Biden names John Kerry as ‘climate czar’ in new administration
President-elect Joe Biden on Monday named former Secretary of State John Kerry as special envoy to lead his administration’s efforts to fight climate change.
Kerry will be the “climate czar” for the incoming administration, coordinating programs that are expected to stretch across multiple agencies while leading efforts at a White House that may need to look for avenues beyond Congress to advance climate priorities.
“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is. I’m proud to partner with the president-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the President’s Climate Envoy,” Kerry wrote on Twitter.
The position will be embedded on the National Security Council (NSC), a sign of the gravity with which the administration views the 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 announcing Kerry’s selection among other top security officials. His role will not require Senate confirmation.
The transition team said Kerry’s position “will be matched” by a high-level White House climate policy coordinator who will be announced next month.
Kerry’s diplomatic background will be an asset for Biden, who has pledged to rejoin the Paris climate accord on day one of his presidency and who wants to take a leadership role on an issue that has been largely ignored by the Trump administration over the last four years.
“Secretary Kerry elevated environmental challenges as diplomatic priorities, from oceans to hydrofluorocarbons. He was a key architect of the Paris Climate Accord, and signed the historic agreement to reduce carbon emissions with his granddaughter on his lap,” the Biden transition team said in a release.
Shortly after the election, Biden cited “the battle to save the climate” among his top five priorities, calling for the nation to “marshal the forces of science” along with decency, hope and fairness.
The special envoy position would have Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 and former senator from Massachusetts, playing a key role in implementing Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan, which calls for reaching net zero emissions by 2050 and requires a massive investment in clean energy, weatherization and efforts to green the transportation sector.
The cross-cutting nature of the plan would call on action from the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy, along with related action from the departments of Commerce and Labor.
Biden has not yet named his picks to lead any of those agencies, though the transition team is in the process of vetting Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) as a potential head of the Department of the Interior, while California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols is on the short list to lead the EPA. Former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) is also seen as a contender to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, another agency that could play a role in Biden’s climate plans.
Kerry has been active on climate change since leaving office. Last year he founded World War Zero, a climate initiative to unite “unlikely allies with one common mission: making the world respond to the climate crisis the same way we mobilized to win World War II.”
He has also been a vocal critic of the Republican response to climate change.
“There are a lot of proposals, but none of them are coming from your party or your side of the aisle,” Kerry told Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) during a House Oversight and Reform Committee meeting last year addressing the intersection of climate change and national security.
He also said freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) had offered “more leadership in one day or one week than President Trump has in his lifetime” on climate change.
Kerry’s appointment generated positive reviews from Democrats and environmentalists.
“This is a clear signal to the international community that U.S. climate leadership is back, literally and figuratively,” said Christy Goldfuss, who led the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Obama administration.
Still, many said they were eager to see who Biden will appoint to oversee much of his domestic climate agenda. Progressives had pushed Biden to create an Office of Climate Mobilization, one of the items agreed to in the Biden-Sanders task forces created after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) dropped out of the presidential race.
“This is an encouraging commitment, but it is not enough. What good is it to engage in diplomacy abroad if we’re not doing everything we can at home?” the Sunrise Movement, a youth climate organization, said in a statement Monday.
“The next White House must also include a domestic counterpart reporting directly to the President to lead an Office of Climate Mobilization, who can marshal, convene, and push federal agencies, departments, states & local governments, industry, and civil society to use every tool at their disposal to address the climate crisis,” the group added.
“Especially given the possibility that Republicans might maintain control of the U.S. Senate and block meaningful legislative action on climate change, we need a White House that does absolutely everything in its power to act and pushes every federal department to do the same.”
Updated at 4:57 p.m.
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