The global community is failing to urgently combat the climate crisis, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry told leaders at the International Energy Agency's COP-26 Net Zero Summit.
"I don't want to be the scold," said Kerry, speaking virtually Wednesday morning. "But we're here because of science. This is not politics. This is not ideology. This is not some political goal. This is not a pet project of one, or two, or three countries. This is a reality."
The U.S. is the world's second leading emitter of carbon behind China. As a sign of America's crucial role in the fight for climate recovery, Kerry was the first representative of any country to address the summit.
In particular, Kerry, and numerous other leaders speaking at the summit, denounced the use of coal, saying that the dirtiest form of energy must be completely phased out — a message pointed at China, the world's leading producer of coal that has increased its mining practices over the past five years.
Kerry spoke sternly and with haste, as he often does in his role as climate envoy, arguing that global leaders are not doing enough to cut emissions. Kerry, who was America's diplomatic lead in drafting 2015's Paris Agreement, said countries need to set more ambitious goals heading into the COP-26 in November.
"I was very proud of what we all did in Paris. Paris was a giant leap forward. But even if we did everything that we promised to do in Paris, Earth's temperature would still rise to about 3.7 degrees if we did everything in Paris. And we're not," he said.
When the Paris Agreement was signed, scientists believed to avoid a climate catastrophe, global average temperatures over the 21st century needed to remain "well below" a 2 degree Celsius increase, as compared with pre-industrial levels. Today, science shows that rise needs to stay below 1.5 degrees.
Kerry said the next 10 years of the "gargantuan" climate fight cannot be approached "willy-nilly," adding that if not enough is done by 2030, the 2050 and 2060 goals will be irrelevant. He also stressed the need for collective change, saying if the U.S. or China — also present at the summit — were to reach net-zero emissions "tomorrow," the world would still be on track for climate disaster.
This, he said, was his "plea."
"Mother Earth, the planet, is screaming at us," Kerry told the conference. "Not to mention the next generations that are likewise screaming at us and saying to us, "Hey, adults. Please be adults. Make the decisions we need to make."
Kerry praised President Joe Biden for Wednesday's introduction of the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion infrastructure package aimed at creating a clean energy economy through infrastructure and jobs reform. Kerry said a green future is "the greatest economic opportunity we've ever had" and is something all developed countries should duplicate.
"We're going to build out our grid. We're going to reduce our emissions. We're going to step up in a very significant way so it's not [just] talk from the United States," he said.