The urgency of tackling climate change seems, finally, to be sinking in.
Joe Biden named former Secretary of State John Kerry as the special climate envoy, a sign the president-elect is putting global warming at the centre of his foreign policy.
While secretary of state under former President Barack Obama, Kerry, 76, called climate change “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction”. In travels from glaciers in Greenland to the Solomon Islands, Kerry has emphasised cooperation on tackling greenhouse gas emissions.
It’ll be an honor to work with our allies and partners, alongside rising young leaders in the climate movement, to tackle the climate crisis with the seriousness and urgency it deserves.
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) November 23, 2020
Kerry, whose appointment does not require US Senate confirmation, will have a seat on the National Security Council (NSC) in the White House, Biden’s transition team said on Monday, marking the first time an official in that body will be dedicated to the climate issue.
“This marks the first time that the NSC will include an official dedicated to climate change, reflecting the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue,” the Biden transition team said in a statement.
Biden has pledged to reverse the course on climate from President Donald Trump, who doubts mainstream climate science. Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris agreement on climate and dismantled Obama-era climate and environmental regulations to boost drilling, mining and manufacturing.
Kerry will face a challenging task gaining the world’s trust after Trump’s rejection of climate diplomacy. As Trump blasted the Paris agreement as being too expensive for Americans, China, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter, positioned itself as a catalyst on climate, announcing ambitious new targets in September to cut pollution.
Before the landmark Paris agreement, Kerry pushed for China and the United States, the world’s second-leading emitter, to agree on emissions targets and work towards a global deal.
Kerry will likely get a quick start as Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris agreement soon after he comes into office.
Unlike Trump, Biden believes climate change puts national security at risk because it leads to regional instability and requires more humanitarian missions by the US military.
The Biden administration, which takes office on January 20, will likely help push countries to transition away from coal, oil and natural gas, develop renewable power and advanced batteries, and conserve delicate ecosystems such as forests. The job will require Kerry to go beyond advocating for action under the UN framework for climate.
“He is very well aware that the remit for the next few years is not to sit in big UN negotiation halls putting the final touches on the Paris rule book but rallying the world around key action areas,” said Paul Bodnar, a senior director for energy and climate under Obama.
Kerry will also likely work with a counterpart in the White House, expected to be announced soon, focused on domestic climate issues.
Late last year, Kerry launched “World War Zero”, a bipartisan group of world leaders and celebrities to combat climate change.
Obama expressed confidence in Biden’s choices for key national security staff on Monday but said the US’s pivot from “America First” to its traditional role as global leader would take time after Biden becomes president in January.
“There has been some damage done that is going to take some time to dig ourselves out of,” Obama said in an interview with the Washington Post. “But there’s no doubt that Joe’s got the right people to do it, and I have every confidence they’ll be able to do it.”
The incoming president will nominate longtime adviser Antony Blinken to be secretary of state. He is also selecting Jake Sullivan to be his national security adviser.
Biden is also expected to choose Janet Yellen, who was nominated by Obama to lead the Federal Reserve, as the first woman to become treasury secretary.
Biden’s emerging cabinet marks a return to a more traditional approach to governing, relying on veteran policymakers with deep expertise and strong relationships in Washington and global capitals.
Lawyer Alejandro Mayorkas is likely to be homeland security secretary and Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be ambassador to the United Nations. Avril Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA, will be nominated as director of national intelligence, the first woman to hold that post.
Thomas-Greenfield is Black, and Mayorkas is Cuban American.
They “are experienced, crisis-tested leaders who are ready to hit the ground running on day one”, the transition team said.
“These officials will start working immediately to rebuild our institutions, renew and re-imagine American leadership to keep Americans safe at home and abroad, and address the defining challenges of our time – from infectious disease to terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber threats, and climate change.”