John Kerry returns as Biden's climate czar

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Former senator, presidential nominee and Secretary of State John Kerry is set to begin his latest government job after being selected by President-elect Joe Biden as the first-ever special envoy on climate.

With man-made global carbon emissions pushing temperatures to levels that threaten life on earth, Biden laid out the need for the new position to help address what he called an “existential threat” for humanity.

“For the first time ever, the United States will have a full-time climate leader to participate in ministerial level meetings, and that’s a fancy way of saying he’ll have a seat at every table around the world. For the first time ever, there will be a principal on the National Security Council who can make sure climate change is on the agenda in the situation room,” Biden said in Wilmington, Del., at an event where he introduced his picks for Cabinet-level positions.

The so-called climate czar role Kerry will fill does not, like the other nominees Biden introduced Tuesday, require Senate confirmation, but the president-elect said the position will be a powerful one.

“He will be matched with high-level White House climate policy coordinator and policymaking structure to be announced in December that will lead efforts here in the United States to combat the climate crisis, mobilize action to meet the existential threat that we face,” Biden said.

“Let me be clear: I don’t for a minute underestimate the difficulties of meeting my bold commitment to fighting climate change, but, at the same time, no one should underestimate for a minute my determination to do just that.”

Kerry’s most recent federal government position was secretary of state under President Obama. In that capacity, he helped write the Paris climate agreement, which aims to keep global average temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by securing commitments from nations to reduce carbon emissions. President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement, saying that the harm to the economy was not worth it; he also reiterated the argument put forth by some conservatives that climate change does not represent a threat to mankind.

John Kerry
The newly appointed Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)

The overwhelming majority of climate scientists strongly disagree with Trump, and have urged political leaders to take quick action so as to avert a catastrophe that they say is unfolding before our eyes and will only get worse as carbon emissions and global temperatures continue to rise.

Kerry, who served from 1985 to 2013 as a senator from Massachusetts, and in 2004 won the Democratic presidential nomination, said in 2019 that “people will die” because of Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord. Since leaving government following Trump’s win in 2016, Kerry has served on the advisory board at Climate Finance Partners, a New York investment firm that advertises itself as seeking “market solutions to address climate change.” Kerry plans to step down from that role as he begins work as the U.S. special envoy, the Biden transition team said.

After being introduced in Wilmington, Kerry said of climate change that “no country alone can solve this challenge.”

“Even the United States, for all of our industrial strength, is responsible for only 13 percent of global emissions. To end this crisis, the whole world must come together. You’re right to rejoin Paris [climate agreement] on day one, and you’re right to recognize that Paris alone is not enough,” Kerry said.

“At the global meeting in Glasgow one year from now, all nations must raise ambition together or we will all fail together — and failure is not an option. Succeeding together means tapping into the best of American ingenuity, creativity and diplomacy, from brain power to alternative energy power, using every tool we have to get where we have to go.”

Like Biden, Kerry sought to portray the fight against climate change as an “exciting” opportunity, saying “it means creating millions of middle-class jobs, it means less pollution in our air and our ocean, it means making life healthier for citizens across the world, and it means we will strengthen the security of every nation in the world.”

In describing the reason he selected Kerry to be his special envoy on climate, Biden said there was “no one I trust more.”

“If I had a former secretary of state who helped negotiate the Paris climate accord, or a former presidential nominee, or a former leading senator, or the head of a major climate organization for the job, it would show my commitment to the United States and the whole world,” Biden said.

“The fact that I picked the one person who is all of these things speaks unambiguously to my commitment. The world would know that with one of my closest friends, John Kerry, he’s speaking for America on one of the most pressing threats of our time — no one I trust more.”

As for Kerry, he reflected on his long relationship with Biden as well as their shared belief that combating climate change transcended politics.

“Fifty-seven years ago this week, Joe Biden and I were college kids when we lost the president who inspired both of us to try to make a difference, a president who reminded us that here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own,” Kerry said, in a reference to former President John F. Kennedy.

“President Joe Biden will trust in God, and he will also trust in science to guide our work on earth to protect God’s creation.”


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