John Kerry: US Presidential Envoy for Climate Change

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On December 5, 2019, Kerry endorsed Joe Biden's bid for the Democratic nomination for president, saying "He'll be ready on day one to put back together with the country and the world that Donald Trump has broken apart" and asserting that "Joe will defeat Donald Trump next November. He's the candidate with the wisdom and standing to fix what Trump has broken, to restore our place in the world, and improve the lives of working people here at home".

Presently, on Monday; President-elect Joe Biden named John Kerry, who has served as Secretary of State under former President Barack Obama and who is one of the leading architects of the Paris climate agreement, as his special presidential envoy for climate change.

Following the announcement, Kerry tweeted: “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is. I’m proud to partner with the President-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the President’s Climate Envoy.”

John Kerry, in full John Forbes Kerry, (born December 11, 1943, Denver, Colorado, U.S.), U.S. politician who served in the Senate (1985–2013) and who was the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 2004. He later was secretary of state (2013–17) in the administration of Pres. Barack Obama.

Kerry was born in a Denver military hospital, the son of Richard Kerry, a World War II pilot and diplomat, and Rosemary Forbes Kerry, a member of Boston’s wealthy Forbes family and a descendant of John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony. John Kerry, educated in New England and Switzerland, was a successful student and athlete who nurtured a long-time interest in politics.

After graduating from Yale University in 1966, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served in the Vietnam War as an officer of a gunboat in the Mekong delta. By the time he returned from Vietnam in 1969, he had achieved the rank of lieutenant and had been honoured with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts.

Concluding his military service in 1970, he questioned the purpose and execution of the war and was a co-founder of the Vietnam Veterans of America and a spokesperson for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. In this role, he gained national attention in 1971 when he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The following year he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives and enlisted in the Naval Reserve.

In 1976 he graduated from Boston College Law School and became assistant district attorney in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, winning notice for his tough stance on organized crime. From 1979 he practiced law privately for a few years before resuming his political career. In 1982 he was elected lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, and in 1984 he won election to the U.S. Senate. He was re-elected three times (1990, 1996, and 2002).

As a senator, Kerry fought for campaign finance reform, investment in public education, and deficit reduction. In his freshman term, he began an unofficial investigation that persuaded a bipartisan congressional committee to open hearings on the Iran-Contra Affair. He also pursued scandals in banking and, along with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, was known for helping to normalize relations with Vietnam by clearing up the status of American veterans declared POW/MIA (prisoner of war or missing in action). Kerry chaired several committees, most notably the Foreign Relations Committee (2009–13).

After securing the Democratic nomination in 2004, Kerry chose as his running mate John Edwards, a U.S. senator from North Carolina who had contended ably for the primary nomination. Campaigning in the general election against incumbent Pres. George W. Bush, Kerry touted plans to reduce joblessness and the national deficit, increase access to health care, and roll back Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest. Kerry also called for greater diplomacy in foreign affairs and pointed to the administration’s failure to capture terrorist Osama bin Laden and to achieve peace in Iraq. In an election with a huge voter turnout, Kerry suffered a narrow defeat.

Later in 2004 Kerry formed a political action committee that was a prominent source of funding for Democratic candidates in subsequent elections. He endorsed the successful candidacy of U.S. Pres. Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election.

In 2010 Kerry supported the passage of health care and financial reform bills seen as key to the Democratic agenda.

In 2012 he was nominated by Obama to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. Kerry was subsequently confirmed by the Senate, 94–3, and in February 2013 he assumed the post. Among his notable achievements as secretary of state was helping draft the 2015 agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States and the other permanent members of the UN Security Council [China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom], along with Germany), which placed limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the reduction of sanctions against the country.

Kerry stepped down as secretary of state when Obama’s second term ended in 2017. He subsequently sought to save the controversial Iran nuclear deal.

In 2019 Kerry was a key figure in the creation of World War Zero, an organization dedicated to fighting climate change. He also remained active in politics and was an outspoken critic of Trump. During the 2020 presidential race, Kerry campaigned for Joe Biden. Kerry wrote several books, including The New War: The Web of Crime That Threatens America’s Security (1997), A Call to Service (2003), and, with his wife, This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future (2007). The memoir Every Day Is Extra was published in 2018.

Kerry is considered to be one of the key architects of the Paris agreement, which has also been seen as one of the most important achievements of the Obama administration. He signed the Paris Climate Agreement on behalf of the US in 2016 and launched a bipartisan organisation called World War Zero in 2019 to bring together unlikely allies on climate change and with the goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions in the country by 2050.

The agreement was signed by over 195 countries in December 2015 with the idea of slowing the process of global warming by making efforts to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.

Why is Kerry’s appointment considered to be significant?

Under President Donald Trump’s administration, the US withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement formally earlier this month. Trump has said that the agreement was “unfair” to US interests and announced his decision to quit the accord in 2017, a move which was criticised by environmentalists.

On the other hand, Biden has maintained through the course of his campaign during the presidential elections that if he was voted to power he would re-join the agreement, and therefore, Kerry’s appointment is being seen as Biden keeping his promise to work on climate change. In fact, on November 5, Biden had tweeted: “Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will re-join it.”

During his campaign, Biden has proposed a $2 trillion spending plan to tackle climate change that includes promoting clean energy and climate-friendly infrastructure.

As per a study published by the Pew Research Centre in June, over two-thirds of Americans think that the government should do more on climate change and about 63 percent of Americans believe that climate change is affecting their local communities.

Kerry’s appointment is especially pivotal since it “elevates the issue of climate change to the highest echelons of government,” a report in The New York Times noted. As the special envoy with a cabinet rank, Kerry will be tasked with persuading other nations to take “increasingly bold” steps so that they cut their carbon-dioxide emissions by 2030, the Times report says.

Let’s dive in details into Kerry’s work and past contributions over the years:

Over the US decision to abstain on the Security Council resolution condemning Israel for expanding settlements in the West Bank; In a passionate speech, Kerry contended that the United States was trying to save the Jewish democratic state, not undermine it. He reminded the Israelis that the spreading of their settlements could eventually destroy the possibility of a two-state solution in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Without two states, he argued, Israel could be headed to a one-state solution where the Palestinian Arabs would ultimately outnumber the Jews. Still, the US abstention and Kerry’s remarks ignited a firestorm of anger in Congress. As one who had devoted nine months of his tenure to trying to end the Israeli-Palestinian strife, Kerry stuck by his stance.

One can trace Kerry’s belief in the power of tough and patient diplomacy to other crises that he handled. For example, in negotiating the Iranian nuclear deal, despite loud outcries against the agreement from Republicans and even some Democrats in Washington, Kerry kept at talks with the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Geneva and elsewhere during months of difficult encounters. He ultimately finalized a deal whereby the Iranians would give up their efforts to build nuclear weapons (for a period of over 10 years) in exchange for the United States and its allies dismantling their sanctions on Tehran. The bargain has held since then—even in the face of continuing intense right-wing opposition in the US Congress.

Kerry plunged directly into the Afghanistan political mess. First, as a senator in 2009, he helped convince President Hamid Karzai that he should agree to a runoff in that country’s presidential election because of widespread evidence of voter fraud (the runoff did not occur because Karzai’s opponent dropped out)- an accord that saved President Obama from further turmoil there.

Then in 2014, as secretary of state, Kerry knocked heads together in Afghanistan’s subsequent presidential contest when it was once again found to be marred by fake balloting. This time he got both candidates to consent to awkward co-presidential stewardship of the Afghan government, a compact that still holds together three years later.

The Paris Agreement on climate change was another direct result of Kerry’s steady but intense focus on diplomatic engagement. This is an arena in which he was deeply experienced: As a young senator, he had pressed for improving the planet’s environment at various UN conferences. Following the lead of President Obama and the UN’s Ban Ki Moon, Kerry helped convince 195 nations to attend the Paris talks and sign a consensus pact to lower greenhouse-gas emissions. By 2016, 194 nations had inked the deal and 125 had ratified it. While totally voluntary, the accord represented an enormous step forward in the battle against global warming.

Kerry’s greatest disappointment was the Syrian civil war. At one point, he was able to negotiate with Russia for the removal of chemical weapons from the conflict, but not an end to the carnage. Against the greatest odds, he invested immense energy and time attempting to forge an accord with the Russians for a political settlement to the conflict to bring about a cease-fire and a transitional Syrian government and elections.

But the Russians would not budge on the matter of ousting the Syrian dictator Assad. At the time, Kerry was not averse to considering the use of US force namely, airstrikes against Assad to break the deadlock, but Obama did not view Syria as a strategic interest and refused to sign off on such action. Meanwhile, the United States continued to finance and arm disparate groups of anti-Assad rebels. Eventually, US policy began to turn toward allowing Assad to stay in power.

By that time, however, a Russian-Iranian-Turkish coalition had taken over in Syria, excluding the United States. As Kerry was leaving, Moscow suggested that it might invite the Trump administration to participate in peace talks.

Kerry worked on dozens of other less noteworthy but still important matters during his tenure: the reestablishment of relations with Cuba, the opening to Burma, the efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, the military retaking of Mosul in Iraq, the Colombia peace accord, the sponsorship of an Oceans Conference, the strengthening of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the work to stamp out the Ebola and AIDs epidemics, the deployment of UN peacekeepers to African conflicts, the sanctions on North Korea, and plenty more.

Given these notable successes, his legacy makes him one of the most significant secretaries of state over the last half-century.

Kerry emerged as a relentless and tenacious peacemaker during his time in office. He continually showed his willingness to go all-out- use diplomacy, talk to foes, pursue negotiations, issue public pronouncements, take repeated overseas jaunts, and even, on occasion, broadcast threats to help reach sensible objectives.

In his efforts, he acted as a progressive and a realist about planetary affairs, especially about the need for diplomacy over war. Kerry, in his way, restored much of America’s influence around the globe and blunted much of the chronic resentment nations have felt toward the United States.


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