John Kerry made his first remarks as President Biden’s climate czar on Thursday, lamenting the “wasted years” in fighting the crisis under Donald Trump.
The newly-minted climate envoy urged faster work to curb fossil fuel emissions after the movement to address dangerous global heating had lagged during the previous administration.
Mr Kerry spoke remotely to an Italian business conference in his first international climate address as part of the Biden administration.
Hours after his inauguration, President Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, one of a sweep of executive orders to tackle the climate crisis.
It reversed the 2017 withdrawal by President Trump, who ridiculed climate science, and called the Paris Accords a “disaster” for America.
The US should be once again officially part of the global pact, where countries set emissions-reduction targets, after a 30-day process.
The Biden administration is getting back into the battle to cut emissions with “humility, because we know that the federal government of the United States, until yesterday, walked away from the table for four wasted years when we could’ve been helping to meet the challenge,” the former secretary of state said.
President Biden has put Mr Kerry, who also served in the Obama administration, in charge of climate and national security issues.
Mr Kerry’s words are a U-turn from the Trump stance. Mr Trump withdrew from accords with US allies and questioned scientific consensus that fossil fuels are to blame for global heating which is contributing to more frequent and extreme events like hurricanes, wildfires and typhoons.
Mr Biden on Wednesday signed other orders undoing dozens of Trump actions that had targeted earlier efforts to curb emissions from industry and transport and that had promoted new oil and gas drilling and production.
Mr Kerry said that the new president “with a few strokes of his pen began to restore domestic environmental leadership”.
Preventing the worst of the climate crisis would require $1 trillion in annual investment globally through 2030, Mr Kerry told Thursday’s gathering — moving five times faster than currently to phase out coal, 22 times faster to electric vehicles, and six times faster to ramp up solar, wind and other renewable power.
The AP contributed to this report