WASHINGTON - As John Kerry prepares to depart as President Joe Biden's special envoy on climate change on Wednesday, he leaves the United States in a stronger position in global climate diplomacy despite lingering mistrust on the world stage over American policy intentions.

The 80-year-old Kerry, capping off over six decades in public service, is credited with restoring U.S. climate ties with China and courting private capital for climate action. But these accomplishments were made even as the United States has become the world's biggest producer of climate-polluting oil and gas.

In an interview ahead of his departure, Kerry said he plans to continue climate advocacy outside of government, though he did not specify whether he will join any boards or organizations.

"I will be in a better position to be able to try to leverage, push, cajole, work at the effort" after leaving his envoy post, Kerry said.

John Podesta, named by Biden to succeed Kerry, faces a challenging year on climate policy in the run-up to the Nov. 5 U.S. election in which Biden, a Democrat, is seeking re-election, with former President Donald Trump the runaway frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge him. According to news reports, Biden's administration may weaken proposed climate regulations for power plants, automobiles and climate financial disclosures amid resistance from industry and other groups.

Kerry assumed the envoy post in 2021 after Trump, during his four years as president, reversed American leadership on climate issues. Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris agreement that commits most of the world's nations to combating climate change - and has threatened to do it again if he wins the election.



Kerry's efforts have been hamstrung by a politically divided Congress constraining what the United States could offer in climate finance, with Republicans resisting Democratic efforts.

"This is a glaring challenge for U.S. climate policy, and the whole world knows that both political parties are not on board with the agenda," Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said in an interview.

Kerry turned to building public-private sector coalitions to create momentum, Power added.

Under the 2021 Global Methane Pledge, almost 150 countries pledged to slash methane emissions and raised more than $1 billion in grant-funding. The First Movers Coalition involved nearly 100 companies including automaker Ford and cement-maker Holcim pledging to buy new climate-friendlier technologies.

Through Kerry, the United States also joined other Western governments and banks in launching "just transition" partnerships with South Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam aimed at shuttering coal plants.

Kerry has had "one hand tied behind his back," said Oxford University professor Rachel Kyte, a former World Bank and U.N. climate official.

"He's tried to find numerous creative ways to keep the conversation moving forward. Time will tell whether these initiatives get off the ground," Kyte added.

Kerry acknowledged a "dangerous trend" in recent weeks, with investment firms including Blackrock and JPMorgan rolling back climate commitments.

"I'm concerned about anything that pushes back against common sense, good policy, without presenting an alternative," Kerry said. "We have to push back against it."



Kerry came up with the idea to forge the U.S.-China relationship on climate 10 years ago as secretary of state under President Barack Obama, then kept it alive amid bilateral tensions and COVID-19 pandemic-related disruptions.

Showing unity and progress on climate change between the world's two biggest economies - and two biggest polluters - helped lay the foundation for the 2015 Paris Agreement, the 2021 Glasgow Pact and other accords, according to experts.

"Personal relationships still matter in politics," said Børge Brende, president of the Swiss-based World Economic Forum.

Gina McCarthy, Biden's White House climate adviser from 2021-2022, said Kerry's continued engagement with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua during Trump's 2017-2021 presidency meant that the United States "was able to restart the relationship at full speed" despite "Trump's attempt to weaken it."

The United States has failed to fully deliver on climate finance pledges, transferring only $2 billion of the $3 billion it promised 10 years ago. It has since pledged another $11.4 billion, but payments require congressional approval.

With private capital shying away from the poorest countries, Kerry's private sector focus has yet to serve the world's most climate-vulnerable, according to adviser to the Alliance of Small Island States Michai Robertson of the London-based global affairs think tank ODI.

Some critics faulted Kerry's approach toward corporate leaders and high-polluting countries. Mohamed Adow, director of the Kenya-based advocacy group Power Shift Africa, said many in the developing world felt Kerry focused too much on wealthier actors. Adow added that "the U.S. still has a long way to improve its record on climate change."

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; editing by Katy Daigle and Will Dunham)