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US climate envoy Kerry says islands face 'beyond existential' threat

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US envoy for climate John Kerry said nations were moving too slowly to achieve the goal of checking warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. AFP

US climate envoy Kerry says islands face 'beyond existential' threat

US climate envoy John Kerry on May 4 said island nations faced a situation "beyond existential" due to climate change, as he called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies and coal plant financing.

The 20 countries responsible for most of the world's emissions had a "special responsibility" to take action, Kerry said – but warned they were not "moving in the same direction" or fast enough.

"When I talk to some of the island state leaders they are not just considering adaptation and resilience, they are considering where they are going to move to," Kerry told a virtual seminar during the Manila-based Asian Development Bank's (ADB) annual meeting.

"It's beyond existential."

Kerry, the former secretary of state who has become President Joe Biden's globe-trotting climate envoy, said "adequate finance" was critical for achieving the goal of checking warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times – the aspiration set in the Paris Agreement to avoid the most severe effects of climate change.

But he said nations were moving too slowly.

"We all know what we have to get done here. I hate to say it but we are sort of inching along, we are not actually getting it done," he warned.

"Emissions are going up, we are on the wrong track – people are building back from Covid as if there were no reason to be thinking differently."

Kerry's remarks came less than two weeks after Biden doubled US ambitions for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, putting the country back at the forefront on climate.

ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa told the seminar the Asia Pacific region – which includes China, the world's biggest polluter – was responsible for about 50 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

As the market for coal, oil and gas rebounds this year, he warned more than 80 per cent of the expected growth in coal demand would be from Asia.

"Without decarbonising energy systems the goals of the Paris Agreement will be beyond reach," he said.

Kerry called on banks to stop financing coal projects and for a framework to be put in place for "phasing out other fossil fuel investments" and support countries transition to "net-zero" emissions.

He also said fossil fuel subsidies should be abolished around the world – including in the US.

"You must create incentives for the right behaviour, not the wrong behaviour," he said.

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