Biden sends signal he is serious about climate change with John Kerry pick

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The latest sign that Joe Biden plans to make tackling climate change a priority is his choice for chief climate diplomat.

The president-elect is tapping John Kerry, the former secretary of state and the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nominee, to be his presidential climate envoy, the campaign announced Monday.

Installing the senior statesman into the newly created position gives it gravitas at a time when U.S. credibility abroad on global warming and other issues has waned under President Trump.

The move also marks the first time the National Security Council, the main White House body for setting foreign policy, will include someone dedicated to climate change.

Part of the task facing Kerry next year is a tall one: making sure the Paris climate agreement he helped broker bears fruit.

“The work we began with the Paris Agreement is far from done,” Kerry tweeted Monday. “I’m returning to government to get America back on track to address the biggest challenge of this generation and those that will follow.”

Under that 2015 accord, nearly 200 nations agreed to set their own nonbinding targets for cutting emissions to keep global warming to manageable levels. The success of the agreement relies on how well U.S. diplomats such as Kerry can wield soft power to convince China, India and other nations to curtail emissions as they grow their economies.

Undermining that mission is the Trump administration’s rollback of rules meant to help the United States hit its own emissions goals. Trump officially withdrew the country from the agreement on Nov. 4, the day after the election, although Biden has promised to reenter the agreement on “day one” in office.

Kerry will be charged with convincing global leaders the United States is serious about addressing global warming, even as Republican administrations tend to undo the climate work of Democratic ones.

Over the weekend, Trump took a final potshot at the Paris climate accord during a virtual Group of 20 summit. The agreement, he said in a speech, “was not designed to save the environment; it was designed to kill the American economy.”

The Kerry pick pleased most people across the Democrats’ political spectrum.

In the Democratic presidential primary, Kerry went to bat for Biden during the Iowa caucuses when his candidacy was flagging. But earlier this year, Kerry sought to mend fences with the more progressive members of the Democratic Party by co-chairing a climate task force with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

The Biden campaign set up that panel to make policy recommendations and bring supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) into the fold after Biden secured the Democratic nomination. Biden has not embraced the Green New Deal pushed by Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives, but his climate proposal contains some of its key planks.

Catherine Coleman Flowers, an environmental activist in Montgomery, Ala., and Sanders surrogate on the panel, said Kerry helped smooth over disagreements during Zoom meetings involving nuclear energy and other issues.

“He was quite the diplomat in terms of trying to make sure that all sides were represented and that we could reach compromises that we could all live with,” she said. “He had a good understanding of the climate crisis.”

Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the youth-led environmental group the Sunrise Movement who also served on the task force, called the Kerry pick an “encouraging sign,” but added that a position of similar stature needs to be set up for domestic climate policy.

“What good is it to engage in diplomacy abroad if we’re not doing everything we can at home?” said Prakash, whose group had endorsed Sanders.

In response to her call for a high-level domestic climate official, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, tweeted: “Stay tuned!!”

“This official would focus on how to maximize Biden’s executive authority, while looking for legislative opportunities as well,” my colleagues Brady Dennis, Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin report after talking to two individuals briefed on the transition’s plans. “Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) is under consideration but the team is also looking at current members of Congress and others for the job, according to one of these individuals.”

For Kerry, the position is a capstone to a career focused on climate change.

As a senator from Massachusetts, Kerry unsuccessfully pushed to pass a major climate bill during President Barack Obama’s first two years in office. Later during Obama’s term, in 2013, he was put in charge of the State Department, where he spearhead negotiations that led to the Paris accord.

And while out of office last year, he launched a project called World War Zero, which brought together Hollywood stars, Washington policymakers and others to push for more aggressive climate action.

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