WASHINGTON - John Kerry's two-year-old granddaughter sat on his lap as the then-secretary of state signed the U.N. Paris agreement on climate change on behalf of the United States in 2016.
When President-elect Joe Biden named him the first-ever climate envoy for national security on Monday, Kerry posted a photo of that moment on Twitter.
The image speaks to Kerry's commitment to fight climate change as a duty to future generations.
"The work we began with the Paris Agreement is far from done," he wrote. "I'm returning to government to get America back on track to address the biggest challenge of this generation and those that will follow."
Environmentalists cheered the appointment.
"There are few people in the world with as remarkable a track record on climate change as John Kerry," said World Resources Institute CEO Andrew Steer in a statement.
Kerry was instrumental in negotiating the Paris accord. Before that, he worked with Chinese officials on an agreement to reduce that nation's greenhouse gas emissions. Having the world's two top emitters on board made the path to the global agreement clearer.
However, many Republicans continue to argue that the Paris agreement disadvantaged the United States because U.S. emissions reduction pledges were larger than those of other major emitters such as China and India. The accord does not require countries to meet their pledges, however.
As a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, Kerry sponsored a bill aiming to limit energy production from fossil fuels, the most comprehensive legislative effort to do so. The bill passed the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate in 2010.
Kerry joins an administration that aims to put climate change at the top of its agenda. Biden campaigned on the issue and named it one of his highest priorities upon taking office.
It will mark a sharp break from the Trump administration.
In addition to loosening dozens of regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel producers, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the climate agreement that Kerry signed.
The U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement officially took effect on November 4, the day after the election that Biden won. Biden has said he plans to rejoin the agreement soon after taking office.
Kerry's appointment "sends a powerful signal to the rest of the world that the United States is ready to step back into a role of climate leadership," said a statement from John Podesta, founder of the left-leaning policy research Center for American Progress, and Christy Goldfuss, the CAP's head of energy and environment.
Climate change and national security
His job will include not only repairing relationships frayed in the Trump years. Scientists say time is running out for the world to make the drastic cuts in emissions needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. Kerry needs to convince other countries to do much more.
"He is very well aware that the remit for the next few years is not to sit in big U.N. negotiation halls putting the final touches on the Paris rule book but rallying the world around key action areas," former Obama administration energy adviser Paul Bodnar told the Reuters news agency.
While the duties of the new climate envoy are not laid out, Kerry will be part of the White House National Security Council.
It is the first time that the issue will get its own seat at the table, although even the Defense Department, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has considered climate change a "threat multiplier," worsening existing tensions.
Most recently, a 2019 report began, "(t)he effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense...missions, operational plans, and installations."
While Kerry will focus on climate change in foreign policy, the Biden team says it plans to name another official to head domestic efforts.