Jonathan Pershing leaves his job as a climate diplomat

WASHINGTON – Jonathan Pershing, who traveled to 21 countries to negotiate an international climate agreement last year as the Biden administration’s No. 2 global climate envoy, will leave his post on next month.

Mr. Pershing will depart at a pivotal time for global climate action.

At a United Nations summit last year in Glasgow, nearly 200 countries reaffirmed committed to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). But hardly any country, including the United States, has policies in place to meet that goal.

Instead, they agreed to meet again in November in Egypt, where they would commit to stronger action. China, the biggest polluter, did not agree to further limit greenhouse gas emissions but signed a joint statement in Glasgow with the United States pledging to work together.

Mr. Pershing, 62, a veteran diplomat who served under four presidents and helped negotiate the 2015 Paris climate accord, was the United States’ special climate envoy before stepping down at the end of the Obama administration. to manage the climate programs of the Hewlett Foundation in California. He plans to return to his old job.

Tall and professional with a beard used to have his own Twitter accountMr. Pershing is known for his extensive knowledge of the puzzling details, which can easily dig into the details of a country’s energy data, national politics or a lengthy scientific study. decades. His boss, John Kerry, called Mr. Pershing “a walking encyclopedia”.

In a statement, Mr. Kerry said that when President Biden nominated him as special envoy on climate change, one of his first moves was to bring Mr. Pershing back to Washington.

“After four years of wear and tear and distrust, we need not only Team A but also Team A+ to rebuild our credibility and diplomacy,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Pershing spoke this week about the challenges of trying to get nearly 200 countries to work together to solve a global problem. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why did you leave?

A: I’ve been wanting to come for a year. I feel that in the last four years, the system has really disintegrated, there is nothing left. And I feel it’s important that people like me, who have been in office before, are able to get in the job at the beginning and move quickly forward that will make an important contribution to the climate change effort.

When I left for the last time, I didn’t think I would return to the government. And I came back because I felt that this was a time when my service could be useful. It should never be considered a permanent exercise. It means an opportunity to help reinvent or create something new, re-energise and rebuild that capacity in a very short period of time.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement in the past year?

A: I think that for all of us who are deeply committed to the climate agenda, the previous four years were indeed a huge setback, and the climate has not stopped changing during those four years. . So for us, it was really an opportunity to come and really start something.

I think the single big win is obviously a pretty important step forward that we took in Glasgow.

We get a significant movement from the big players. I think there has been real change from China.

Q: Really? From China?

A: Absolutely possible. Think where we went in our conversation with the Chinese. China said, “Don’t worry, we have solved the problem, we will get back to you.”

What we have now is a series of rather detailed plans. It may not be enough to do all of the things they say, but it is light years ahead of what they did a few light years ago.

My colleagues in the NGO and academic community, who are like the lifeblood of so much intellectual discussion in China, all say they feel completely empowered to work. on implementation details, because of the US-China joint statement. . And to me, that’s what you need. Because it’s not just about saying something great at Davos, or at the UN, it’s about how you provide at a technical level with everything it takes to make this happen.

Q: The current national target is not enough to keep the temperature at 1.5 degrees. The Glasgow agreement calls for countries to return next year with more ambitious goals. But we’ve seen some countries say, “This does not apply to us. “How can Glasgow be called successful if countries are not really committed to coming back with more ambition?

A: We made the mistake of assuming that any given moment solves the problem. This is a dilemma, a dilemma, a wicked one. And, we’ve made a lot of progress. It doesn’t say there’s nothing more to do. That’s both.

There was a report done by the World Bank, about 10 years ago, about what the world would be like – not at four degrees. [Celsius temperature rise above pre-Industrial levels], but at three o’clock. We are now close to two degrees. And we were pretty close to a three-degree gain. That is not enough. But the difference between two and three for the global community is very close to the existence of many of the weakest and most vulnerable parts of us.

There is still a huge gap between where we are and where we all need to be. And we have to do that extra work. But I think both can be held concurrently.

Q: How optimistic are you that countries will limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees?

A: I think 1.5 is technically achievable and really politically difficult.

In my mind, optimism is the way to go. And the reason I speak that way, is that I see the world, and the world is consumed by a whole host of global problems and other threats and political dissent. What I also see is that some are willing – maybe not enough, but some – willing to put some of that aside and get involved with the climate aspect anyway. And for me, that’s huge.

We have been here, for the past year, making trips despite the Covid. We have been able to resolve this longstanding crisis, even though Covid is a threat. And I think about the difficult relationships with the US and China, or the US and Russia. Regardless, we went to China and were received in China and engaged with senior leadership. And we went to Moscow, and we joined the senior leadership.

And optimism emerges, though, that people are ready to sit and talk about the climate agenda in the face of other obstacles.

Q: When do you think John Kerry left? And do you think the next climate emissary needs to have the same star power?

A: I don’t know. I don’t think he knows. You should ask him.

Secretary Kerry is, in a way, very relevant to this moment, this moment is the need to demonstrate America’s commitment and attachment, and his star power is essential. I think it’s still unbelievably valuable. And I hope he stays long and does this for a while. But I think you can have many people who can serve the function that the US is intended to. I think others can. I don’t think anyone can do it like him. I don’t think anyone can do it this first year, the way he did. Jonathan Pershing leaves his job as a climate diplomat

Fry Electronics Team

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