Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

Reintroducing climate action to the White House: John Kerry takes lead role

After four years of the Trump administration’s lacking response to climate change, the American people recognized Biden’s insistence on addressing climate change as a critical platform. His election win was an encouraging sign for many, as it has brought a chance to slow down environmental degradation. Biden took his first act in fulfilling his promises on November 23 with the appointment of John Kerry as climate envoy.

As the presidential envoy for climate, Kerry will have the responsibility of bringing the United States back into the global fight against climate change after President Trump repeatedly ignored the issue. 

Kerry has had a long and distinguished career in politics, throughout which he has remained an active proponent of combatting climate change and limiting the use of fossil fuels. He served as a Massachusetts senator from 1985 to 2013 and was Secretary of State under the Obama administration from 2013 to 2017. Kerry played a significant role in negotiating the 2016 Paris Agreement, signing it on behalf of the United States. In 2019, Kerry formed a bipartisan organization, World War Zero, that was dedicated to encouraging action on climate change.

Kerry’s role in the administration is a new and important one. He will be a cabinet-level official and the first person to sit on the National Security Council in a position dedicated solely to tackling climate change. One of his first actions will be reentering the Paris Agreement. 

Kerry’s respected political career and commendable history in addressing environmental issues have led his appointment to be met with praise from many, including co-founder and Executive Director of the Sunrise Movement, Varshini Prakash. The Sunrise Movement is a progressive youth-led organization that advocates for climate action. Kerry and Prakash worked together over the summer on a task force to assist in the formation of Biden’s climate plan. On the day of the announcement, Prakash took to Twitter saying Kerry “really does care about stopping climate change. That’s something we can work with.”

Placing someone in a major position in the administration whose sole job is to address climate change is a relief after the last four years of climate change denial and apathy. The fact that Biden gave this role to such a high-profile politician is a promising sign that he will remain committed to the pledges he made during his campaign. He vowed to institute an ambitious climate plan once he was sworn into office, and Kerry, who is already well-established in Washington, is in a position to make Biden’s ideas a reality. All of this points to a step in the right direction. 

Although many of Kerry’s colleagues commend him for his dedication to reversing the effects of climate change and his knowledge of the issue, his appointment has been met with criticism from skeptical progressives. 

Many are concerned about just how many boundaries Kerry will be willing to push when it comes to finding solutions to the climate crisis, citing his support of market-based techniques of limiting carbon. Kerry also shares Biden’s problematic views when it comes to continuing the use of natural gas and not banning fracking—a main point of contention between progressives and the Biden administration. Experts have said that a considerable advancement cannot be made in terms of fighting climate change without a ban or reduction of fracking. 

Despite these critiques, most agree that Biden has laid a solid foundation by choosing Kerry to be the climate envoy. Along with rejoining the Paris Agreement, one order of business will be to hold a global summit on climate change within the first 100 days. As to what the future holds after that, many are still left wondering. Biden and Kerry are facing a divided White House and a divided country, where a good portion of the population is not fully educated on the consequences of the current environmental crisis. Any action taken in an attempt to solve the problem will undoubtedly require a lot of hard work. Fortunately, Kerry’s appointment is a sign that the president-elect will continue to push for environmental reform rather than following the neglectful pattern of his predecessors.

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