WASHINGTON, Dec 21 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator John Kerry's
commitment to tackling global warming will face several tests if
he takes over as secretary of state but stopping an issue that
has become a top environmental focus - the Keystone XL pipeline
- will likely not be among them.
President Barack Obama nominated Kerry on Friday for Hillary
Clinton's job and the senator is expected to win swift Senate
Kerry has been a dedicated, long-time campaigner for action
on climate change. In 1992 he attended the first Rio Summit on
climate, which formed the framework of U.N. climate talks. In
2010, he and Senator Joe Lieberman authored a sweeping climate
bill that ultimately failed.
Kerry's wife, Theresa Heinz, champions environmental causes
as chair of The Heinz Family Philanthropies, and Kerry has
lectured on national security risks posed by climate upheaval -
from the impacts of rising seas on military bases to severe heat
The approval of the TransCanada Corp's Keystone
pipeline could be one of the first items the State Department
will officially tackle if Kerry becomes secretary of state but
he is unlikely to influence the decision.
Analysts say President Barack Obama already appears to have
made up his mind on Keystone.
"We think that Obama has set the course on Keystone and it
is still poised for approval sometime next year," said Divya
Reddy, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, a political risk
Unlike some senators, Kerry has not been outspoken against
the pipeline, which will carry at least 700,000 barrels per day
as it links Alberta's oil sands to refineries and ports in
Texas. Environmentalists have battled the line because oil sands
petroleum is more carbon intensive than average crudes refined
in the United States.
The State Department is poised any day to release an
environmental assessment of the project.
"Kerry could have more of an impact advancing the climate
agenda in international talks, but it's hard to see how he can
elevate the issue in a way that makes rejection of Keystone more
likely," Reddy said.
Eileen Claussen, former assistant secretary of state for
global environment issues and a former adviser to President Bill
Clinton, said Kerry is well versed on climate issues and would
soon confront tough questions.
Breaking gridlock with China on greenhouse gas emissions and
working with the European Union to resolve disagreement over
handling gases generated by airlines are just two, said
Claussen, now president of the nonprofit Center for Climate and
In the case of China, Kerry's experience as chairman of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee could help him step beyond
the U.N. climate talks framework and work bilaterally with the
nation, which is the world's largest sources of greenhouse
gases, she said.
The effort to reduce airline industry emissions, a U.N.
initiative, also would come under Kerry's purview since the
talks are partly led in Washington by the State Department.
Washington has long objected to EU plans to force all
airlines to pay for the carbon emissions for flights into and
out of Europe.
The EU announced earlier this month that it would suspend
the law to allow the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation
Organization to devise a global framework to curb emissions.
Kerry could help drive an agreement in those long-stalled
talks, said Samuel Grausz, director of policy and research
at advisory firm Climate Advisers.
But Kerry is unlikely to work miracles, Grauz said.
Claussen holds out hope Kerry will break ground with China,
where demand for carbon-heavy coal is rising.
"If he strikes out and really deals with the Chinese, that's
probably the most important climate issue there is."