World must shun new coal-fired power stations, warns climate envoy John Kerry

He was speaking at the first Scottish Global Dialogues in Edinburgh on Thursday.

Katrine Bussey
Thursday 24 August 2023 17:50 BST
John Kerry said there is no reason for new coal-fired power plants to be built (PA)
John Kerry said there is no reason for new coal-fired power plants to be built (PA) (PA Archive)

No new coal-fired power stations should be permitted anywhere in the world, John Kerry has said, warning it could be a “critical step” in the fight against climate change.

Describing coal as the “dirtiest fuel”, the US special presidential envoy said there is “no rational reason” for contributing to the problem by burning it.

He made the plea in a speech in Edinburgh in which he also hit out at climate change deniers, warning the world is now at a “precipice” where the “reckless abuse” of the environment could  have “unleashed forces of nature way beyond our control”.

With major wildfires having brought devastation this year to places such as Hawaii, Canada, Turkey and Greece, Mr Kerry warned: “Mother Nature is now sending an ever-more desperate distress signal about the coming catastrophe.”

Mr Kerry said the climate crisis was caused by the “unabated burning of fossil fuel”, along with deforestation and “potent super-pollutants from industry and agriculture”.

Calling for action, he said: “It should be obvious by now – we have better choices.”

He said it is time for countries across the world “to join together and take a more critical step – there should be no more permitting of any new unabated coal-fired power anywhere in the world”.

He continued: “Knowing what we know are the impacts and given the alternative options, there is just no rational reason for contributing more to the problem by turning to the world’s dirtiest fuel burned in the dirtiest way.

“Unless we, all of us, start doing more, faster, now, future generations will trade the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness for struggle in the pursuit of survival.”

The comments came as he delivered an address at the inaugural Scottish Global Dialogues in Edinburgh – a new annual series of lectures focused on the climate crisis.

Inaction doesn’t have a prayer of stopping what is happening

John Kerry, US special presidential envoy on climate

Mr Kerry, who was introduced by Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf at the event, used his speech to condemn those “extremist political voices” and those with “vastly vested interests” who he said had “declared war on facts and science” when dealing with environmental issues.

These groups would “choose a destructive status quo over the opportunity to build a clean energy economy”, he added.

Hitting out at those who “refuse to accept the facts behind the increasingly obvious damages of the climate crisis”, Mr Kerry said that “without facts or economics on their side, they flatly deny what is happening to our planet and what we must do to save it.

As a result, he said: “Humanity is inexorably threatened by humanity itself.”

But while he said the Earth could be at “one of the most dangerous moments in human history”, he added it “may also be the greatest moment of opportunity for human advancement”.

With the Cop28 climate change summit due to take place in Dubai in November and December, he said: “In this moment we have a unique opportunity to significantly accelerate this transition to a clean energy economy.”

The latest climate talks will take place almost a decade on from the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 – where 200 nations vowed to try to keep global temperature rises to below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Mr Kerry warned “we’re significantly off track” with efforts towards that target, noting emissions are currently rising, not falling.

Despite that, Mr Kerry insisted there are “many more reasons for optimism” as he highlighted the growth in renewables and increased sales of electric vehicles.

However he said the world is “now on the precipice of tipping points”, describing this as being “the point at which events can simply unfold of their own momentum, the point at which our reckless abuse of an ecosystem has unleashed forces of nature way beyond our control”.

Mr Kerry said: “No-one can predict with certainty the exact pace and scope of this unravelling.

“But common sense tells us inaction doesn’t have a prayer of stopping what is happening.

“This is one of the most dangerous moments in human history.

“But it may also be the greatest moment of opportunity for human advancement. We have the chance now to write a future filled with choices that not only make life cleaner, healthier, fairer, and safer.”

Speaking to journalists after his keynote speech, Mr Kerry alluded to disagreeing with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s stance on maxing out new oil and gas opportunities in the North Sea.

Asked how those views can align with the special envoy’s comments on fossil fuels, he said: “It’s not my job to be commenting on other countries’ policies specifically.”

But when pressed, he said about his opposing views: “Well then, you’ve got your answer.

“We have to reduce unabated burning of fossil fuels.”

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