US defends its climate leadership despite record oil and gas production

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The US’s top climate diplomat John Kerry has defended the country’s surge in gas production to a new record and maintained that it was a global climate leader after the launch of the Inflation Reduction Act last year.

Kerry comes to COP28 in Dubai at a time when Washington is consumed by two wars and the possibility of a second Donald Trump presidency. But he said even Trump could not roll back the centrepiece of the Biden administration’s economic strategy, with $369bn in clean energy subsidies and tax breaks.

Speaking to the Financial Times as officials met in Dubai to hammer out a new deal to limit global warming, Kerry said that while the US had boosted LNG production because of Russia’s war in Ukraine it was still committed to phasing out all fossil fuels where emissions are not captured.

“We have signed up to the phase out of unabated fossil fuels, we have signed up and we voted for it at the G7,” said Kerry, referring to an agreement to boost the effort to reach net zero in energy systems by 2050.

“The increased production is a reflection of Ukraine, the effort to come back from Covid and the reflection of what happened with Russia cutting off all the gas to Europe . . . we’re sending a lot over there and other places to try to help them out.”

This year the US overtook Qatar to become the world’s largest LNG exporter. Its seven existing terminals can process as much as 11.4bn cubic feet a day, according to the Energy Information Administration — enough to satisfy the combined gas needs of Germany and France.

Five more LNG projects are under construction, which would add another 9.7bn cf/d. The oil and gas industry is proposing to build dozens more plants in the US, which it says will generate hundreds of billions of dollars in investment and create tens of thousands of American jobs.

US oil production is also at a record high, with output of 13.2mn barrels a day in September. It is now producing more oil than any country in history even as Opec+ countries curb supply in a bid to bolster prices.

But Kerry denied that this made the US position at the UN’s annual climate summit more difficult in urging other countries to back an agreement for the phaseout of fossil fuels.

“We’re on a pathway to keep 1.5 alive,” said Kerry, referring to the goal to limit global warming. “The bigger problem is the 550 gigawatts or so of coal-fired power that is unabated, that is coming online in Asia, so what we need to do is find a way to accelerate everyone’s transition.”

He added: “We’re not trying to point a finger at one country or one place. We’re ready to hold ourselves accountable.”

President Joe Biden did not make an appearance at the climate summit this year, against the backdrop of the Middle East war and the looming presidential campaign.

Xi Jinping, president of China, the world’s biggest emitter, was also absent from COP, after meeting Biden in the US last month, when they agreed to accelerate the roll out of renewable energy to displace fossil fuels.

The White House has been increasingly focused on securing emergency Congressional funding for its top foreign policy priorities, including Ukraine and Israel. 

Ahead of COP28, the US failed to pledge money to the UN’s Green Climate Fund — the world’s largest fund dedicated to helping developing countries deal with climate change — after being thwarted by a US government shutdown.

However, in Dubai the US has attempted to reassure that it is still a trusted partner on climate, including making a $3bn pledge to the Green Climate Fund — although the money must still be secured from Congress.

It also showcased a series of initiatives to attract more private money to climate projects, a proposal for a new $50mn equity investment from the US export credit agency into a fund run by Eversource Capital, a climate-dedicated investment manager, and a separate $15mn state department contribution to two climate investment funds.

Kerry said that the possibility that Trump, the favourite to win the Republican presidential nomination, could win the US election in 2024 was not deterring countries from taking the US seriously on climate. 

Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement that seeks to limit global warming. Recently, his campaign officials said he would gut Biden’s climate law, increase investment in fossil fuels and roll back regulations aimed at speeding up the transition to electric vehicles.

“I do say to people, and I’m free to say clearly and I believe it very deeply — no one politician could possibly change what is happening on the planet now in terms of the response to the crisis,” said Kerry.

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