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John Kerry calls on scientists to lead fight against climate change denial

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 27 April 2021 12:08 GMT

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry looks on during a virtual Climate Summit with world leaders in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 23, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

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"We have to establish a baseline of truth or we can't build consensus in a democracy," the U.S. climate envoy says

* Disinformation is undermining climate action

* Scientific understanding of risks needs to shape climate policy

* More global empathy and cooperation key to tackling warming

By Laurie Goering

LONDON, April 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Widespread mistrust of science and disputes over basic facts, tied to growing political polarisation and disinformation campaigns, are undermining efforts to tackle climate change globally, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry warned.

During a virtual summit organised by the Nobel Foundation and major science academies this week, Kerry said building greater public understanding and agreement on the world's "existential" challenges was crucial to addressing them.

"We have to establish a baseline of truth or we can't build consensus in a democracy," he said.

"Paid-for denial" about climate change by big polluters and political disregard by some governments of scientific warnings about COVID-19 risks are "costing us enormously", he added.

Kerry said achieving climate goals fast enough amounted to "a moonshot on steroids" - and called on scientists to help communicate to the public the urgent need for swift action.

"Scientists want to avoid the fray - but we are in a war against denial," he said. "I think we have to fight back, and I think scientists have to be at the front of that fight."

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, global emissions from fossil fuel use are still on an upward trajectory, even as scientists say they need to fall by half within just nine years to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

The rise in emissions is happening even though renewables like solar are now the cheapest form of new energy in two-thirds of the world - and likely to be the cheapest almost everywhere within five years, said former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

He believes the world is "right now crossing the long-awaiting tipping point" toward greater action on climate change, as social movements, innovation and falling costs help drive more net-zero emissions promises and accelerate green measures.

"We have the solutions we need, and we are gaining the political will to implement them," he said.

But former Nobel Prize winners, scientists and activists warned changes are still happening far too slowly, with the time to turn ambitious promises into on-the-ground action very short.

Xiye Bastida, a 19-year-old climate activist who migrated to the United States after her home in Mexico was destroyed by flooding in 2015, said scientists must do more to ensure their understanding of climate threats reaches decision-makers,

"When you make the discovery of a lifetime, it must make its way to the public policy sector," she said.

Sandra Diaz, a professor of ecology at Córdoba National University in Argentina, said making large emissions cuts a reality would require governments and individuals to think much harder about their behaviour.

"What we choose to, eat, buy, burn, support or ignore every day has impacts," she said.

Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize laureate and professor of physics at Stanford University, said one huge task ahead was weaning global economic systems off continuous growth as their main aim, something incompatible with the Earth's finite resources.

"You have to design an economy based on no growth or even shrinking growth," he said, arguing "prosperity" could be maintained even if that approach was adopted.


David Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, told the event some of his Pacific Island nation's 607 islands were set to disappear by the end of the century, a reality he described as "very profound and frightening".

He urged the U.N. Security Council to recognise the huge threats posed by climate change and called for much greater international empathy to tackle global problems - something often in short supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To build a safer and better world, everyone must "promote peace, friendship, cooperation and love in our humanity," he said. "It is only by pursuing those ideals that we can also pursue peace with nature," he added.

Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the event organisers, said global partnerships had in the past allowed nations to overcome massive obstacles, as in the wake of World War II.

"We are a resilient species... Cooperation is our superpower," he said.

To tackle the shared problem of a heating planet, "we need, more than ever, wide alliances for change," he said.

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'Not seeing the urgency': Communications failures blamed for climate inaction

Spotlight: Communicating climate change

(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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