“This marks the first time that the NSC will include an official dedicated to climate change, reflecting the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue,” the Biden transition team said in a statement.
The elevation of the issue in Kerry’s appointment previews a shift in policy and approach from the current President’s repeated denial of the scientific reality of the crisis and systematic rollback of environmental policies.
“It’ll be an honor to work with our allies and partners, alongside rising young leaders in the climate movement, to tackle the climate crisis with the seriousness and urgency it deserves,” Kerry wrote in a tweet.
The energy around the issue of the climate crisis has escalated in a short period of time. When Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, during his first presidential campaign in 2016, called climate change the foremost national security crisis, he was pilloried as not being serious about foreign policy. Five years later, the White House will have a special envoy for climate with a seat at 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 wake of the Democratic primary, he was a co-chair of the Biden-Sanders unity task force focused on producing policy recommendations on climate, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
The co-founder and executive director of a leading progressive group on climate, Sunrise Movement, congratulated Kerry on his appointment and said the creation of the role was an “encouraging sign.” Varshini Prakash, who served alongside Kerry on the unity task force, described him as “committed to engaging and listening to young voices — even when we might not always agree — and ensuring we have a seat at the table.”
But Prakash said the one role was “not enough” and that Biden’s White House “must also include a domestic counterpart reporting directly to the President to lead an Office of Climate Mobilization.”
The President-elect is expected to have a White House climate director working on domestic issues who will be on equal footing 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 lieutenant governor of the state under Gov. Michael Dukakis.
In 2004, Kerry won the Democratic nomination for president before losing the general election to incumbent President George W. Bush. In 2009, when Biden became vice president, Kerry took over his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was nominated to serve as secretary of state by Obama in 2012.
Kerry served in the Navy in Vietnam as a gunboat officer on the Mekong Delta and was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.
CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Greg Krieg contributed to this report.