Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) will be President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of State, and would be likely in his new position to make climate change a top focus. Charles Ebinger, director of the Foreign Policy and Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution, told the National Journal that there is no doubt Kerry, who has spoken out passionately about the need to address the threat of global warming, would push for international action on climate change. “He is impassioned on the issue and would bring it front and center,” Ebinger said.
Kerry attended the first U.N. climate summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and has become increasingly outspoken on the Senate floor where he’s witnessed years of inaction on meaningfully addressing emissions. In July 2012, Kerry wrote in an editorial published in the Fall River Herald News: “Conventional wisdom tells us that the chances of Congress acting on this issue is rapidly approaching zero. How dramatic and sad that twenty years later, as nations gather for a second time in Rio, we have failed to prove the conventional wisdom wrong.”
In that editorial he writes about melting Arctic sea ice, extreme weather events and cities like Boston where officials “are actively planning for how to manage 100-year floods that are now arriving every twenty years.” He concludes: “Now is the time to confront the conspiracy of silence on climate change. It is time for complacency to yield to common sense, and narrow interests to bend to the common good.”
Just two years earlier, Sen. Kerry had worked with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a bill that would have comprehensively addressed emissions—demanding reductions across various sectors in order to reduce emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. The bill would have regulated power plant emissions in 2012, and included other industries beginning in 2016.
During negotiations on the bill, Fox News released a story repeatedly referring to a “gas tax” as a measure of the bill—although no such gas tax existed. The widely circulated rumor, according to an extensive article in The New Yorker on the bill’s demise, led Sen. Graham to withdraw support and the Kerry-Lieberman bill as it came to be known lost political favor as well, even in the wake of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As Al Gore said in response to the bill failing: “The forces wedded to the old patterns still have enough influence that they were able to use the fear of the economic downturn as a way of slowing the progress toward this big transition that we have to make.”
But the failure of that legislation has not quieted Kerry on the issue. In August, Kerry compared the threat of climate change to that of nuclear and military threats from Iran and Syria. And as the chairman of the foreign relations committee, Kerry has pushed for the U.S. to sign the international Law of the Sea treaty which calls for better protection of marine life and addresses melting ice caps by controlling access to deep-sea energy resources and enforcing pollution and fishing controls. The treaty has been signed by the European Union and 161 countries but has failed to pass in the Senate for decades.
Kerry would almost certainly bring these concerns to a Secretary of State position and may be able to bring real action from Obama. As the National Journal article noted, Obama has failed thus far to really tackle climate change in his presidency, but “[t]hat could change if his top diplomat or Pentagon chief makes the case that the issue is a driving foreign-policy and national-security concern.”