Dec 8, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Breaking down John Kerry's climate role under Biden

John Kerry plugging a smokestack with his finger

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Joe Biden's team had previously announced that John Kerry will be on the National Security Council as its first dedicated climate official, but hadn't disclosed much about the logistics of the position. We now know a little more about how John Kerry's role as Joe Biden's special climate envoy will work — and the advice is pouring in.

How it works: Kerry's work will be under the purview of the State Department, Biden's transition team confirmed and a Politico piece reported yesterday.

What they're saying: A transition team official notes that Kerry, in his NSC capacity, will be the point person for international climate matters and negotiations.

The aide, who requested anonymity because the new administration hasn't yet begun, tells me: "His role will be fully integrated into the Biden-Harris administration’s broader diplomacy, which as always, will be helmed by the Secretary of State."

  • Politico reports that Kerry will work out of State and that Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken, if confirmed, will be his boss.
  • "Kerry, who last reported directly to the president, will soon find himself working out of the State Department again — but this time, as a subordinate to Blinken, who is 'closer to Biden on foreign policy than anyone else,' as a former Obama NSC official put it," they report.

The intrigue: The Politico story points out that all this will take some figuring out. Biden's team is also expected to name a White House domestic climate policy coordinator this month.

  • The story quotes another former Obama NSC official calling it "an unusual setup."
  • Still, Kerry and Blinken, who was deputy secretary of state under Kerry, are known to have a good relationship.

What we're watching: How Kerry and others in the fledgling administration's foreign policy orbit will try and make good on Biden's pledge to spur more aggressive climate efforts abroad.

  • In particular, on our radar is how the airier vows of "raising ambition" — which we've seen as more countries pledge long-term emissions phaseouts — may start translating into firmer steps.

This new Foreign Policy essay by Jason Bordoff, a former senior Obama aide, said Kerry's stature and high rank in the new White House signals that important policy shifts loom.

Here's a snapshot from Bordoff's piece...

  • On R&D, there's an opening for more multilateral collaboration on innovation in areas like renewables, nuclear power and CO2 capture.
  • "Through its climate diplomacy, the Biden administration can build R&D collaboration with other countries and speed up the development of new technologies by allowing countries with different skills and capabilities to share costs and expertise."
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