John Kerry: Energy Sovereignty lies in New Renewable Energy
Efforts to reduce emissions face greater challenges in recent times. What is the opinion of the US President's Special Envoy for Climate Affairs John Kerry? Kompas interviewed him.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated in a report issued in February that the aggregation of emission reductions from the current contributions set by each country until 2030 would not be able to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the period before the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.
A more realistic figure is to limit it to less than 2 degrees Celsius. This can only be achieved if the reduction efforts are carried out more progressively and massively.
The rise in the Earth's temperature by just 1.5 degrees Celsius has already caused climate change that has led to extreme weather, and will even more so if it reaches 2 or even 3 degrees Celsius. Greenhouse gas emissions — the cause of global warming — is primarily caused by the world's dependence on fossil fuels.
At the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Scotland last year, the world agreed that by 2050, the Earth must produce zero emissions such as by switching to new renewable energy (NRE).
However, the current world situation shows that the challenges are getting bigger, especially because the superpowers are getting more confrontational with their opponents, creating obstacles.
Kompas had the opportunity to interview the Special Envoy of the President of the United States for Climate, John Kerry, to discuss the challenge. The following is an excerpt from a telephone interview from Jakarta on Thursday (1/9/2022), when the former US foreign minister (2013-2017) was in Nusa Dua, Bali, to attend the Group of 20 Environment Ministers’ Meeting.
How will the mission to achieve zero carbon continue in the region?
First of all, let me make it clear that that Europe is not going to return to fossil energy. They still keep their commitment to zero carbon by 2030. Indeed, the current situation is very complicated. Russia has just stopped natural gas flow through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, while Europe is entering winter.
Europe has been forced to temporarily extend the use of fossil energy, especially coal. However, it is not for the long term, and only to meet urgent needs at present. At the same time, efforts to completely divert to the new renewable energy are ongoing.
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After this security crisis is over, we all still have to achieve our decarbonization targets. Later Europe, the US and other developed countries will have to work extra hard to fulfill these commitments by 2030.
What about China? Tensions with the country have stopped cooperation on decarbonization with the US.
I don't use the term “stop”. The correct term is “delay”. This means that one day—hopefully as soon as possible—this bilateral cooperation will resume.
Domestically, China continues to achieve its decarbonization targets. In fact, they are now the largest NRE producer in the world. [In an interview with the Financial Times in Athens on Aug. 30, 2022, Kerry revealed that discussions with China were going on so that cooperation on energy transition could take place again before COP27 in Egypt next November].
At COP26, developing and poor countries raised objections to the decarbonization target because it was too onerous. They lack the funds, technology and resources. The transition to NRE will also hinder economic growth, which is still driven by fossil energy. What is your opinion on this?
In fact, the energy crisis shows us that dependence on fossil energy does not benefit anyone at all. Once fossil energy can't be exported or a little bit disrupted, we're all paralyzed and commodity prices skyrocket. The energy sovereignty of a country can only be achieved through NRE.
I am now in Bali, enjoying the bright sunshine. It is a massive and free source of energy. Why can't it be used? If the reason is high costs, delaying the energy transition will, in fact, cost much more than investing now.
Every country actually has the potential to be energy independent. There are countries like Indonesia that are blessed with sunshine all year round. There are countries with strong gusts of wind. Many countries are rich in geothermal energy. Every country, even region, has its own potential for energy independence.
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Without any real action from all holders of decarbonization commitments, aren’t developed countries just patronizing developing and poor countries?
That's right. Commitments must be followed by real implementation. Developing countries can see that developed countries have made mistakes. Our economy and industry thrive at the expense of nature.
Today, developed countries produce 80 percent of global greenhouse gases. The costs incurred by developed countries to switch to NRE are much greater than in other regions of the world.
Developing and poor countries collectively produce 20 percent of global emissions, but if broken down, the emissions per country are relatively small. We must see it as an opportunity to build each other's energy security by prioritizing a zero-carbon target by 2050. Cooperation between developed and developing-poor countries must be carried out. The key lies in the political will of both parties.
Technology is developing amazingly. Batteries, for example, can now store more energy for a longer period of time and release it with greater power. There is blue or green hydrogen technology. There is also carbon capture technology. Global or local studies are ongoing. I am optimistic that all of this can create a carbon-free Earth
For developing countries, it provides a lot of options because they still have to build a lot of power plants.
I see, in terms of commitment, the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is good.
It means that developing countries have the freedom to map the potential of NRE in their respective regions. The approaches vary. There may be areas that require small power plants, but there are areas that are suitable for building large capacity power plants.
The decision rests with each country and region. Cooperation with developed countries is very important. In addition to sponsorship and financing, cooperation is also related to human resource capacity building, technology transfer and joint research.
What do you think about Indonesia's decarbonization commitments?
I see, in terms of commitment, the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is good. There are various collaborations with other countries to realize a carbon-free Indonesia which has become part of a mission to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past four years, there has been progress in reducing deforestation in Indonesia.
I will also talk to a number of ministers and representatives of other ministries/agencies. Hopefully an agreement can be reached. The US is happy to offer co-financing, technology and capacity building for decarbonization.
This article was translated by Hendarsyah Tarmizi.