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Environmentalists hail newly confirmed Secretary of State Kerry for climate change activism

The Senate confirmed John Kerry as secretary of state on Tuesday, to the delight of environmentalists who are hailing the Massachusetts Democrat for taking the lead on climate change over five terms in the Senate.

“At a time when neither conflict, economic uncertainty nor environmental disaster respect international borders, our nation’s top diplomat must advance American interests by helping to create a more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world,” Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “We take great confidence in Kerry’s record of commitment and achievement and we look forward to working with him and his team.”

“President Obama’s decision to put climate change at the heart of his second-term opens the prospect for Secretary Kerry to push for real and measurable progress on climate change in a range of bilateral and multilateral forums,” said Environmental Defense Council Fred Krupp.

“We look forward to the opportunity to work with Secretary Kerry and his team as they redouble America’s commitment to diplomatic leadership in confronting the climate challenge,” Krupp added.

During his confirmation hearings, Kerry called climate change a “life-threatening issue” and that the U.S. should continue promoting clean energy use and energy efficiency measures to fight global warming. Kerry argued that in states like Massachusetts and California “the fastest growing sector of our economy is clean energy.”

“It’s a job creator,” Kerry said, adding that he will make climate change a top priority during his tenure at the State Department.

In 2010, Kerry led a an effort in the Senate to pass a cap-and-trade bill, but the deal failed when the bill’s opponents were able to label the bill as “cap and tax” and Republicans refused to sign on.

Kerry has also been a major advocate for the U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol as well as and personally attended many global environmental summits, the 2009 meeting in Copenhagen.

The Kyoto Protocol binds developed countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. has never ratified the agreement, and last year Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Russia opted out because the accord didn’t bind large developing nations, like China and India, to reduce emissions, effectively rendering their own efforts to cut emissions pointless.

“In nearly three decades in the U.S. Senate, John Kerry has distinguished himself as a champion for action against climate change, an advocate for the international cooperation we need to protect the natural resources of a changing world, and a visionary promoter of American jobs in the fast-growing market for clean energy worldwide,” Beinecke said.

However, Kerry has made no firm promises about the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, the approval of which has been hotly contested. As Secretary of State, Kerry has the final say over whether or not the pipeline is approved.

“It will not be long before that comes across my desk,” Kerry said in his confirmation hearing. “And at that time, I’ll make the appropriate judgments about it.”

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