In a statement, White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients praised Kerry for having “tirelessly trekked around the world” over the past three years, “bringing American climate leadership back from the brink and marshaling countries around the world to take historic action to confront the climate crisis.”
“We need to keep meeting the gravity of this moment, and there is no one better than John Podesta to make sure we do,” Zients said, adding that Podesta will continue to be “at the helm of driving the implementation of the most significant climate law in history.
Having served the three most recent Democratic Presidents over three decades, he is an American statesman, a fierce champion for bold climate action, and a leader who without a doubt the world will know has the trust of and speaks for the President of the United States.”
The timing of the move is in flux. Kerry has not set an exact date for his departure, although it will probably be between early March and late April. Another factor complicating the move: The 2022 defense policy bill included a provision that requires the Senate to confirm special envoys reporting to the State Department.
However, White House lawyers believe that the provision won’t apply to Podesta’s new post. Kerry was not subject to the provision when he became climate envoy. Although Podesta will be based at the White House, he will closely coordinate with two top deputies at the State Department, Sue Biniaz and Rick Duke.
Biniaz was the State Department’s lead climate attorney for nearly three decades before being named the U.S. deputy envoy in 2021. Podesta, a longtime Democratic power broker, has served in three administrations.
In 2016, while serving as the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, Podesta had his hacked emails released by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization founded by Julian Assange.
Jake Schmidt, senior strategic director for international climate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Podesta has “big shoes to fill,” noting that Kerry established close relationships with many world leaders.
“Podesta is probably a little less known in the international community,” Schmidt said. “But it’ll be very clear to the world that he has spoken on behalf of multiple presidents and has the ear of President Biden.”
Kerry, who turned 80 at the U.N. climate talks last month in Dubai, helped clinch a landmark agreement at the summit. For the first time, the deal calls for phasing out fossil fuels, the primary driver of rising temperatures around the globe. The next U.N. climate summit is set to take place in November in Baku, Azerbaijan.
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