Kerry aims to talk US back into a lead role in climate fight

Former Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)
Former Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

From a wood-paneled library in his Boston mansion, new climate envoy John Kerry is talking the U.S. back into a leading role in global climate action, making clear the nation isn't just revving up its own efforts to reduce oil, gas and coal pollution but that it intends to push everyone in the world to do more, too.

Kerry’s diplomatic efforts match the fast pace of domestic climate directives by the week-old Biden administration, which created the job Kerry now holds. Those directives include a Biden order expected Wednesday spelling out how U.S. intelligence, defense and homeland security agencies should address the security threats posed by worsening droughts, floods and other natural disasters under global warming.

At 77, Kerry is working to make a success out of the global climate accord that he helped negotiate in Paris as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state — and that he then saw rejected by President Donald Trump, who also spurned all other Obama-era legacy efforts to wean the U.S. and global economies off climate-damaging fossil fuels.

Success for Kerry is hardly assured. At home, he faces pushback from the oil and gas industry and hears concerns that jobs will be lost. Internationally, there's uncertainty about whether Biden's climate commitments can survive the United States' intensely divided politics, let alone the next presidential transition.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are pushing him to be aggressive — even demonstrating outside his house on his first full day on the job.

Underscoring the urgency, Kerry -- working from his home on Boston’s patrician Beacon Hill during the COVID-19 pandemic -- sat before a computer screen and started talking before sunup last Thursday, his first full day in his new job, to a global business forum in Europe.

Since then, he has spoken virtually with U.S. mayors, foreign presidents and premiers, government ministers and others, until the light from the setting sun slides down the gilt spines of the shelves of leather-bound books in his library.

Kerry exhorts: Put your big one-off COVID-19 economic recovery funding into projects that boost cleaner energy. Get green projects going fast in Republican-leaning U.S. states to prove renewable energy can mean jobs and build needed political support. Get everyone to talk to China about things like stopping the building of dirty-burning coal-fired power plants.