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U.S. envoy John Kerry points to some progress at U.N. climate summit

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So as President Biden's climate envoy, John Kerry, has spent months traveling around the world, negotiating with international leaders, trying to make sure that the summit in Glasgow is a success. All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro has been reporting at the summit. And while there, he had a chance to sit down with John Kerry. Ari is with us now. Ari, thanks for being here.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So we just heard Dan Charles say there are still several key differences that have to be worked over. How does John Kerry see this draft agreement and its potential?

SHAPIRO: When I talked to him, there was this relentless optimistic push tempered by a very realistic awareness of what has and has not been accomplished. He pointed to signs of progress, like the declaration that the U.S. and China agreed on, as evidence that the goal is still achievable even though the commitments countries have made here in Glasgow are not enough to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius at this point. Here's part of our conversation.

JOHN KERRY: I think some people sit there and say, oh, wow - gee, they didn't say they're going to do whatever, you know, massive reduction here or there. But the communique, the declaration is filled with the goals of acceleration, of reducing more, enhancing ambition. And all of those are the building blocks which allow us to hold each other accountable as we go forward.

SHAPIRO: The finish line of this summit is in sight. Can you say today whether it has been a success?

KERRY: I think it's been a success in a lot of ways. But until we have the cover decision, until we're finished and we know what the balance is between mitigation and adaptation and the finance and - you know, we just - it's premature. And I don't want to (unintelligible).

SHAPIRO: It depends on the final document. What do you need to see in the final 24 hours to consider this a success?

KERRY: Well, we need to come together. We need to land on reasonable cooperation and consensus on the key sectors that we're working on here. We need to help countries adapt. There needs to be greater focus on adaptation.

SHAPIRO: That means committing money to helping countries adapt.

KERRY: That does mean committing money. Yes, it does - money and technology and assistance. We're prepared to do that. We also need strong mitigation because if you don't mitigate enough, you'll never be able to adapt your way out of this problem. So clearly, mitigation has got to happen in a strong way.

SHAPIRO: Can the U.S. commit to these things with a divided Congress?

KERRY: Well, we - we're not committing to specific sums at this point.

SHAPIRO: And Rachel, there you hear the reason that so many climate scientists and activists are frustrated by the U.S. position here in Scotland - because they tell me they hear the U.S. saying the right things. But in so many instances, they just don't see policies to back up the words. It's true of funding for small developing countries that need help dealing with the impacts of climate change, and it's true of promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions that have been proposed in legislation but that Congress has not been able to pass.

MARTIN: Let's talk about the accountability question, Ari. I touched on this with Dan Charles. It is hard enough to get these commitments. What makes Kerry think that countries will keep these promises?

SHAPIRO: Look; he's clearly aware there's not much time left. He understands the science and how urgent it is. This is a bit more of what he said to me.

KERRY: So this is a matter of physics and math, and both of them are setting out the pathway we have to follow. If we follow the pathway, we can win this battle. But we have to all pull together, and we have to get a lot more disciplined about staying focused on the goals and getting it done.

SHAPIRO: Every sign points to the world's biggest emitters doing some version of kicking the can down the road at the end of this summit, committing to making commitments at a later date. There isn't much road left. So if not now, then when can people expect to see the kinds of serious binding, enforceable commitments that this problem requires?

KERRY: I believe we can get - I think these next 10 years are going to be extraordinary. I think we're going to create new technologies, new products. We're going to make a transition. We're going to create millions of new jobs. And we're going to make the United States and other countries in the world cleaner, safer and healthier. That's the outcome.

MARTIN: U.S. climate envoy John Kerry talking with All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro. Ari, thanks for bringing us the interview.

SHAPIRO: Good to talk to you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.