Secretary of State nominee John Kerry, with 20 years of concern about climate change, is expected to push the issue to center stage as a slow-motion crisis in need of a global solution.
When he sought to defeat President George W. Bush in 2004, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts made a point of challenging the Bush administration's backtracking on the issue and rejection of climate science. In contrast, he told the nation, he “believes in science.”
Kerry has been pushing for action on global warming since he attended the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. He has since attended multiple United Nations climate-change negotiations, including helping Obama with some preliminary discussions with India and China at the U.N. talks in Copenhagen in 2009.
He co-authored unsuccessful legislation in the Senate to set up a cap-and-trade system to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. He and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, co-wrote a book, “This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future.”
A clue to his current thinking came in August when he spoke on the Senate floor, saying that planetary warming was “as dangerous as any sort of the real crises that we talk about.”
“Today we had a hearing in the Foreign Relations Committee on the subject of Syria, and we all know what’s happening with respect to Iran, and nuclear weapons and the possibility even of a war,” Kerry said. “Well, this issue actually is of as significant a level of importance, because it affects life itself on the planet, because it affects ecosystems on which the oceans and the land depend for the relationship of the warmth of our earth and the amount of moisture that there is and all of the interactions that occur as a consequence of our climate.”
He elaborates his position on his Senate website: “The crisis is growing. Carbon pollution threatens to damage our children’s health and radically and irreversibly alter our climate. It threatens to bring more famine and drought, worse pandemics, more natural disasters, and human displacement on a staggering scale. In an interconnected world, the instability that would trigger endangers all of us.”
Although Obama didn’t mention climate change when he announced Kerry’s nomination, many saw a signal that it would raise the issue’s prominence in Obama's second term.
“Sen. Kerry is a true leader on climate change and other environmental issues and has spent his career advocating for policies that are good for our planet and our national security,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.
Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s commissioner for climate, applauded Kerry’s nomination via Twitter. “Confident @JohnKerry as state sec is good news for #climate. Cross fingers his dedication will make climate a strategic priority. Congrats,” Hedegaard wrote.