May 17, 2021 - Energy & Environment

John Kerry irks some activists, experts with climate tech claims

A photo of John Kerry at a podium.

U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry waded into treacherous waters with comments about how much new tech is needed to fight global warming.

Driving the news: In part of a BBC interview that aired Sunday, Kerry said, "I am told by scientists ... that 50% of the reductions we have to make to get to net-zero, by 2050, or 2045, as soon as we can, 50% of those [emissions] reductions are going to come from technologies that we don’t yet have."

Why it matters: That irked some activists and experts, who see it at odds with what's possible with the aggressive deployment of mature tech.

It's the latest flare-up of climate-world tensions over how much innovation is needed (though Kerry also pushes accelerated steps with existing tools).

Driving the news: Influential activist Greta Thunberg and prominent climate scientist Michael Mann were among several who criticized Kerry's comments.

  • "Great news! I spoke to Harry Potter and he said he will team up with Gandalf, Sherlock Holmes & The Avengers and get started right away!," Thunberg tweeted.
  • Mann lamented "pernicious technophilia" he blames on Bill Gates and spoke with BBC for a subsequent segment (47 minutes in here).

The other side: Jason Bordoff, who heads a Columbia University energy think tank, said people are "way overreacting."

  • If Kerry had simply added that more tech was needed "at commercial scale," the comment would have been spot-on, he argues.
  • "[W]e need innovation, lots of it, to get anywhere close to net zero," Bordoff tweeted.

The big picture: A Kerry aide noted to Axios his remarks are consistent with International Energy Agency findings.

IEA head Fatih Birol said last month: "IEA analysis shows that about half the reductions to get to net zero emissions in 2050 will need to come from technologies that are not yet ready for market."

Go deeper