US former secretary of state John Kerry. Picture: REUTERS/MAX ROSSI
US former secretary of state John Kerry. Picture: REUTERS/MAX ROSSI

Washington — Former secretary of state John Kerry as   special presidential envoy for climate is a  sign President-elect Joe Biden plans to fulfil promises to elevate the issue of global warming to the highest levels in his White House.

Having a climate envoy who helped broker the Paris accord and who is a seasoned politician could help co-ordinate the US government's approach to confronting global warming, which Biden has referred to as an “existential threat”.

“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” Kerry said on Monday. “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 served in the Obama administration and was viewed as a natural fit for the position. He said earlier in 2020 that in addition to rejoining the climate agreement, which Biden has called a priority for his first day in office, the next step is “to lift ambition significantly, on a global basis”. President Donald Trump quit the accord.

Already, Biden has proposed a sweeping $2-trillion climate plan that calls for an emissions-free electric grid in 15 years, and includes a target of net-zero emissions across the entire economy by 2050. A special White House position on climate could complement and co-ordinate existing federal agencies that already have a role addressing the issue, including the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates air pollution.

Progressives and others have been lobbying the White House to create a special office dedicated to climate change which they say could be created through executive fiat and could be akin to a National Security Council on climate. Some of them said naming Kerry is not sufficient.

“This is an encouraging commitment, but it is not enough,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, a grass roots environmental group. “The next White House must also include a domestic counterpart reporting directly to the president to lead an office of climate mobilisation.”

Kerry, who served as one of the three co-chairs of a “unity task force” on climate change formed by Biden and his former campaign rival senator Bernie Sanders, will be a member of Biden’s NSC, the first time the group has included an official dedicated to climate change, the transition team said.

“This appointment finally elevates climate change to the very centre of US national security policy where it belongs,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former climate adviser in the Clinton White House. “Secretary Kerry’s stature both at home and abroad instantly signals that Biden intends to make climate change among his administration’s top domestic and foreign policy priorities.”


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