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White House Climate Advisor on fighting climate change on a global scale

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In an interview with Yahoo Finance's Akiko Fujita, White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy on the challenges the U.S. faces at the upcoming COP26 climate conference.

Video Transcript

- So how do you get to that goal of decarbonizing the power grid by 2035 without CEPP?

GINA MCCARTHY: Well, there's already been some tremendous movement among the utility industry to recognize that clean electricity is not just the future but it's cheaper. So if you look at the rate of transition to renewable energy over the past few years, it's been extraordinary.

So our task is to move forward and accelerate that. There is tax credit opportunities in this package that are going to do just that. So we have to look at those opportunities and also recognize that in 2020, the fastest growing sector of electricity generation was solar. We know how to do this.

Look at the offshore wind. We have permitted in just this short period of time that President Biden has been here. We're talking about offshore in the Eastern coast, offshore in the Western coast. We're looking at New York and New Jersey. We're looking at the Gulf. These are opportunities for up to three gigawatts of greenhouse gas reductions and electricity generated. And so we need to move forward.

We are not going to be stopped by any one initiative. It is jam-packed with ideas that recognize that we have a clean energy future. Just look at what it means to work with the automakers and the autoworkers to come to an agreement that electric vehicles are going to be 50% of our car sales by 2030. Transportation is the highest sector of our greenhouse gas emissions now, not the utility sector.

We can make tremendous progress all through every sector. We're looking at manufacturing and how to make progress there. We're looking at opportunities in our ports. We're looking at opportunities for investments in environmental justice because we know that the president has made a commitment for the benefits of clean energy and clean electricity to actually be first and foremost benefited by those environmental justice communities.

So we can make this happen in a way that delivers environmental justice, delivers the kind of reductions we need, and provides the opportunities of the future to embed clean electricity as the way in which we grow our healthy, sustainable and secure economy.

- Let's look ahead to the task at hand. A week from now, we've got COP26 kicking off in Glasgow. There's already some notable absences. Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country by the way, is the second largest emitter, not attending. Russian President Vladimir Putin also reportedly not attending. When you think about the scale of a crisis you're trying to address, what has the US see is the key priorities?

GINA MCCARTHY: Well, I think we all know that under the prior administration, there was a lot of consternation because many of the leaders of a variety of countries did not attend. But we know that this COP is different. We know and the president knows, and he's going to make this case, that the United States is back. And we intend to show leadership here once again. He's showing that through our domestic actions. He's showing that through the investments that he is working with Congress to deliver. And when we get there, we are going to be meeting with what I already know would be more than 100 or 150 world leaders who are planning to attend.

And you're absolutely right, that both China and Russia are key players in this. But don't give up. I know that there is an opportunity here. And that they may attend. And even if they don't, I think they know there's going to be a lot of decisions made that are going to be important to them and their countries.

Just think about the global methane pledge that so many-- 150 countries have already signed. We will be there celebrating success. We will be there to accelerate action. We will be there to talk about the urgency of now. We think they will want to be there to ensure that their countries are counted in this effort. We will not get there without every country. And we fully expect that the work that Secretary Kerry has been making to reach out with these countries will pay off big time.

- What would you consider to be a successful outcome of COP26?

GINA MCCARTHY: Well, I want to make sure that the United States has significant opportunity to reduce our most global warming chemicals. We're talking about HFCs, which we've stepped out on. We're going to have a methane rule to show our leadership. So getting the global community to continue to accelerate on those will buy us time.

But the key deliverable for this is to make sure that 1.5 degrees stays on the table. And that will demand accelerated action. So we need to have the commitment across the world to actions that are going to advance. It doesn't hurt at all that President Biden has really upped the commitment that the US is making to $100 billion. That is two to four times what we've ever committed to before.

And we also are working on an initiative to make sure that every developed country is working with low and middle income countries to support them in infrastructure investments that are going to be leaning towards a clean energy future instead of coal and fossil fuels.

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