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Will John Kerry squander what time we have left to prevent climate catastrophe?

Here’s how we win real climate action

by Vanessa Butterworth

December 1, 2020

Last week, President-elect Biden tapped John Kerry to be his presidential climate envoy. Will he squander what time we have left to prevent climate catastrophe or be a real climate champion and push the Biden administration to take aggressive action?

Ralph Alswang

If the U.S. doesn’t start aggressively decarbonizing right now, there’ll be permanent ecological catastrophe. The debate on climate change has been over for a long time now, and we’re running out of time. It’s the 11th hour and the U.S. has squandered so much time already.

The Biden administration has to be THE climate administration.

Last week, President-elect Biden tapped John Kerry to be his presidential climate envoy. This newly created, cabinet-level role is completely dedicated to climate (a first in the U.S.!) and is meant to be one of Biden’s first signals that he’s dedicated to climate action as a real domestic and foreign policy issue.

Kerry has a long history of advocating for the climate at state and federal levels. 

As a former Secretary of State, Kerry is no stranger to creating policy. He negotiated the Paris Agreement during Obama’s presidency. Now, he has the prestige and power in the highest echelons of government to dedicate the years ahead to enacting the most aggressive climate policies the world has ever seen.

It’s not going to be easy, but Kerry certainly has the words to back up his appointment:

“Failure is not an option. Succeeding together means tapping into the best of American ingenuity and creativity and diplomacy, from brainpower to alternative energy power. No one should doubt the determination of this president [and] vice president. They shouldn’t doubt the determination of a country that went to the moon, cured supposedly incurable diseases, and beat back global tyranny in World War Two. This kind of crisis demands that kind of leadership again. And President Biden will provide it.”

But, Kerry’s role as the climate envoy will strictly focus internationally so his power will only be as strong as the action the U.S. takes at home. That means we need John Kerry to not only excel in his role as the U.S.’s climate envoy, we also need him to pressure the Biden administration to be real climate leaders at the same time. Will he be up to the task?

Currently, Biden has proposed a $2 trillion climate plan meant to bring the U.S. to net-zero emissions by 2050, but we know that’s not enough.

President-elect Joe Biden needs to take executive action on the first day of his presidency to end fossil fuel racism by:

  1. Initiating a managed phaseout of fossil fuel extraction by supporting workers affected by the transition away from fossil fuels and retiring existing fossil fuel leases.
  2. Stopping sacrifice zones by establishing a “no hotspots” policy to reduce and avoid unjust pollution disparities
  3. Creating a Climate Equity Accountability System to map and screen for environmental justice and public health impacts of federal actions.
  4. Enshrining Free, Prior, and Informed Consent and respecting Indigenous sovereignty, including for fossil fuel and other infrastructure projects potentially affecting Tribal lands, waters, and cultural resources.
  5. Eliminating fossil fuel giveaways by ending federal leases, subsidies, permits, and international financing for fossil fuel production and infrastructure.
  6. Rescinding federal permits for the Dakota Access, Line 3, and Keystone XL Pipelines.

And, that all should start with appointing all climate leaders to his cabinet and enacting a Just Recovery that enables us all to thrive.

We need John Kerry to be up to the task and do what needs to be done for people and the planet: actively push for change inside and out of his role every single damn day.

A coalition of community activists, unions, climate advocates, and newly-elected members of Congress rally at the DNC HQ.

Here’s what it all really comes down to: We’re at a time in history where we need more than high-profile climate appointments like Kerry’s. We need more than grandiose speeches and whirling promises of change. We need our leaders to be brave and aggressively decarbonize the U.S. economy as fast as possible.

Every single person in the Biden administration needs to do their part every single day if we want to stop complete climate catastrophe.

With a possible Republican Senate and an electorate plagued with disinformation, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to do. The next ten years are going to be hard. But we’ve faced challenges before. With Biden and Kerry (and a soon to be announced domestic climate advisor) in the mix, I know we can flex the power we’ve been building as a movement to win the just and green climate future we all deserve.

Donate to all our campaigns and help pressure the Biden administration to take real climate action now.

Vanessa Butterworth

By Vanessa Butterworth

Vanessa currently works as the Senior Digital Strategist at Greenpeace and sits on the Rising Tide North America organizing team. Outside of paid work, she organizes with frontline groups against police brutality, gentrification, and environmental racism. Over the past ten years, she's worked on campaign, mobilization, direct action, and movement strategy across the US and Canada. She's originally from Mississauga of the New Credit Territory as known as Caledon, Ontario, but now lives in Oakland, California on Ohlone Territory.

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