“This is the first time that the National Security Council will include an official dedicated to climate change, which reflects the President-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue,” Biden’s transition team said in a statement.
The rise of the issue in Kerry’s appointment precedes a shift in policy and approach from the incumbent president’s repeated denial of the scientific reality of the crisis and the systematic retreat of environmental policies.
“It is an honor to work with our allies and partners, along with emerging young leaders in the climate movement, to address the climate crisis with the seriousness and urgency it deserves,” Kerry wrote in a tweet.
Energy has escalated over the climate crisis issue in a short period of time. When Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, during his first presidential campaign in 2016, described climate change as the number one national security crisis, he was vilified that he was not serious about foreign policy. In five years, the White House will have a special climate envoy with a seat at the National Security Council meetings.
In 2019, Kerry co-founded a bipartisan initiative of world leaders and celebrities to combat the climate crisis called World War Zero. In the aftermath of the Democratic primaries, he was co-chair of the Biden Sanders task force that focused on issuing policy recommendations on climate, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
The co-founder and CEO of a progressive climate pioneering group, The Sunrise Movement, congratulated Kerry on his appointment and said the creation of the role was “an encouraging sign”. Varshini Prakash, who served alongside Kerry in the Unity Task Force, described him as “committed to sharing and listening to the voices of youth – even when we don’t always agree – and ensuring we get a seat at the table.”
But Prakash said that the only role was “insufficient” and that the Biden White House “should also include a local counterpart who reports directly to the president to lead an office for climate mobilization.”
The president-elect is expected to have a White House climate director working on domestic issues who will be on par with Kerry, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to CNN.
Kerry served alongside Biden in the Senate for decades. He was first elected to the Senate to represent Massachusetts in 1984 after serving as the state’s deputy governor under Governor Michael Dukakis.
In 2004, Kerry won the Democratic presidential nomination before losing the general election for incumbent George W. Bush. In 2009, when Biden became Vice President, Kerry assumed his role as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was nominated for the position of Secretary of State by Obama in 2012.
Kerry served in the Vietnamese Navy as an officer in a warship in the Mekong Delta and was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.
CNN’s Arlit Sainz and Greg Craig contributed to this report.