Updated Nov 23, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Unpacking Joe Biden's decision to tap John Kerry as his climate envoy

John Kerry

Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is naming former Secretary of State John Kerry as a special presidential envoy for climate change.

Why it matters: The transition team's announcement sought to show that it will be an influential role, noting that Kerry — a former Massachusetts senator and the Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee — will be on the National Security Council.

  • "This marks the first time that the NSC will include an official dedicated to climate change, reflecting the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue," the transition team said in a statement.

What to watch: The transition team said that in addition to Kerry's position, it will name a "high-level White House Climate Policy Coordinator" next month.

Between the lines: The moves underscore Biden's goal marshal a wide-ranging federal approach that involves many agencies, which increases the importance of having some kind of coordinating officials.

Yes, but: It's not the first time that a president has had a climate adviser.

  • Former EPA boss Carol Browner was President Obama's first climate "czar."
  • During his second term, the longtime Democratic insider John Podesta worked heavily on climate as a top White House aide.

The big picture: Kerry has been involved with climate efforts for decades. He led the failed effort to steer a sweeping climate bill through the Senate in 2009-2010, and was later secretary of state during the negotiations that led to the Paris climate agreement in late 2015.

  • As secretary, Kerry also made climate a conversation point for all his bilateral meetings worldwide, since the problem transcends national borders. He also traveled above the Arctic Circle and to his seventh continent, Antarctica, to see the effects of global warming firsthand.
  • He's remained active on the topic too even outside of government, helping last year to launch the bipartisan "World War Zero" coalition designed to marshal public support for stronger policies.
  • He and Biden served in the Senate together for over two decades, with Kerry assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden became vice president. Biden also swore Kerry in as secretary of state, a sign of their political and personal closeness.

Go deeper: Biden's Day 1 climate challenges

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