Jan 31, 2024 - Energy & Environment

John Podesta to succeed Kerry as lead U.S. climate negotiator

Image of senior advisor to President Biden, John Podesta.

Senior adviser to President Joe Biden for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation John Podesta. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

White House senior adviser John Podesta will succeed special climate envoy John Kerry in his role as top U.S. climate diplomat, the White House said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Podesta is a seasoned official with long involvement in climate issues who is close to President Biden, and can therefore credibly fill Kerry's large shoes in the role.

Zoom in: According to a statement from the Biden administration, Podesta will be based in the White House and take the international portfolio in addition to his job overseeing the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, which is President Biden's signature climate bill.

  • Podesta's title and placement would presumably avoid a Senate confirmation battle since the 2022 defense policy bill requires confirmation of State Department special envoys.

Between the lines: The appointment, first reported by the Washington Post, comes as Kerry prepares to exit his position to help Biden's reelection campaign.

  • Kerry had maintained a heavy travel schedule, often meeting with heads of state in addition to his direct counterparts, given his status as a former secretary of state.
  • Kerry led the U.S. through three U.N. climate summits, and Podesta would need to see the country through the next, slated for Baku, Azerbaijan in November.
  • In doing so, he will likely need to lean on Kerry's deputies and their staff at the State Department, Sue Biniaz and Rick Duke.

What they're saying: "We need to keep meeting the gravity of this moment, and there is no one better than John Podesta to make sure we do," White House chief of staff Jeff Zients said in a statement.

  • "Having served the three most recent Democratic Presidents over three decades, he is an American statesman, a fierce champion for bold climate action, and a leader who without a doubt the world will know has the trust of and speaks for the President of the United States."

Of note: Podesta served as a top aide to President Obama when the U.S. brokered a climate agreement between the U.S. and China.

Our thought bubble: Podesta carries the cache of a Washington insider and close aide to President Biden who is well-known to climate activists around the country.

  • However, he lacks deep relationships with some of his international counterparts, and his appointment comes amid a time of resetting climate relations between the U.S. and China.
  • Kerry's resignation announcement, which Axios first reported, came just after China's climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, retired. Kerry and Xie had a long and uniquely productive working relationship.

Go deeper: Three things to watch as John Kerry heads for the exits

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