John Kerry to retire as top US climate negotiator

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John Kerry, the top US climate diplomat and former presidential candidate, will retire in coming months, shortly ahead of a US election in November that could return Donald Trump to the White House. 

Kerry, who turned 80 last month, told staff on Saturday that he would remain in his post until the end of winter or early spring, according to a person familiar with his message. 

According to Axios, which first reported that Kerry would step back, the former Massachusetts senator, 2004 Democratic presidential nominee and former secretary of state will switch to helping Joe Biden gain re-election.

Kerry’s retirement comes at a time of political threat to Biden’s climate agenda, with the possibility of a second Trump presidency looming.

Biden has pledged to lower US emissions to 50 per cent to 52 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and passed a landmark package of $369bn green subsidies through Congress in a bid to roll out clean energy across the US.

Trump campaign officials have said the candidate would gut Biden’s climate law if elected, increase investment in fossil fuels and roll back regulations aimed at speeding up the transition to electric vehicles.

Kerry was appointed to the role of special climate envoy by Biden in 2020, and has since worked to mend the US’s tattered credibility on climate change after Trump withdrew the country from the 2015 Paris Agreement.

As Biden’s climate envoy, Kerry forged a close working relationship with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, pressing for US engagement with China on efforts to limit global warming even as geopolitical tensions between the two countries increased. 

Kerry and Xie spearheaded an agreement by the world’s two largest polluters to back a tripling of renewable energy capacity globally by 2030, and to include a broader array of greenhouse gases — including methane — in their climate targets. 

At the recent COP28 UN climate summit in Dubai, countries — including the US and China — for the first time reached a deal to transition away from fossil fuels in an attempt to reach global net zero emissions by 2050.

Global emissions are estimated to rise another 2 per cent this year. In contrast, a cut of 43 per cent is required by 2030 if the world is to stick to the 2015 Paris agreement to limit warming to 1.5C.

The US has also become the largest global exporter of LNG and its oil production has hit record highs. It is now producing more oil than any country in history even as Opec+ countries curb supply in a bid to bolster prices.

Despite this, recent analysis shows that US emissions declined 2 per cent year on year in 2023, and are now 17 per cent lower than 2005 levels.

The state department did not respond to request for comment.

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