‘Under no circumstances’: John Kerry rules out U.S. paying climate reparations to low-income countries

John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate, testifies during a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability hearing.

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U.S. climate envoy John Kerry ruled out paying into a global fund to help poorer nations stricken by the devastating impacts of the climate emergency, saying that “under no circumstances” would the White House consider delivering on reparations.

It comes at a time when countries acutely vulnerable to climate-fueled disasters are pushing for wealthy nations — that have the greatest historic responsibility for the climate crisis — to pay for past greenhouse gas emissions.

A so-called loss and damage fund was established at the annual U.N. climate summit last year. The groundbreaking agreement seeks to compensate low-income countries for the losses and damages they’re experiencing as it becomes harder for many people to live safely on a warming planet.

It remains unclear, however, exactly how much richer countries will pay into the fund. The issue of climate reparations is highly divisive and emotive, and is seen as a fundamental question of climate justice.

Asked during a hearing before a House of Representatives foreign affairs oversight subcommittee on Thursday whether he intended for the U.S. to pay climate reparations, Kerry replied, “No, under no circumstances.”

“Very good, I’m glad to hear you say that,” Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., chairman of the committee, said in response.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) speaks during a hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs at the U.S. Capitol on July 13, 2023 in Washington, DC.

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Sitting alongside a large placard entitled “What are you committing the United States to?,” Mast then placed a “no” sign next to the corresponding box on climate reparations. “I do have a ‘no,’ I’ll put it up there,” he said.

Kerry, appearing to reaffirm his view on loss and damage payments, added, “Why don’t you create an exclamation point beside it too … ?”

Mast obliged, saying he was glad they both had agreement on the issue. “There you go, there’s your exclamation point,” he said.

U.S. citizens already ‘paying’ for loss and damage

Kerry made the remarks shortly before flying to Beijing for bilateral talks on the climate crisis.

U.S. and Chinese officials are expected to discuss how to promote a successful COP28 climate summit in Dubai later in the year.

Climate justice advocates condemned Kerry’s comments on reparations.

“I have some news for [John Kerry],” Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, said via Twitter on Friday.

“U.S. citizens are already ‘paying’ for loss and damage from human induced climate change under the heat dome in Texas as well as in New York from smoke from wildfires in Canada!” he added.

People walk amid the swollen lake after heavy monsoon rains in Pushkar, in India’s Rajasthan state on July 10, 2023.

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Farhana Sultana, a professor in the department of geography and the environment at Syracuse University in New York, described Kerry’s remarks and the White House’s position on climate reparations as “disgraceful.”

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