Kerry: Even Carpooling, Biking, Tree-Planting Americans Wouldn’t Offset China’s Emissions

Patrick Goodenough | November 5, 2014 | 4:10am EST
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Secretary of State John Kerry discusses current relations between Washington and Beijing at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC, on November 4, 2014 (AFP Photo/Allison Shelley)

( – Even if carpooling, bicycling, tree-planting Americans managed to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions to zero, that still wouldn’t be enough to counteract emissions coming from China and the rest of the world, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday.

In a speech focusing on U.S.-China relations, Kerry stressed the importance of the world’s two largest economies and greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters working together to confront climate change, saying neither the U.S. nor China could “solve this problem” alone.

“Even if every single American biked to work or carpooled to school or used only solar panels to power their homes – if we reduced our emissions to zero, if we planted each of us in America a dozen trees, if we somehow eliminated all of our domestic greenhouse gas emissions, guess what?” he said.

“That still wouldn’t be enough to counteract the carbon pollution coming from China and the rest of the world.”

“And the same would be true for China if they reduced everything and we continued,” Kerry said. “We would wipe out their gains; they would wipe out our gains. Because today, if even one or two major economies neglects to respond to this threat, it will erase the good work done everywhere else.”

In the speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Kerry pointed to the latest U.N-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, calling it “another wakeup call to everybody.”

The report released Sunday warned of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” if action is not taken to reduce GHGs globally – with a target of zero by 2100.

The IPCC also, for the first time, said the use of fossil fuels will need to be “phased out almost entirely” by the end of the century.

“The science could not be clearer,” Kerry said. “Our planet is warming and it is warming due to our actions, human input. And the damage is already visible, and it is visible at a faster and greater rate than scientists predicted. That’s why there’s cause for alarm, because everything that they predicted is happening, but happening faster and happening to a greater degree.”

A major U.N. climate conference scheduled for November 2015 in Paris, France aims to deliver a universal agreement for the post-2020 period on reducing GHG emissions and mitigating climate change. A lead-up conference will be held in Lima, Peru next month.

Kerry expressed hope that the U.S. and China could together set an example for other countries to follow.

“Next year, countries are supposed to come forward with their stated [emission-reduction] goals. And we hope that the partnership between China and the United States can help set an example for global leadership and for the seriousness of purpose on those targets and on the negotiations overall,” he said.

“If the two countries that together are nearing 50 percent of all the emissions in the world, which happen to be also the two largest economies in the world, if they can come together and show seriousness of purpose, imagine what the impact could be on the rest of the world.”

Kerry and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi last year launched a U.S.-China working group on climate change. Projects have been launched or agreements reached on carbon capture, utilization and storage, vehicle fuel efficiency, GHG emission standards and a climate and forests initiative, among others.

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