’s very hard, I would argue virtually impossible, to force a country to do something it doesn’t want to do. It is much easier, and sometimes relatively simple, to get a country to look at an economic opportunity and take it and move down that road. So I think it’s on us to identify those, and to figure out how those work, and to tailor those country by country. Sometimes it’s with U.S. partnership; more often it’s not.
The country knows exactly what path it wants to be on and can identify that and act against it. So I think that’s the more powerful model. Your second question with regard to fossil fuels is that’s currently something that we are discussing. We increasingly are seeing a lot of pushback in the private sector. We’re not seeing the same kind of interest for certain kinds of fossil choices in countries around the world. We’re seeing a great deal of movement in terms of the risk profile that’s associated with some of those fuels.
But at the same time, we’re seeing a need to maintain reliability and security in the existing grids and the existing energy systems. It does not serve anyone to cut things off. It serves people to make a transition, and that transition is going to have to be to low-carbon alternatives. But the low carbon doesn’t necessarily mean no fossil fuel. It means low carbon, which means you can do carbon capture and storage. You could find ways to convert some of the fossil fuel into hydrogen or ammonia and make that the fuel carrier while capturing the carbon and putting it underground and safely putting it back where it came from before it was extracted.
Those are models that would also work and are almost certainly going to be in our future. If you look at the analysis of the International Energy Agency or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they assume we will continue to use those fuels, but they will become low-carbon options because we’ll have these alternative mechanisms to get there. Now, that won’t be all of it. We’re going to develop new sources of power and new options and new export opportunities in those solutions. Some of the largest manufacturers of wind turbines are American. Some of the largest potential manufacturers and distributors of electric vehicles are American. We hope those will bring jobs and benefits to us, but we also hope that technology will provide jobs and benefits to those to whom we are exporting that capacity.
Krista Campbell, Television Jamaica: I’d like to know if you can just expound more on the correlation which we hear, the climate change situation and disease outbreaks, and if there are areas of specific concerns because of certain vulnerabilities they may have.
MR PERSHING: Thank you very much. There’s actually a lot of work that’s been done in this particular area by researchers around the world. There’s an organization called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which comes out with a major report about every five or six years. Its next one is due next year. It has three volumes.
One is a volume on the science in climate, one is a volume on impacts of climate change, and one is a volume that looks primarily at the mitigation options, how do you avoid those damages. The impact section has an entire and detailed review of the literature on health, among other things. It also looks at food and coastal zones and all sorts of other questions. But it has an extended conversation on health.
One of the things that I tend to draw on is the recent one. That’s – it’s a few years old, but I think the analysis is still relatively robust. We’ll have more precise information going forward. But there are a number of risks that we really have to watch out for. One piece of the risks are the disease vectors that change as a consequence of temperature. So the mosquito is an obvious one, and malaria becomes one of the kinds of diseases that we really worry about.
Some detailed studies done, for example, in parts of Africa suggest that with every degree of temperature increase, the mosquito breeds more frequently. Instead of breeding every 10 days, it can reproduce every seven days, which means that mutations can happen much, much more quickly. And a disease like malaria, which can become medicine-resistant, drug-resistant, can evolve more quickly and make the ability to control it that much more difficult. So that’s one model, that kind of disease that increases because of temperature and goes forward.
But another model: We end up with a real problem of people’s health that is a function of temperature itself. As we see temperatures increasing, people actually have heat stroke and they die from lack of water or lack of adequate protection. A second dimension. A third dimension: It looks as if one of the consequences of climate change is going to be a reduction in agricultural productivity, particularly in places that are already vulnerable and on the margins, which means we’ll have a food decline, and that in turn, of course, means health impacts: starvation, damages from crop loss, real consequences in those dimensions.
And they may direct or indirect – it may be a function of the crop loss itself, it may be a change in various kinds of pests that encroach on an area that didn’t use to have them because the temperature and the weather has changed from climate.
So all of those pieces are coming. We can avoid them if we manage the climate risks. We can manage them if we come up with better drugs and better disease-resistant crops and better ways to manage communities, but that’s an expensive way to go. We’re going to probably have to do both. And avoiding these damages is part of our task in the impact side; getting rid of them entirely, that’s one of the reasons we’re seeking to mitigate climate and to reduce emissions to avoid that outcome overall. Thanks very much.
- The author was selected as a member of the US States Department Foreign Media Center Virtual Tour Group