US Special Climate Envoy John Kerry on Wednesday hailed the decision to hold next year's COP28 climate summit in OPEC member the United Arab Emirates, saying fossil fuel economies should be encouraged to lead the transition to clean energy.
The next United Nations climate conference will be held from late November in the oil and gas drilling nation, raising worries among some climate activists that this could hinder progress on moving the world away from reliance on fossil fuels.
"I think it's very exciting that the UAE is going to host COP and it's so important that you have an oil and gas producing nation step up and say we understand the challenge of the climate crisis," Kerry told Reuters in an interview.
"They're very smart because they know that what's coming out of the ground is not forever, either physically or politically, and they're looking at what the new world is going to look like. If there are going to be new forms of energy they want to be among the providers of it, just as they are today."
Kerry said this year's COP27 conference, held last month in Egypt, moved the world a bit closer to the goal of the 2015 Paris agreement to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial times, even as countries dealt with the fallout of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
He cheered the announcement of 30 upgraded national climate plans along with the summit's headline agreement on "loss and damage" to help vulnerable countries pay the cost from climate-driven extreme weather and rising seas, which the US supported the agreement after past resistance.
Several governments and environmental organizations have criticized COP27, saying the agreement was too tepid to effectively fight climate change while failing to call for phasing out fossil fuels.
Kerry touted the announcement of a $20 billion investment of public and private funds to help Indonesia transition away from coal. Kerry said he is planning "in the not too distant future" to re-visit Vietnam, which is negotiating a similar arrangement with the United States and G7 partners.
The former Secretary of State tested positive for Covid-19 late in the second week of the Egypt summit, forcing him to conduct negotiations by phone instead of in-person during the final 48 hours. He said his illness cut short what he had hoped could be a US-China joint announcement on reducing methane emissions from the world's two biggest emitters of the powerful greenhouse gas.
"We ran out of time and then I got sick," Kerry said. "That just sort of terminated our ability to be able to pursue something in those final days."
He said he expected that in coming months, the two would "continue this conversation" that had been hindered for months by a dispute over Taiwan.
During the summit, China's top climate diplomat Xie Zhenhua dropped in to a ministerial meeting at Kerry's invitation and outlined China's broad strategy to cut methane emissions. But he stopped short of joining an international pledge to reduce them by 30% this decade.
"I thought he made an important contribution in talking about what China knows it needs to do on methane and we're waiting to see their full program," Kerry said.