President-Elect Joe Biden's choice of John Kerry as climate czar draws both praise and criticism

Former Secretary of State John Kerry. | 

By Dan Bacher | 

Washington, DC — President-elect Joe Biden announced that he will appoint former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry to be his special presidential envoy for climate, a new position in the cabinet.

Responses from national environmental, climate, indigenous and public interests groups to Biden’s announcement ranged from praise by the Sierra Club to cause for alarm by Food and Water Watch.

Kerry will serve as a cabinet-level appointee and on the National Security Council, the first time in history that the Council includes a member solely focused on the climate crisis, environmental groups noted.

The former Secretary of State represented the US at global climate negotiations. Under President Obama, Kerry signed onto the Paris Climate Accord in 2015. Most recently, he served as the co-lead of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force.

Kerry tweeted that “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is.”

Sierra Club Acting Deputy Director of Policy, Advocacy, and Legal Dalal Aboulhosn released a statement praising the announcement:

“From being a leading voice championing legislation in the Senate, to guiding the world in global action, to crafting a unified path for the Democratic Party, Secretary John Kerry is a preeminent climate champion. His appointment as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate not only signals to the world that the United States will once again take up the mantle of global leadership in addressing climate change, but demonstrates that President-elect Joe Biden is following his commitment to use a whole of the government approach to tackling the crisis.

“The Sierra Club applauds President-elect Biden’s announcement of Secretary Kerry as Special Envoy, and we look forward to working with him and the Biden Administration to return the United States as a global leader on climate action.”

Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, North America Director, also lauded Biden’s choice of Kerry as “climate czar,” but said Kerry must prioritize “working closely with Black, Indigenous, and communities of color around the world.”

“The appointment of John Kerry as a full-time International Climate Envoy aligns with the Biden-Harris team’s orientation to climate policy, and is a signal of commitment to collaborative action,” said O’Laughlin. “Kerry must lead the Biden administration to demonstrate their global commitment to climate leadership beyond the Paris agreement, and we look forward to working with him and the national counterpart, once appointed, starting on day one with executive actions from The Frontlines Climate Justice Executive Action Platform and”

“Sec. Kerry must prioritize working closely with Black, Indigenous, and communities of color around the world who are most impacted by the climate crisis, and young leaders calling for critical environmental justice and climate measures at scale of the Green New Deal. We are ready to work with Kerry to sharpen the urgency and existential importance of the Biden administration’s climate plans, with emphasis on the Global South and commitment to advocating for the communities hit first and worst by the crisis,” she stated.

She noted that this summer, John Kerry represented the Biden campaign in a unity council bringing together climate progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sunrise Executive Director Varshini Prakash with more centrist voices around a shared climate platform.

“While this unity council strengthened Biden’s climate plan significantly around timeline and accountability for the fossil fuel industry, continued reliance on fracked gas, nuclear power, and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) remains a concern,” she said.

She also noted that is “part of a growing movement to demand Biden keep fossil fuel ties out of his cabinet and administration, and take swift and immediate action for a just transition off fossil fuels.” For the Biden-Harris administration, this means:

  • Keep fossil fuels in the ground, including honoring Indigenous rights and stopping the Keystone XL pipeline for good; ending fossil fuel leasing on public lands; and ending fracking;
  • Hold billionaires and polluters accountable for the climate crisis;
  • Immediately re-join the Paris agreement and commit to going far beyond its already-short commitments;
  • And fully back a Green New Deal roadmap that transitions us off fossil fuels, creates millions of good, union jobs, and builds a world where all of us are safe from climate disasters

On the other hand, Food & Water Action Executive Director Wenonah Hauter issued a statement saying the organization was “alarmed” by Biden’s Choice of Kerry:

“Having held cautious optimism that President-elect Joe Biden could be persuaded to take a bold, determined approach to tacking the climate crisis from day one, we are suddenly alarmed by his choice of John Kerry for climate czar. Kerry has been a long-time apologist for fossil fuel fracking, and a reliable promoter of false climate solutions like market-based carbon-trading schemes. Kerry’s proposals are tired ideas from years past that will do little or nothing to address our climate crisis, and will actually continue to place a disproportionate, unjust burden on vulnerable communities that have borne the brunt of fossil fuel pollution and climate impacts for decades now.

“Biden’s appointment of John Kerry is a clear indication that he is not yet motivated or prepared to adequately address the climate crisis with the seriousness it requires. We have our work cut out for us.”

In a tweet, the Indigenous Environmental Network said that they hope that Kerry focusing on stopping fossil fuel emissions at their source — and warned that frontline communities would “take him to task” if he doesn’t:

“While good 2 see @JoeBiden prioritize climate we hope @JohnKerry focuses on stopping emissions at source & not pander to the oil and gas industry with middle of the road climate policies. If he don’t, best believe our movement & frontline communities will take him to task.”

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