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.
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.