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Climate envoy John Kerry is leaving the Biden administration after 3 years


John Kerry - American veteran, former senator, former presidential candidate, former secretary of state - is leaving his latest job as the Biden administration's special envoy on climate. This comes after a United Nations climate conference in Dubai, where, for the first time, an agreement stated that the world needs to transition away from fossil fuels. Julia Simon of NPR's climate desk is covering this story. Julia, good morning.

JULIA SIMON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, have you confirmed the story here?

SIMON: Yes, we have. NPR confirmed with multiple sources that Kerry, the first-ever climate envoy, plans to step down from his role - a role he's had for three years. Axios first broke the news over the weekend and reported that he'll step down later in the winter and will play a role in Biden's reelection campaign.

INSKEEP: OK, we mentioned that climate conference, but what can Kerry and his office say that they accomplished over the last three years?

SIMON: A lot of his work has come down to China. China and the U.S. are the world's two biggest polluters. Kerry comes in. He has this long-standing relationship with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua. It's been reported that Xie and Kerry talked frequently the last few years. Here's Alex Wang of UCLA Law.

ALEX WANG: The relationships between Xie and Kerry seem to be important. Especially when broader relations were bad, it allowed a continuation, even, you know, more informally.

SIMON: So even when U.S.-China relations were rocky around Taiwan, trade, Kerry and Xie found ways to work together on climate.

INSKEEP: Well, this is an expression of something that the Biden administration has said that they wanted, which was to work with China where they could, even as they were going to be confronting China on certain issues. What did that - go on.

SIMON: Yeah, China and the U.S. agreed to make progress on reducing methane, this really potent planet-heating gas. Both sides agreed to seek to triple renewable energy deployment globally by 2030 - to reduce deforestation, which is another driver of climate change. Also, Kerry helped pressure China to stop financing overseas coal projects.

INSKEEP: I'm interested that you use the word financing. How successful was Kerry at finding the money for developing nations to move away from fossil fuels?

SIMON: Yeah, the U.S. has fallen short on its financial climate contributions internationally. That's why Kerry has tried to leverage the private sector, including big banks. But Kerry's proposal to use carbon offsets to help finance climate action was one of the more controversial aspects of his agenda. Carbon offsets have often been proven to not reduce the emissions they claim, and Kerry also had to reckon with the fact that the U.S. is increasing its production of fossil fuels - the biggest oil producer in the world, the U.S. - the biggest gas producer in the world, the U.S. Here's Jake Schmidt at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

JAKE SCHMIDT: It goes noticed by the rest of the world that the U.S. is sort of talking out of two sides of its mouth at times. Kerry wasn't in charge of some of those pieces, but he had to sort of reconcile those as he was trying to convince other countries to step up their efforts.

SIMON: Schmidt says for whoever succeeds Kerry, what the U.S. does domestically will continue to influence how its diplomacy on climate change is received.

INSKEEP: I guess saying do as I say, not as I do, is a problematic message, to say the least. Julia, thanks so much.

SIMON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Julia Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Julia Simon
Julia Simon is the Climate Solutions reporter on NPR's Climate Desk. She covers the ways governments, businesses, scientists and everyday people are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She also works to hold corporations, and others, accountable for greenwashing.