ROME — John Kerry, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for climate, gave a keynote address at a closed-door meeting of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences at the Vatican May 14.
According to the Vatican press office, he also was scheduled to have a private meeting May 15 with Pope Francis.
The “concept note” for the pontifical academies’ meeting, “Dreaming of a Better Restart,” described “the current crisis and global state of confusion” as the result of “the globalism of selfishness, exclusion and the throwaway culture. Inequality and hunger are increasing, posing major ethical, economic and political challenges to which both policy makers and civil society must react.”
“Extensive changes in international policy and financial architecture are required to address inequality,” it said, and comprehensive plans must be developed to combat climate change and transform the global system of food production and distribution.
The first half of the afternoon meeting, which was to be conducted both online and in person at the academies’ headquarters in the Vatican gardens, was to focus on “Debt Relief for Developing Countries and International and Fiscal Architecture.”
Janet Yellen, U.S. secretary of the treasury, was part of that discussion online and Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was to give the keynote address. Finance or economy ministers from Mexico, Germany, Spain, Italy and Argentina also were scheduled to speak.
“Many low-income countries lack the resources to pay for vaccines, support households and businesses hurt by the economic crisis, and meet their debt payments. I am concerned about a persistent spike in global poverty and a long-lasting global divergence in prosperity,” Yellen told the meeting, according to a text posted on the Treasury Department website.
While progress has been made in suspending “debt service payments for the poorest countries,” she said, “we must do more.”
Corporate taxation and climate change are two other priority global issues for the U.S. Treasury Department, Yellen said.
Currently, there seems to be a “race to the bottom on corporate tax rates,” which may attract businesses to countries but leaves them without “stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods and respond to crises” and creates inequality among citizens as far as sharing the burden of financing government.
“We are working with G20 nations to agree to a global minimum corporate tax rate that can stop the race to the bottom,” she said. “Together we can use a global minimum tax to make sure the global economy thrives based on a more level playing field in the taxation of multinational corporations, and spurs innovation, growth and prosperity.”
On the issue of climate, Yellen told the conference, “The cost of inaction is too great.”
“We must fuel a clean energy revolution that creates good jobs, achieves justice, reduces emissions and pollution and tackles the climate crisis at home and abroad,” she said. “Simply put, Treasury is focused on mobilizing finance for climate mitigation and climate adaptation and supporting the broader alignment of the financial system with net zero” emissions goals.
The second panel, for which Kerry was the keynote speaker, was on “Climate Change and Sustainable and Fair Energy and Food System Transformation,” which the academies said would include a discussion about how “to mobilize public and private sector finance to drive the net-zero transition and to help vulnerable countries cope with climate impacts on their people’s health.”
A text of Kerry’s remarks was not immediately available.
Kerry was traveling to Rome, London and Berlin, May 13-19 to discuss ways to ramp up action to stem climate change even before world leaders meet in Glasgow, Scotland, in November for COP26, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Meeting with Italian government officials May 13, Kerry said that all countries must begin cutting emissions immediately if they are to have any hope of meeting the goal of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“It’s not enough to say, ‘zero emissions by 2050,'” Kerry said, according to ANSA, the Italian news agency. “We must do the things now that will make it possible to arrive at what we need by 2050.”