White House climate czar John Kerry was all about the Benjamins when making his green energy pitch last week to the global elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“So how do we get there?” he said. “Well, the lesson I’ve learned in the last years — and I learned it as secretary of state and I learned it since reinforced in spades — is money, money, money, money, money, money, money.”
Roughly two years into the first-of-its-kind job as special presidential envoy for climate, Mr. Kerry is spreading the anti-fossil-fuel message far and wide. Yet he is taking political punches from those he’s trying hardest to please: environmentalists.
Green activists say Mr. Kerry has failed to keep key promises. His unfinished to-do list will get fresh scrutiny now that the climate agenda is expected to stall in the divided Congress.
“It’s definitely been a mixed bag, and I think that’s been the John Kerry experience for a long time,” said Collin Rees of the green energy advocacy group Oil Change International. “It’s not particularly surprising that when you bring him in and combine him with a position that’s a little unclear, that’s what you might get.”
Mr. Kerry, an Obama administration secretary of state and one-time Democratic presidential nominee, declined to address the criticism.
Environmentalists are looking to Mr. Kerry to follow through on promises, including for the U.S. to fulfill a multinational pledge to end direct international public financing for fossil fuels and to provide money to a United Nations fund for poorer countries most impacted by climate change.
“Looking back at my hopes when [his position] was first announced, I’m most definitely disappointed,” said Kat Maier, national U.S. coordinator of Fridays for Future, the youth-led climate movement founded by activist Greta Thunberg. “It’s one of those things where there’s so much talk and so little action.”
Meanwhile, Republicans say Mr. Kerry embodies a radical agenda rife with hypocrisy as he travels the planet on planes that emit greenhouse gases.
Over a roughly 15-month span, Mr. Kerry flew more than 180,000 miles on flights that emitted more than 9.5 million pounds of carbon, roughly 300 times an American’s average annual carbon footprint, according to an analysis by The Washington Free Beacon.
This month, he has jetted off to Davos and to Mexico City for President Biden’s meeting with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.
Mr. Kerry’s office says he flies commercially or on military aircraft, which were the travel arrangements made in response to criticism for using his family’s private plane in 2019 for a trip to Iceland to receive a climate award.
“If you offset your carbon, it’s the only choice for somebody like me, who is traveling the world to win this battle,” he told an Icelandic news outlet at the time.
It’s unclear how much he uses his family’s 1995 Gulfstream jet, which is owned by his billionaire wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry. The tail number formerly associated with the aircraft is no longer “available for public tracking per request from the owner/operator,” according to FlightAware’s website. A Twitter account that tracked the plane’s movement was taken down after Elon Musk became CEO.
Mr. Kerry has also faced scrutiny for refusing to disclose details about his State Department office, such as his salary, travel costs, staffing information and calendar records. He reportedly operates on a nearly $14 million budget with dozens of staffers.
The right-leaning watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit in October to force the disclosure of such public records.
Some say Mr. Kerry’s aviation habits aren’t a problem given the nature of his job description.
“As many people may disagree with it, this administration’s agenda on climate change has been to reestablish itself as a participant. It, frankly, has done that, and John Kerry has really been the voice of that,” said Frank Maisano, an energy and environment specialist at the industry-focused international law firm Bracewell. “Not everyone can be Greta Thunberg and take a boat trip for four weeks across the ocean. It’s a little bit unfair to someone in this international of a position to say they shouldn’t travel internationally.”
Mr. Maisano said the administration should use the spotlight on Mr. Kerry as an opportunity to press the aviation industry, which has largely escaped scrutiny, to take more climate action, such as using more sustainable jet fuel.
Despite news reports last year that Mr. Kerry was poised to quit the White House climate job, he insists he has no plans to step down from his Cabinet-level position.
White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy resigned in September after months of speculation. Ali Zaidi has been promoted to the role and whispers that Mr. Kerry could be next.
“Why would he leave?” Mr. Maisano said. “He gets to gallivant all around to all these international meetings all around the world and participate, and he doesn’t have the responsibilities that he had when he was secretary of state. It’s like the fun version of the secretary of state job. I don’t know why he would leave such a position.”