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Karl-Heinz Florenz

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John Kerry U.S. Secretary of State: Good Omen for Climate?

Posted: 02/04/2013 11:17 am

These days, politicians and journalists of both sides of the Atlantic try to foretell the future. All actions and every wording of President Obama and his government, no matter how (seemingly) insignificant, is reviewed with scrutiny and interpreted as to its (possible) results. And while the ephemeral nature of politics, as usual, provides an impediment to these projections, the majority of voices seem to be optimistic as to whether President Obama's first announcements to bring climate change back to the agenda will lead to concrete measures and more US action in climate protection.

From the European perspective, I see John Kerry as Secretary of State -- sworn in on Friday -- as encouraging sign with regard to the U.S. position in environment and climate protection. With the U.S. not having a ministry of environment, this decision is ever more important.

However, I would advise all onlookers to withhold a final judgement until also other vacancies have been filled, for example those of advisors of energy or climate policy. Many questions and positions remain open, the "full picture'" is not yet to be seen.

What we can already tell is that Kerry, an extremely experienced politician -- not only because he was a former democratic presidential candidate -- has been one of the most active climate campaigners for many years. He also sponsored a climate bill in the Senate in 2009 which was stopped by conservative opposition in 2010. In short, Kerry has been a passionate advocate for environment and climate protection, also in times when this was nearly universally considered a career impediment. I am delighted that this advocacy for his beliefs is now being rewarded.

Personally, I am sure that Kerry has both the passion and the stamina to "make things happen." I vividly recall his speech during the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, when all hope for U.S. action in climate change seemed to be wasted -- he invigorated the negotiations. Today, with the Durban Agreement signed, but many open questions remaining, this passion is ever more needed.

Also, the new perspective to climate change might provide new impetus: Kerry can now push climate protection as a foreign affairs politician. This makes sense, since eventually, climate change is not for do-gooders, it is about altruism. It is about competitive advantages and concrete interests of security policy. I can only applaud Kerry's statement that 'the solution to climate change is energy policy' and welcome that Kerry -- just like myself -- does not see a contradiction between responsible economic and energy policy and climate protection. Hopefully, his counterpart in the ministry of energy is as visionary.

Since it is never good to ask "too much too soon," we have to give Kerry some time to adjust and to pull his team together. Still, I intend to take him at his words he so clearly expressed during his Hearing in the Senate. With climate change among his "top priorities," it is up to John Kerry to revive climate diplomacy and bring the U.S. back to the negotiation table. The situation in Congress remains a difficult one, however, I am optimistic that Kerry will know how to use his influence and will search for new allies. He has spent part of his youth in Europe and in Germany, and thus knows the ways over here. I am sure he will be a good and most welcome partner.

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