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Climate Activists “Deeply Skeptical” of John Kerry, Biden’s Climate Policy Lead

As Secretary of State, Kerry was instrumental in getting the U.S. involved in the Paris climate accords.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a conference at the COP25 Climate Conference on December 10, 2019, in Madrid, Spain.

President-elect Joe Biden announced several planned nominations for a number of high-level Cabinet positions related to national security once he takes office — including a role on the National Security Council (NSC) that will be dedicated specifically to climate change.

The Biden transition team said on Monday that John Kerry, who previously served as Secretary of State in the Obama administration, would be an adviser on climate change within the president-elect’s administration.

“Former Secretary of State John Kerry will fight climate change full-time as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and will sit on the National Security Council,” the transition team said in a statement. “This marks the first time that the NSC will include an official dedicated to climate change.”

Kerry also tweeted about the news of his appointment on Monday afternoon.

“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” Kerry said. “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’s role will be within the NSC, but the position will not require Senate approval.

As Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, Kerry was instrumental in getting the United States to take part in the historic Paris climate accord, an agreement among virtually every nation around the globe to reduce carbon emissions in order to limit global temperature increases between 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels. Kerry symbolically signed the accords with his granddaughter sitting on his lap at the United Nations in 2016, showcasing how the agreement was meant to be a promise to future generations.

But U.S. involvement in the accords was short-lived, at least temporarily: in 2017, President Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing from the agreement, citing economic factors as his reason for doing so.

Kerry slammed Trump’s decision to remove the U.S. from the accords. “People will die because of the president’s decision,” he remarked in 2019.

During the campaign, Biden said that as president he would rejoin the Paris agreement on the first day he took office. His decision to place Kerry, an ardent defender of the accords, on the NSC in a climate policy role will likely be celebrated by many who support action on climate change.

However, some may also view the choice as a moderate approach to tackling the issue, one that could signal a willingness from Biden to try and include Republicans in his plans for addressing climate change, which may result in compromises on environmental policy along the way.

In late 2019, Kerry announced the formation of a climate group called World War Zero, which was billed as a “bipartisan coalition of world leaders, military brass and Hollywood celebrities to push for public action to combat climate change.” No specific agenda was laid out by the group, but rather, its goal was to prioritize conversations about the climate crisis, and to elect people who would do the same.

Among those who joined the group was former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who said about the organization, “If I’ve got to sign up to be an anti-fracker, count me out.”

This point was not lost on those who have been critical of Kerry’s decision to embrace such thinking within the organization.

“John Kerry’s signature climate strategy seems to be selling out the working class to corporate Republicans like John Kasich and Arnold Schwarzenegger,” the Democratic Socialists of America tweeted out in response to Kerry’s appointment on Monday.

Emily Atkin, a climate journalist who has interviewed Kerry about World War Zero, also tweeted on Monday that the former Secretary of State’s approach to climate change in the past year made her “deeply skeptical.”

Within that tweet, Atkin included an article from her HEATED newsletter, written after her interview with Kerry. Atkin expressed misgivings about Kerry’s new group, saying in 2019 that, “when it comes to climate change, Republican lawmakers have consistently failed to use their power responsibly.”

“Not only that, they have sabotaged efforts to get legislation accomplished, by demanding unreasonable concessions and pulling out of important processes late in the game,” Atkin added at the time. “So I am deeply skeptical of efforts that seek to include Republicans and moderates with the assumption that they are needed to solve this crisis.”

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