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Kerry says U.S. will make up for four years of lost action on climate change

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 25, 2021

By Mike Corder Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The world must take decisive action to build resilience to the devastating effects of climate change, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told a global virtual summit Monday, pledging that President Joe Biden’s new administration would play its role.

In a video message to the Climate Adaptation Summit hosted by the Dutch government, Kerry said, “We’re proud to be back (in the Paris climate accord). We come back, I want you to know, with humility, for the absence of the last four years, and we’ll do everything in our power to make up for it.”

Biden, in his first hours in office last week, signed an executive order returning the United States to the historic 2015 Paris climate accord, reversing its withdrawal by Donald Trump, who ridiculed the science of human-caused climate change.

Kerry said the Biden administration is working to announce its own more ambitious target for cutting emissions soon.

Outlining the new administration’s plans to promote climate adaptation, Kerry said it will “leverage U.S. innovation and climate data” to better understand and manage climate-related risks; increase the flow of finance to adaptation and resilience initiatives, work with institutions to improve resilience planning and promote greater collaboration.

Kerry was among world leaders who virtually attended the summit seeking to galvanize more action and funding to adapt the planet and vulnerable communities to the effects of climate change.

Last year, the Earth hit or neared record high temperature levels.

“We saw the heat waves. We saw the fires. We saw the (melting) Arctic,” top NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt said earlier this month about the effects of the warming.

“Adaptation is not an option, it is an urgent task for this generation and those to come,” Chile President Sebastián Piñera said in a video message.

The Netherlands-based Global Center on Adaptation last week called on governments and financers around the globe to include funding for adaptation projects in their COVID-19 recovery spending.

World Bank President David Malpass said the bank’s financing for adaptation measures rose from 40% of its climate finance in 2016 to more than 50% in 2020, “and we’ve committed to making it half of our total climate finance for the next five years.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted the necessity of the funding, saying a recent U.N. report calculated adaptation costs in developing countries to be around $70 billion annually and that they are likely to rise to $280-$500 billion in 2050.

“We’ve reached the point where it is an absolute fact that it’s cheaper to invest in preventing damage, or minimizing it at least, than cleaning up,” Kerry said.

Dutch Overseas Trade and Development Cooperation Minister Sigrid Kaag got the ball rolling by announcing that the summit’s host nation will pump about $24 million into an adaptation fund for the world’s least-developed nations and about $121 million into a program for sustainable farming in Africa’s Sahel region.

Kaag said by using new and existing adaptation techniques, “we can build a climate-proof future together and promote sustainable economic growth in all parts of Africa.”

President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon warned if climate change is not reined in it could create “hundreds of millions of climate refugees in Africa by the middle of the century.” He said Africa “has no choice but to adapt and chart a climate resilient future.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson used the summit to announce a new Adaptation Action Coalition that brings together more than 120 countries along with the European Union and nearly 90 other organizations to double down on climate adaptation.

The Dutch, for example, have centuries of experience in adapting to the threat of water from major rivers that run through the low-lying nation to their long North Sea coast.

They share and export that know-how around the world to places like flood-prone Mozambique.

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