President-elect Joseph R. Biden will name John Kerry, former US Secretary of State, to be the first presidential envoy for climate, creating a new environmental cabinet-level position. Kerry played a significant role in negotiating the Paris Agreement, getting pledges from almost 200 countries to mitigate climate change. President Trump walked away from the Paris Agreement; Kerry will have to pivot back.
Greenpeace USA has released a timely plan that could help guide Kerry as climate envoy. Released last week, the “Just Recovery Agenda” has more than 100 policy recommendations, mapping with vision a way to create new systems that place the priority on the health of the planet and its inhabitants, above corporate greed. As one of the goals states, “Everyone has what they need to thrive, including dignified work, healthcare, education, housing, clean air and water, healthy food, and more. We shift from an economy that is extractive and exploitative to one that regenerates and repairs.”
The agenda charges that this period of time is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for transformational change, purposely shifting from “an economy that is extractive and exploitative to one that regenerates and repairs.” The pre-COVID world was already in crisis, coupling sea level rise, global wildfires, record-breaking storms, and other ecological disasters with deep levels of inequality and inequity. There should be a planet metamorphosis, a reset, not a return to what was already wrong.
The policy agenda is not just about renewable energy. Its scope is widespread, from enhancing voting rights, to establishing a $15 hourly minimum wage, to enacting the BREATHE Act to end police brutality. It also seeks to invest in communities of color and strengthen antitrust standards to weaken corporations’ power. Greenpeace builds here on the proposed For the People Act (HR 1), a bill sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) in 2019 that would have promoted public financing of elections and reinforcing ethics and financial disclosure.
Greenpeace USA campaigns director James Mumm notes it is time to move the federal government to fix the problems instead of exacerbating them, “as we look to recover from the interlocking crises we face as a nation.”
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This moment calls us to be bold and advance solutions at the scale science and justice demand. It calls us to be holistic and navigate out of multiple crises at once. And it calls us to be visionary in our pursuit to people—not corporations or wealthy elites—at the heart of governance and public life.
To transform the world, interwoven problems must be addressed at the same time. For example, pollution and climate damage cannot be separated from inequality and health. Communities of color in the US are more likely to be subject to pollution. Those same communities have more coronavirus cases of greater severity and higher maternal death rates. The Greenpeace Policy Principles in the agenda state that the most vulnerable should be protected, that the rights of indigenous peoples should be honored and respected, and “opportunity for all, regardless of borders, citizenship, and status” must be provided.
The Principles also say that basic needs such as clean drinking water, clean air, healthy food, and safe housing are rights. It suggests that not only should COVID-19 vaccines be free, there should be affordable, quality healthcare for everyone.
Mumm believes the administration taking over on January 20 can take the lead on addressing the policy changes needed. “Over the past four years, we have cared for one another,” he observes. “Now, we must come together to ensure that Joe Biden and the new Congress care for us, and to see that everyone—no matter their race or where they come from—has what they need to thrive.”
“Together we will build a movement broad, inclusive, and powerful enough to deliver the future our communities need and deserve,” the agenda states. “Together we will rewrite the rules of society.”
It looks like John Kerry may have a full plate in January.—Marian Conway