- He has been a longtime advisor to President Biden, providing counsel and leadership on climate policy development, legislation, and executive action.
President Biden has promoted Ali Zaidi as Assistant to President and National Climate Advisor. He succeeds Gina McCarthy, who will depart the White House on Sept. 16. Zaidi, who currently serves as McCarthy’s deputy, will also become Vice Chair of the National Climate Task Force. He is the highest-ranking Pakistani American in the Biden-Harris administration.
“Under Gina McCarthy and Ali Zaidi’s leadership, my administration has taken the most aggressive action ever, from historic legislation to bold executive actions, to confront the climate crisis head-on,” Biden said in a Sept. 2 announcement. “The Inflation Reduction Act is the biggest step forward on clean energy and climate in history, and it paves the way for additional steps we will take to meet our clean energy and climate goals.”
Zaidi’s promotion is part of a broader shuffling of the Biden White House’s climate policy leadership. John Podesta, the founder and board chair of the Center for American Progress, will be the senior adviser to the president for clean energy innovation and implementation.
In his new role, the 35-year-old Pakistani American will “oversee the White House Office of climate policy, made up of technical and policy experts who will help Podesta and also guide new regulations on power plants, automobiles, oil and gas wells and other sources,” The New York Times reported, quoting administration officials.
Zaidi has been a longtime advisor to President Biden, providing counsel and leadership on climate policy development, legislation, and executive action from day one of the administration. He has served in several positions in the Obama administration, including deputy director for energy policy on the White House’s Domestic Policy Council and deputy director for science and energy in the White House Office of Management and Budget. Additionally, he has served on the Biden presidential transition and campaign.
After leaving the Obama-Biden administration, Zaidi worked as a senior advisor at the law firm of Morrison & Foerster. He later served as deputy secretary for energy and environment and as chairman of climate policy and finance for the State of New York. He also taught at Stanford University, where he founded the Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy Initiative, which provides pro bono legal services to entrepreneurs and nonprofits focusing on sustainability. He has worked to improve energy security, reduce carbon pollution and the country’s dependence on foreign oil, and create green jobs.
Several environmental advocates expressed enthusiasm about his promotion. In a statement, Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for energy and environment policy at the Center for American Progress said “there is no one better to step into Gina’s role than Ali Zaidi. Noting that “he was not only instrumental in building President Biden’s bold climate platform,” she said he “understands better than anyone the dire stakes the country is facing on climate action right now.”
“The good news is that the White House at the highest levels seems determined to ensure that this historic once-in-a-generation investment will not be squandered,” news reports quoted Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group. “Typically past administrations would simply count on the agencies to make these investments without a lot of White House scrutiny. This is different.”
In an April 2021 profile, Ozy News called Zaidi “an unconventional leader of Biden’s efforts against climate change.” After moving from Karachi to the U.S., Zaidi and his family settled down in Edinboro, a mostly Christian town of just 7,000 people in rural Pennsylvania. He told Ozy News that the community in Edinboro “helped us get on our feet and chase after our dreams. That’s the America that I think my parents saw as a beacon across the ocean.”
But his politics were different at the time. In rural Pennsylvania most people were Republicans, so Zaidi became one as well, said a 2017 profile in Vanity Fair. “I believe in personal responsibility,” he said. “It’s exciting when people come together because of their faith to do something for their community. To care about something more than themselves.” In high school he volunteered for America’s Promise Alliance, Colin Powell’s foundation to help underprivileged children; he knocked on doors for the presidential campaign of George W. Bush.
Even as a kid Zaidi was interested in politics, Vanity Fair said. He got that from his parents. His mother was a physician, while his father worked in higher education. “They spent a lot of time talking about society. Good and bad. Justice. About what we owe people,” he told the magazine. According to Ozy News, “the Harvard and Georgetown grad shared the mentality of President George W. Bush — that people needed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps rather than rely on government help — until the Obama years.”
The profile cited a 2020 Columbia University podcast where Zaidi said that he was attracted to what President Obama articulated. “It was that we sort of are shared in our fortunes and we fall together, stand together, and we have got to bring everybody up,” he said. “Republican folks who live in the center of their states rather than on the coast side, they don’t feel far away to me; these are the people I grew up with.”
He told Vanity Fair in a 2017 interview that “ immigrants do not take things for granted. Within a generation you’re able to see how the rungs of the ladder of opportunity are laid out in front of you, and you can see the hands that pull you up,” he said. “You see people pull you up and you say, O.K., I’ve got to do the same thing for other people.”