Kerry’s approach to climate is, essentially, a foreign-policy approach, to “work with our allies and partners, alongside rising young leaders in the climate movement,” i.e., he’ll attend a lot of conferences and get his picture taken with Greta Thunberg. But if the Biden administration wants to do something meaningful on climate on the world stage, it is going to have to do something in Washington, because any meaningful commitment would require a treaty with Senate confirmation and wide buy-in. The failure of the Paris Agreement should make that much plain.
The consensus to get that done does not currently exist, and John Kerry is the wrong man — maybe the wrongest man — to try to forge such a consensus. Biden would have got a lot further with someone like James Baker or Christine Todd Whitman.
The Trump administration had many of the wrong ideas and wrong goals, but, even with that it mind, it is worth understanding that it was a failure on its own terms: no big beautiful wall paid for by Mexico, no smaller trade deficit with China, etc. Biden is positioning himself to end up in the same situation. If all he wants to do is to be president — and that may be it — then presidential-envoy dog-and-pony shows are fine. If he actually wants to get something done, he’ll have to take some risks and try some new things.