Former Secretary of State John Kerry is speaking publicly for the first time about a new chapter in his half-century history with Vietnam: an initiative aiming to get the country off coal-fired power.
Driving the news: In an exclusive interview with Axios last week, Kerry laid out the broad parameters of a renewables financing proposal that he said could become a model for other countries in coal-dependent Asia too.
He’s been working on this since he left government, and he has enlisted the help of former Vice President Al Gore, who made a trip to Vietnam last summer. Kerry is meeting Vietnamese government officials this week in Boston to negotiate details.
“I’m trying to put together a model project of how Vietnam can get off coal now, and we are working very hard to help them see that coal is in fact more expensive and has many, many more downsides.” — John Kerry
The big picture: Vietnam, like the rest of Asia, is where the world’s battle over growing economies and worsening climate change is raging.
- These nations want cheap power — usually coal — to provide better standard of living for their growing populations.
- Yet they're under political pressure to back away from coal, given that their heavy use of it is accelerating global warming and worsening local air pollution.
Flashback: Kerry’s history in climate change diplomacy and Vietnam runs deep.
- He was a leading architect of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement — which will proceed without the U.S. since President Trump has vowed to withdraw from it.
- He was a decorated officer in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and worked toward normalizing relations with the nation decades later.
Coal became Vietnam’s biggest electricity source in 2018, surpassing hydropower for the first time, according to preliminary International Energy Agency data.
- More than 42,000 megawatts of new coal capacity are under development, according to a recently released report by environmental groups. That’s nearly one-fifth of America’s entire operating coal capacity.
Where it stands: Kerry’s proposal includes undisclosed private-sector financing for wind and solar along with transmission lines. It also calls for more efficiently using Vietnam’s hydropower and tapping a domestic natural gas field.
- “We’ve opened the door,” Kerry said. “We’ve got a preliminary agreement. We now need to work on the feasibility for how exactly it’s going to be implemented, and then sign it.”
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