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By Pete Dickinson on

Climate Talks: Tony Blair and John Kerry in conversation

In the latest of our Climate Talks, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, called for ambition to be matched by action, as the Science Museum Group’s Communications Director, Pete Dickinson describes.

It’s time to move beyond target setting to the hard work of delivering rapid cuts in emissions in the next 10 years.

That was the clear message from Tony Blair and John Kerry in the latest of the Science Museum Group’s Climate Talks, a series running throughout 2021 in the run up to COP26 in Glasgow in November.

The event was delivered and streamed online, an approach taken throughout the series to connect with an expanding global audience and bring together a diverse, distinguished line up of international speakers.

Mr Blair spoke of the ‘superhuman efforts’ seen around the world to tackle the crisis of the pandemic and wondered whether the same urgency could be brought to tackling the climate crisis.

Mr Kerry said it was ‘imperative’, pointing out that he had recently been speaking to people from island states that are planning where they will move their populations to. He said he was in no doubt that ‘if we do not remove enough emissions during this decade…it is absolutely impossible to reach Net Zero by 2050’.

‘We have to be phasing out coal five times faster than we are today,’ he added, ‘planting trees five times faster than we are today.…and deploying electric vehicles 22 times faster than we are today.’

Mr Kerry pulled no punches in talking about just how crucial the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be when it gets underway in Glasgow: ‘Poor people are going to get hit the hardest if we don’t move…Glasgow is the last best hope of avoiding the worst consequences.’

The event was organised in collaboration with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, which today published a report called Mind the Gap: Success at COP26.

The speakers agreed that a good outcome in Glasgow was by no means enough. Stronger leadership was needed from the major polluting countries to drive change. Mr Kerry said there was not only a need for new legislation and regulation to drive change but also for countries to make good on pledges already made such as the promise of $100 billion a year from the 20 countries that account for 80% of emissions to support poorer countries.

Mr Kerry pointed to some reasons for optimism in the way private businesses are responding and the potential that is emerging through new technologies such as ‘green hydrogen’ and batteries but stressed that we can’t rely on the technology journey alone.

As indications of building momentum, Mr Kerry added that the fastest growing job in America last year was wind turbine technician and described the way a coalition of countries is working with India to ensure a rapid roll out of sustainable energy at huge scale to reduce that country’s reliance on coal.

A bigger focus on adaption was also going to be required, Mr Kerry said, noting that many climate tipping points have already been passed.

In a conversation between two politicians who have decades of experience there was also an acknowledgement that more should have been done sooner.

Reflecting on the decisions he made on climate when in office, Mr Blair said he thought it had been ‘an issue that people cared about but wasn’t centre stage in the political debate…so I would say we probably should have and could have been more ambitious’.

The event was rounded off by Dame Mary Archer, Chairman of the Science Museum Group, who thanked the speakers for comments she described as ‘sobering…but also that encouraged us to think creatively and positively about what needs to be done’.

Our next event on 5 August 2021 considers if the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, can achieve what the world needs, with speakers including former UK Special Representative for Climate Change and Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Sir David King; Chair of the Fund for Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and Caribbean, Dr Myrna Cunningham Kain; and Research Director of the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development at the University of Oxford, Dr Radhika Khosla.