Kerry Reacts To IPCC Report As Biden Pushes Climate Action : Consider This from NPR What struck John Kerry the most about this week's landmark U.N. report on climate change?

"The irreversibility" of some of the most catastrophic effects of global warming, he tells Audie Cornish. Kerry, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate, tells NPR the U.N. report underscored the need for the world to respond more forcefully to climate change — and he's called an upcoming U.N. climate summit in Scotland the "last best hope" for global action.

At the same time, the Biden administration faces an uphill battle to take major action on climate at home. Hear more on that from the NPR Politics Podcast via Apple, Spotify, or Google.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

After Dire U.N. Warning On Climate, Will Anything Change?

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

So is it hot where you are? Odds are the answer is yes.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Yeah, guys, we're talking literally coast to coast. Temperatures are going to be in the triple digits for parts of the Pacific Northwest into northern California. Then we go into the mid-plains, into the northeast. Heat index is up to 110.

CORNISH: At points this week, nearly 200 million Americans were under heat advisories or excessive heat warnings.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Look at these heat indexes - Cincinnati today 101, 111 in St. Louis and Memphis, Shreveport, 106, triple digits for Charlotte, Nashville on into Little Rock, even into New York and Washington, D.C.

CORNISH: Now, the weather will eventually change. News cycles will shift to the next thing. But what won't change is the stark reality outlined in this week's landmark report from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That's the IPCC. It warned that extreme heat and weather are intensifying and that some of the worst effects of human-caused climate change are on the brink of becoming irreversible.

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JOHN KERRY: I talked with one of the scientists who contributed to this effort. And what disturbs me the most, he said, is the irreversibility. You can't turn it around now.

CORNISH: At least not all of it. But it's John Kerry's job to try. Kerry is President Biden's special envoy on climate. It falls to him to work with other countries on climate policy and help chart it here at home. This fall, Kerry heads to a major U.N. climate conference in Scotland where, he says, he'll try to convince the world's leading carbon emitters to do more to stop the rapid warming of the planet. And at the same time, the Biden administration is engaged in an uphill battle to take major action on climate here in the U.S.

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KERRY: What the IPCC report was really telling us is that a certain amount of damage is now just cooked in. It's baked, literally. And our challenge is to make sure that we're going to respond to prevent the worst things from happening.

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS - the need to deal with climate change is more urgent than ever. The question is, what will be done? John Kerry's answer is coming up. From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Thursday, August 12.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. Back on Earth Day, April 22 of this year, President Biden laid out a goal for the U.S. to cut its carbon emissions by half over the next decade.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We know just how critically important that is because scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade. This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.

CORNISH: This goal to cut emissions in half within this decade, Biden said, would be a big first step toward making America a net zero-carbon emitter by mid-century. And that's something scientists say will have to happen in countries all around the world in order to stop the catastrophic warming of the planet.

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BIDEN: Time is short, but I believe we can do this. And I believe that we will do this.

CORNISH: At the time, the Biden administration didn't offer a lot of specifics on how it would reach the decade goal. Four months later, their efforts are coming into focus.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Breaking news right now on Capitol Hill, where the Senate just passed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill this morning with strong bipartisan support.

CORNISH: On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that does contain some modest climate measures Republicans agreed to. Those include money for updating parts of the power grid, water infrastructure and clean-up of abandoned mines and gas wells. The bill would also fund a national network of electric vehicle chargers. It now heads to the House. And it wasn't the only action on Capitol Hill this week.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Breaking overnight - hours after passing a major infrastructure bill with bipartisan support, the Senate narrowly approved a $3.5 trillion blueprint for family health and environmental programs.

CORNISH: The blueprint, the budget resolution that will be used by committees to create new programs - well, it would invest a lot more money in climate-focused infrastructure and policy. It contains hundreds of billions of dollars for clean energy and vehicle technology, climate research and other initiatives.

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BIDEN: After years and years of infrastructure week, we're on the cusp of an infrastructure decade that I truly believe will transform America.

CORNISH: On the cusp, the president said this week. He and his fellow Democrats in Congress aren't there yet. They're working to pass both packages in tandem. Some climate experts say that would bring the U.S. close to cutting emissions in half this decade, provided the EPA also tightens up some regulations. But the president's agenda faces a lot of resistance, including from members of his own party. Moderate Democrats in the Senate - Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Krysten Sinema of Arizona - well, they think the budget resolution is too expensive. Manchin, who's also singled out some of its climate provisions as unrealistic, tweeted this week he was concerned about the economy, quote, "overheating." Of course, to more progressive Democrats in Congress, that's not the kind of heat they're worried about.

AYANNA PRESSLEY: My progressive colleagues and I, we've been calling for bold investments that meet the moment - so an unprecedented investment at an unprecedented time.

CORNISH: Massachusetts Democrat Ayanna Pressley spoke to NPR this week. She and other progressives in the House are under pressure not to support the smaller infrastructure bill unless the budget measure - the big, expensive one with lots more action on climate change - well, unless that one becomes a reality, too. Biden's challenge is to unite the two wings of his party around both of these measures. And it's not clear that one can pass without the other.

PRESSLEY: What progressives have been clear about since Day 1 is that any vote on the narrow bipartisan infrastructure package must also come with a movement on a massive investment in tandem for workers and families. And that's care economy, housing, combating climate change.

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CORNISH: That's the political challenge at home. Abroad, things are no less complicated. And the next opportunity for major action will come in November with a U.N. climate summit in Scotland. That's where U.S. climate envoy John Kerry will have his work cut out for him. This week I asked Kerry about the challenge of uniting the world around ambitious climate goals even as Democrats are struggling to agree among themselves at home.

KERRY: Well, that's the fight that's ahead. And I think it's important to look at the hard facts. The truth is that the marketplace is already making a decision about energy. CEOs all around the world are now joining in the movement to limit the emissions and to transition their own businesses into net-zero status.

CORNISH: So why do you think there's reluctance within your own party?

KERRY: Well, I think everybody is concerned that whatever steps are taken are going to be effective and not leave people behind. President Biden is deeply committed to that principle. And I think Joe Manchin and others believe in wanting to do that. But the fact is this is inescapable. You couldn't finance a new coal-fired power plant in the United States of America today. The largest, you know, fastest-growing job last year and, I think, this year also in the United States is wind turbine technician. And the truth is that the marketplace is making its own decision of moving towards renewable, alternative, sustainable energy.

CORNISH: So the U.S. produces around 11% of the world's emissions. China produces nearly a third of the world's emissions. And China hasn't made any promises about emissions in this decade. I mean, they're still investing heavily in coal and other fossil fuels. So where do things stand on talks with them?

KERRY: Well, we're engaged in continuing discussion with China, and it's very important that China step up and take additional steps between 2020 and 2030. Now, China is currently doing more than many people know or think. China is, in fact, the largest producer of solar panels and of alternative renewable energy in the world. China has, in fact, deployed more of that renewable energy than any other country in the world. But because they're so big, China has to obviously do more faster. And the Chinese are currently in deliberations to try to determine what that will be and can be.

CORNISH: But can I stop? - because we're looking at a moment where, as I said, they don't actually have any policy in this direction.

KERRY: They have not yet decided to do enough, in our judgment, to be able to meet what we need to do between 2020 and 2030. But it's not fair to say China doesn't have a policy. China is, in fact, implementing some policy, and they are currently in deliberation on more. Now, it's not my job to explain China's policy, except to say that we're - I'm going back to China in about three weeks. My hope is that by that point in time, China will have made some of the decisions that they're in the throes of deliberating now so that we can move forward faster together. If we can't, obviously, that injures everybody else's efforts. I don't think it makes any sense for people to throw up their hands and say, well, if China isn't going to do it, we're not going to do it, because obviously we've all got to do our part to avoid the worst consequences.

CORNISH: In the past, the U.S. has made pledges to help poorer countries, for instance, pay for efforts to transition to clean energy. Is there any move to improve that? Have we lived up to that? And what's the plan if we haven't?

KERRY: There is a tremendous effort going on to assist less developed nations. We have made a commitment globally that was made in Paris to commit $100 billion a year for, you know, the next 10 years in order to assist those countries to make that transition. Tragically, that amount of money has not yet been fully identified, though the effort to identify it between now Glasgow is in full swing.

In addition to that, though, there's trillions of dollars that are going to be needed for this transition. And we, the United States, have worked very closely with the six largest banks in our nation. They've stepped up, and they have announced that they're going to set aside a specific amount of money to invest in accelerating this transition, augmenting it over the course of the next 10 years. That amount of money from the six banks is $4.16 trillion. And that's a floor, not a ceiling.

CORNISH: So are policymakers moving at the same rate as markets?

KERRY: This is one of those incredible moments where, frankly, the market is way ahead of political systems in many but not all. The private sector is fully prepared to invest in these sectors, providing governments are making it feasible by getting the bureaucracy out of the way, guaranteeing you can make a decision on the land acquisition needed for some of this deployment and making sure that the revenue stream that supports that financial transaction is there and reliable.

CORNISH: Are governments doing that? Is our government doing that?

KERRY: We're engaged in this. We're leading this effort to try to make sure that this works. And the answer is yes. Other governments are fully prepared to be engaged in similar transactions. The EU is a terrific partner in this. The U.K., Canada, Japan have all made decisions that are moving in the right direction.

CORNISH: You've been at this for many years, thinking about these issues. What, if anything, about this week felt like a turning point for you? Maybe it's not, but I feel like I should ask.

KERRY: Well, no, it didn't, and it doesn't feel like a turning point at this point. It feels like one more in a series of warnings which have been made over 30 years plus. I don't think it took this IPCC report for a whole bunch of people who have been working on this issue for a long time to feel motivated. So the time has come. It has to happen now.

CORNISH: One more thing. If you listen closely to people like John Kerry these days, for all that talk about urgent action, you also hear phrases like, in continuing discussions, and, prepared to be engaged. I wanted to ask about that.

It sounds like policymakers, people like yourself, are still in the process of convincing governments to do what they need to do, not...

KERRY: Well, I hate to say it. That's part of the challenge. And you're right. There has been too much indifference. We have an opportunity to have a fighting chance but only if we do these very clear, specific things. Not one country, not 50, but the world has to make a global effort here.

CORNISH: And the countries carrying the greatest burden in that effort, Kerry said, are the 20 largest economies of the world, which emit almost 80% of global emissions. They'll be part of that November climate summit in Scotland, which John Kerry has called the last best hope for world action on climate change. It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Audie Cornish.

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