WASHINGTON – When John Kerry served as Secretary of State to President Barack Obama, he helped guide the negotiation of the Paris Agreement, locking in the commitments of nearly 200 countries – including his own – to start reversing the dangerous global warming.
Now his diplomatic task can be even more difficult.
On Monday, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said he intended to appoint Mr. Kerry as his special presidential climate envoy, a cabinet-level position in the new administration. In this role, Mr. Kerry will have to persuade skeptical world leaders, burned by the Trump administration’s hostility to climate science, that the United States is ready to resume its leadership role – and will keep the course, whatever the future of the Biden administration.
Those who know him best say Mr. Kerry is well suited for the role. He has been campaigning for action against climate change since attending the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, where the framework for the United Nations climate negotiations was formed.
He also knows the struggle to persuade his own country to act, having co-drafted climate change legislation as a senator from Massachusetts which ultimately failed. Then, after joining the Obama administration, he made climate change a central part of the State Department.
Mr. Kerry’s appointment to serve on the National Security Council as climate envoy elevates the issue of climate change to the highest levels of government and makes it an urgent threat to national security. “America will soon have a government that will treat the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it poses,” Kerry said in a statement.
In appointing Mr Kerry, Mr Biden exploited his government’s biggest name so far, a seasoned politician able to draw attention to himself and his causes since leading the opposition in the Vietnam War as a decorated young veteran. “John Kerry brings unparalleled stature, a record of effective, tireless and indefatigable negotiator, a record of deep engagement on this issue and an understanding of what the speed and scale of transformation needs to be,” said Todd S Stern, who served as the State Department’s climate envoy under Obama.
As Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Kerry will attend ministerial-level meetings with a cabinet rank. He won’t have to face confirmation from the Senate, according to Mr Biden’s transition team.
The move marks the first time that the National Security Council will include a dedicated climate change official, “reflecting the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue,” the transition team said. in a press release.
“It’s an unusual sign, and certainly one that will catch everyone’s attention internationally. Every government from China to the EU to India is going to sit down, “Wow”, ”Stern said.
Paul Bodnar, chief executive of the Rocky Mountain Institute, which works on climate policy, and who served on the climate change negotiating team under Secretary Kerry, called it “a dream choice for this type of role ”and“ a strong signal of the importance of the climate to the new administration.
Mr Bodnar described Mr Kerry as someone who “does homework” on politics even as he works in the room as a negotiator. During the Paris climate negotiations in 2015, he recalled, Mr. Kerry “almost alone among the climate“ ministers ”of other countries, spent most of two weeks walking the corridors of the center giant conference day and night, to listen and to defend, to get into the details.
Democratic administrations in the United States have a habit of joining climate pacts like the Paris Agreement (and before that, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997) only to be abandoned by subsequent Republican presidents. Restoring the credibility of the United States once again will be a challenge, but several international leaders have said they look forward to seeing Washington back at the table.
“I think the rest of the world will welcome the United States under Biden and Kerry with open arms and with tremendous relief,” said Saleem Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Center for Climate Change and Development, which works in close collaboration with the poorest and the poorest. vulnerable countries.
According to Mr. Biden’s transition team, the president-elect will also appoint a White House climate policy coordinator in December who will help streamline national policies on climate change across federal agencies.