Feb 1, 2024 - Energy & Environment

The big challenges facing the U.S.'s new climate diplomat

A globe is displayed in a suitcase.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

John Podesta, a veteran climate wonk and senior adviser to President Biden, faces numerous challenges in taking on the portfolio of top U.S. climate diplomat.

The big picture: Veterans in climate diplomacy tell Axios that Podesta is well-positioned to follow John Kerry's high-profile stint as special climate envoy (though he won't have the same job title). But it's not going to be easy.

In the run-up to COP29 in Baku, Azerbaijan in November, he will need to:

💰 Work with international financial institutions like the World Bank, private sector players and diplomats to help drastically raise the bar when it comes to scaling climate finance.

  • This will be a key topic at the summit, but new public sector climate aid from the U.S. will be difficult to come by in an election year.

🇨🇳 Podesta assumes the role just after Kerry, and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua, stepped off diplomatic center stage.

  • Podesta is no stranger to U.S.-China bilateral diplomacy, having been closely involved with crafting a 2015 U.S.-China climate deal that helped pave the way for the Paris Agreement.
  • However, he may find it harder to carve out a lane for climate cooperation, given the strong disagreements between the world's top two emitters.

🇪🇺 Podesta has been working through U.S.-E.U. tensions regarding provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that may disadvantage European goods.

ğŸŽ¯ In 2025, the U.S., along with other parties to the Paris Agreement, need to come forward with new emissions reduction targets that include ambitious figures from 2025 through 2035.

  • Podesta will likely be tasked with putting pressure on other nations to come to the table with significant new commitments, and he'll have the U.S. climate bill and clean energy record to back him up on it.
  • Part of this work will mean translating the somewhat nebulous COP28 language committing countries to "transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems" into actions.

🧮 Podesta's continued domestic role overseeing the IRA's implementation will feed into his diplomatic portfolio, since if the U.S. fails to meet its emissions targets, he and his State Department colleagues will have a credibility gap.

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