WASHINGTON — Earlier this month, John Kerry, the recently vaccinated elder statesman of American climate politics, boarded a commercial redeye for a trip to London, Brussels, and Pariswith a single aide and the understated mission of saving the planet.
There are only nineyears left for humans to stave off the worst consequences of climate change, scientists say. The world is not on track to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, which Kerry negotiated in headier days when he was secretary of state. The United States’ credibility on the matter crumbled during the Trump presidency.
And it is up to Kerry, back in the saddle of government with a new job invented by President Biden and little in the way of a blueprint, to deal with it.
At the age of 77, Kerry had already been a Massachusetts senator for 28 years, the Democratic nominee for president, the secretary of state and, while Donald Trump was in office, a politicallyactive retiree. Now, he is the special presidential envoy for climate, a job that is less a cushy retirement gig than the challenge of a lifetime.
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“It’s obvious that the stakes couldn’t be higher,” Kerry said March 10 in Paris, where he sought by turns to make a Cassandra-esque plea for more ambitious emissions cuts and to insist the world could be on the cusp of a breakthrough.
“I just emphasize to everybody,” he said, “this is exciting!”
During his four years as the nation’s top diplomat during the Obama administration, Kerry took on the world’s most intractable problems with obsessive zeal, showing up hyper-prepared and ever optimistic that there was always a deal around the corner. His new role puts him back on the global stage — a place he has always liked to be — to cajole other countries to keep the planet livable while simultaneously making the case that the United States is still fit to lead such a charge after four years of climate denialism under Trump.