U.S Has A New Climate Envoy

Mar 22, 2024 By Vedant J, Writer Intern
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Earlier this month, John Kerry gave his parting speech as he stepped down from his role as the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate (SPEC). 

The White House announced that decade-long climate strategist John Podesta would replace John Kerry. 

Before we jump into what this switch means, let’s take a look at the role of climate envoy and what Kerry accomplished.

John Kerry: What He Accomplished

As the climate crisis mounted, the United States recognized the need to create a special office tasked with leading American diplomacy to address the climate crisis.

On January 20, 2021, former Secretary of State John Kerry was inaugurated into office as America’s first SPEC. Since then, his team has worked closely with several State Department offices to direct reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, keeping the 1.5 degree Celsius limit attainable, and driving clean energy innovation.

Kerry accomplished a great deal over his three-year term as SPEC. He set up 20 climate Foresign Officer positions, expanded cooperations with major economies like China and India, and pushed for methane reductions (known to be the most potent greenhouse gas). He also encouraged American allies to formulate ambitious climate laws, putting them on the same level as other developed countries.

Kerry concluded his farewell speech saying "Our actions will shape lives, livelihoods, security, and geopolitics, at home and abroad, for generations to come."

John Podesta: A New Age 

Replacing Kerry is seasoned political consultant John Podesta who has been serving as President Biden’s senior advisor for clean energy innovation and implementation.

Podesta brings a wealth of experience to the table, having served under several previous administrations. While Kerry’s role involved extensive collaboration with the State Department, Podesta will remain in the White House, serving more as an international climate policy adviser than a climate envoy.

Nonetheless, Podesta faces massive challenges both internationally and domestically. Oil and gas production is continuously on the rise and 2024 will again set records for being the hottest year on record. Many experts agree that the world may surpass safe temperature limits, intensifying heatwaves, droughts, and floods. Hence, the pressure is on Podesta to direct his attention to preventing fossil fuel expansion, hopefully protecting the world from some of the worst climate calamities.

As Kerry transitions out and Podesta steps in, we can only hope that a new age in U.S. climate policy begins. 

Sources: NY Times, Guardian, State.gov, CFR.org, AIP.org