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John Kerry plans to stay in climate envoy role through late 2022, says climate action in Congress is ‘imperative’


By Ella Nilsen, CNN

John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s Special Envoy for Climate, told CNN he plans to stay in his current role through at least the next major international climate summit in November.

“There’s no plan to do otherwise at this point in time, certainly,” Kerry told CNN Thursday. “I haven’t even thought about anything else right now.”

Kerry said he plans to attend the 2022 UN climate summit — COP27 — in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to press other countries to raise their climate ambitions, slash methane and carbon emissions, and transition to renewable energy faster.

Countries promised at the previous summit to come to COP27 with plans in-hand on how to slash their fossil fuel use. And while the final deal from COP26, the Glasgow Climate Pact, made an unprecedented mention of the role of fossil fuels in the climate crisis, it failed to secure a commitment to phase out the use of coal — which has a significant impact on global warming and creates harmful air pollution.

“We hope to go to Sharm el-Sheikh with a clear roadmap of what has been accomplished with respect to those promises made, and what has been done to raise the level of ambition and commitment from those who haven’t yet done that,” Kerry said. “That’s our current target, with this effort here. We’re currently gearing up to try to make sure that we can get done all the things I just described.”

Action from Congress ‘is absolutely imperative’

Kerry spoke to CNN from Paris, where he was attending the International Energy Agency’s annual ministerial meeting. Domestic policy crept into the Climate Envoy’s conversations Wednesday night, when Kerry told CNN he had dinner with West Virgina Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrats’ key swing vote on climate legislation, who was also attending the IEA meeting.

“We talked and shared a table last night at dinner and we had a nice conversation about it all,” Kerry told CNN, not going into details about what was discussed.

Climate action in Congress is riding on Manchin’s shoulders, after he torpedoed Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, which included more than $500 billion in clean energy measures.

Manchin has said he’s supportive of clean energy tax credits. But amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Manchin — the chair of the Senate Energy Committee — has also called for more fossil fuel production in the US to help Europe move away from Russia’s natural gas.

“I think he is definitively concerned about doing some of the things he thinks ought to be done,” Kerry said. Whether that takes shape in a bill “is up to him and the folks he’s negotiating directly with” in the White House.

Speaking at the IEA on Wednesday, Manchin described what he considers an ideal US energy transition, including promoting carbon capture and sequestration for fossil fuels, passing clean energy manufacturing tax credits and providing more funding for advanced nuclear reactors.

But Manchin also expressed skepticism about the shift to electric vehicles, a key plank of Biden and Democrats’ climate plans.

“I’m a little bit skeptical of the electric vehicles that everyone’s moving to as rapidly as they are,” Manchin said. “I’m very much concerned about the supply chain. I am very much concerned about being totally relying on China to supply the necessary resources we need to have that transition happen.”

But Kerry said he is still optimistic a climate action bill will pass through Congress.

“It’s not going to be Build Back Better; it’s going to be something different,” Kerry said. “My hope is we’re going to pass it. I feel like there’s greater potential that we will do that than some people may believe. I trust that there’s some real possibility of getting climate legislation passed as part of something.”

He added that the US taking legislative action on the climate crisis is “absolutely imperative.”

“I don’t want to speculate what happens if we don’t,” Kerry told CNN. “I’m going to count on doing it, because we’ve got to do it.”

Helping Europe wean off Russian natural gas

Biden on Friday is expected to make a major announcement on increasing US liquid natural gas shipments exports to help Europe transition away from Russian fuel — which some climate advocacy groups oppose, fearing it would require new infrastructure that would produce fossil fuel for years to come.

Kerry said the natural gas announcement will mark “a beginning, it’s not the end of the process.”

Other countries are planning to increase their natural gas exports to Europe as well; Kerry met with Israel’s IEA delegation and said that country stepping up their gas production could account for about 10% of what Russia currently supplies to Europe.

But the US climate envoy said non-fossil fuel options — like electric heat pumps — have also been part of the conversation. Heat pumps are energy-efficient heating systems that can replace natural gas furnaces.

“There’s a lot of discussion going on right now about heat pumps specifically and about other things that we can do to assist Europe to minimize the impact of the loss of Russian gas and oil,” Kerry said. “Not all these plans have been carved in stone at this point. I think heat pumps are a very real alternative to the burning of fuel that takes place today.”

Kerry said he thinks it makes the most sense for Europe to manufacture their own heat pumps, and for the US to jump in and manufacture more if the demand grows.

“Europe makes terrific heat pumps,” Kerry said. “I would imagine the Europeans are hot to trot in their own market here; I don’t think they’re sitting around waiting for the US to necessarily do it. But where it might be necessary — yes, it makes sense for other markets to contribute the products where the demand exists.”

Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico recently told CNN he’s been having discussions with top economic officials in the White House about increasing the US production of heat pumps to send to Europe.

Heinrich said he met with National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and White House American Rescue Plan coordinator Gene Sperling last week and pushed the idea of ramping up heat pump production.

“There’s certainly a lot of interest,” Heinrich told CNN of the meeting, adding Sperling and Deese “are both very aware of what we’re pushing, and seem receptive.”

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