Jan 13, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Scoop: John Kerry to leave Biden administration, help campaign

John Kerry speaks at COP28 in Dubai on Dec. 6. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, will leave the administration later this winter, and plans to help President Biden's campaign, Axios has learned.

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.

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.

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