US Climate Diplomacy Moves: Methane and Staff Updates

This post looks at recent developments that affect U.S. climate diplomacy, including progress on the Global Methane Pledge and staff changes in Special Envoy Kerry’s office.

Methane and the MEF

Since it was launched at COP26 in Glasgow, 111 countries have joined the Global Methane Pledge. Participants agreed to take voluntary actions to contribute to a collective effort to reduce global methane emissions at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030, which could eliminate over 0.2˚C warming by 2050. Because the initiative was launched by President Biden together with President von der Leyen of the European Commission, the administration sees making progress on global methane emissions before COP27 as an important goal. Consequently, methane was high on the agenda for the Major Economies Forum (MEF) meeting in January, which the United States used to move the conversation forward on methane by suggesting for consideration the possibility of countries putting forward national methane emissions reduction plans. Generally speaking, the United States was pleased with progress but will have higher expectations for MEF meeting later this year and for the COP.

Personnel Changes at the White House

In late January, Dr. Jonathan Pershing announced that he was leaving his post at the State Department. For the past year, Dr. Pershing served as the Deputy to former Secretary of State John Kerry, who is serving now as President Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. Dr. Pershing will return to his previous position as the lead of climate philanthropy at the Hewlett Foundation. His departure was expected, given that he was only granted a year of leave from Hewlett and because Pershing served previously as U.S. Climate Envoy it was not expected that he would remain in the Deputy position for long.

Secretary Kerry has since announced that Pershing’s role will be taken over by Rick Duke, a leading architect of the Methane Pledge, a former White House climate change official in the Obama administration, and a former senior policymaker on climate change at the Department of Energy. Mr. Duke is known for his exceptional knowledge of climate and clean energy policy, and for his strategic thinking and capacity to build alliances. It is unclear how long Secretary Kerry himself will stay in his current position. He may be waiting to see if Congress finally passes significant climate legislation soon since this would put the United States in a better position to press China for more ambitious climate commitments ahead of COP27. If, however, Kerry does plan to leave soon, he is unlikely to do so before Earth Day (April 22).  If Congress does not pass a new climate bill by July, Secretary Kerry’s retirement or reassignment to other Presidential initiatives could come before the end of the year.