“We’ve got to clearly close the gap on finance,” Kerry said Tuesday during an interview in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh. “That’s absolutely imperative.”
Kerry’s comments come after President Joe Biden in April vowed to spend $5.7 billion annually on climate finance for less wealthy nations. He has also asked Congress to deliver $1.2 billion more to the United Nations Green Climate Fund. While that’s a significant increase over previous American pledges, it falls far short of what climate activists say is necessary and what other nations have promised.
Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. committed to giving $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing nations shift from fossil fuels to clean energy and deal with the effects of global warming. Only a third of that was actually sent before Donald Trump took office in 2017 and halted payments.
Kerry said Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, who he met Tuesday, “expressed his very real commitment” to fighting climate change. The kingdom will possibly agree to a net-zero emissions target of around 2050, according to Kerry.
The Saudis “don’t fight the language of net-zero emissions,” he said. “They understand that’s on the table and important. What they haven’t figured out is what are the things they really believe. They don’t want to make idle promises.”
The U.S. and a few other major economies such as the European Union have committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. No country in the Middle East, home to almost half the world’s oil reserves, has done so yet.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter, hasn’t decided what steps it will take, said Kerry. But Washington wants it to build more renewable energy capacity. Prince Abdulaziz has previously said Saudi Arabia will generate half of its electricity from renewables such as solar and wind by 2030, and the rest from natural gas. The kingdom is also developing a hydrogen industry, hoping to become the world’s largest seller of the fuel, which is seen as crucial to slowing climate change.
Kerry went to Riyadh after traveling to Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. There, he met Sultan Al Jaber, the UAE’s special envoy for climate change and the head of Abu Dhabi’s state oil firm, Adnoc. It was Kerry’s second trip to the Persian Gulf in the past two months, as he pushes major oil and gas producers to adopt cleaner policies.
In the interview, Kerry also discussed the meeting between Group of Seven leaders that ended on June 13 without setting a specific target date for phasing out coal power for domestic use. That was a disappointment for environmental groups pressing for stronger measures to end the use of what’s considered one of the dirtiest fuels.
The sticking point was “the lack of alternatives” for some countries that aren’t sure how they will be able to replace coal in their power grids, Kerry said. “I think a number of countries just don’t feel that they can create a date of termination at this moment.”
The G-7 nations did agree to halt new government funding for coal power projects in developing nations that lack emissions controls. Kerry said that’s a step forward, but stressed that world leaders must do more ahead of the key United Nations climate conference set for November in Glasgow, Scotland.
“We have a lot of work between now and Glasgow to get completely on track,” he said.