Scoop: John Kerry to leave Biden administration, help campaign
Why it matters: Kerry, 80, thinks Biden's reelection is the "single biggest" difference that can be made this year for climate progress at home and globally, a source close to the administration told Axios.
What's happening: Kerry — former Secretary of State and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Democratic nominee for president in 2004 — plans to help tell the climate story in the context of Biden's campaign.
- Kerry is working with White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients on transitioning out of government in the coming months (before spring).
What we're hearing: Kerry met with Biden in the Oval Office on Wednesday to catch up after last month's historic COP28 climate summit in Dubai.
- In the conversation, Kerry emphasized his gratitude for the assignment, his belief that Biden has amassed a trailblazing climate record at home and globally, and his excitement about the difference renewed U.S. leadership has made globally over the past three years, the source said.
The big picture: Kerry faced a formidable challenge since his appointment was announced in November 2020, alongside Biden's core national security team.
- He needed to reestablish U.S. credibility on climate change after the Trump administration backed out of the Paris Agreement.
Kerry brought a rare stature and deep experience to the job: He's able to meet with world leaders as well as fellow climate envoys, and has been involved in this issue since his time as a senator.
- Kerry's successor will encounter a world that's increasingly skeptical about U.S. climate commitments in the run-up to the election.
The intrigue: Kerry was a leading voice in the administration in favor of engagement with China, the world's top emitter.
- He sought to separate climate policy from the myriad issues souring relations between the two countries, with mixed success due to geopolitical headwinds.
- Kerry argued that no climate solution could be effective without the participation of the top two emitters.
The intrigue: Kerry's longtime Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, who was brought out of retirement when Biden named Kerry to the post, just retired again. Xie's plans prompted speculation about Kerry's future.
- The two announced a limited bilateral climate deal at COP26 in Glasgow, and another in the runup to COP28.
- The countries found the most fertile common ground in addressing methane emissions, a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas.
Zoom in: Under the jet-setting Kerry, the U.S. joined a COP26 global agreement to set up a fund that would compensate developing nations for climate change-related damage, and the non-binding COP28 outcome of moving away from a fossil fuel-based energy system.
- But Kerry couldn't offer large monetary commitments for climate aid, since the Republican House controlled the purse.
- So he focused on scaling up private-sector funding for climate action, arguing that national governments lack the money needed to fully address the problem.
What's next: Kerry will stay on the job full-time through his exit.
- He's part of the U.S. delegation to next week's World Economic Forum in Davos, where he'll expand the First Movers Coalition he founded.
- The coalition unites 85+ of the world's largest companies behind 100+ specific purchase commitments. That "demand signal" totals over $13 billion — the highest dollar-value commitment to emerging clean fuels and products in world history.
Ben Geman contributed reporting.