Energy & Environment

Biden’s second-ranking climate diplomat stepping down

Jonathan Pershing, the Biden administration’s second-ranking climate diplomat, is stepping down, White House climate envoy John Kerry confirmed on Friday.

“When the President-elect called me about taking on this job, I called Jonathan in California to tell him we needed him on Day One. I told him we had to get the band back together. I know it wasn’t an easy call for Jonathan to uproot his family in California for a year but it was a critical call for us,” Kerry said in a statement.  

“Jonathan Pershing has lived up to the highest standards and more,” he said. 

Kerry praised his colleague, calling him a “walking encyclopedia” and a “diplomat at heart,” adding he was grateful Pershing had rejoined the Biden administration for “this unplanned tour of duty.”

“His knowledge, decades of experience, and passion have been indispensable. He’s also leader with a team mentality who helps create a sense of cohesion and camaraderie, and while he’s headed back west, he’s going to stay in the fight in every way,” Kerry said. 

A State Department spokesperson told The Hill that Pershing had planned on leaving after a year. The news of his departure was first reported by The New York Times

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced on Friday that he would be rejoining them to direct their environment program.

“Jonathan is a visionary leader who has continually helped raise the climate ambitions of decisionmakers around the world,” Larry Kramer, president of the foundation, said in a statement. “We are grateful for all he helped the U.S. accomplish in the past year, and we look forward to having him back at the helm of our Environment Program.”

Pershing’s departure comes as the Biden administration continues to seek solutions to tackle climate change, a majority priority for the administration. A U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, last November culminated in the approval of a climate pact, which included the mention of fossil fuels for the first time and a carbon offset markets framework.

But few policies have been established by the close to 200 countries that said they were planning on limiting warming levels to 1.5 Celsius degrees following the summit, The Times noted.  

Asked in an interview with the Times what Pershing’s level of optimism was that countries would be able to limit warming to 1.5 Celsius degrees, he replied “I think 1.5 is technically achievable, and politically really tough.”

“In my mind, the optimism is that there is a pathway. And the reason I say it that way, is that I look at the world, and the world is consumed by a series of global issues and other threats and political disagreements,” he added. “What I also see is some willingness — maybe not yet enough, but some — willingness to set some of those aside and engage on the climate front anyway. And to me, that is huge.”

Rachel Frazin contributed.

Tags Climate change John Kerry John Kerry Jonathan Pershing

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