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20

JULY-AUGUST 2017

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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

For more than 25 years, negotiators have worked around the world to meet

the climate change crisis. The need to deepen this work will only increase,

and greater FS engagement is essential.

AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT

That Demands

Greater FS Engagement

Tim Lattimer is an FSO who has served in multiple

assignments in the Bureau of Oceans and Interna-

tional Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES),

most recently as deputy director of the Office of

Global Change (2012-2016). He received the State Department’s

2016 Frank E. Loy Award for Environmental Diplomacy. His

past overseas assignments include the Philippines and a variety

of economics and environment, science, technology and health

(ESTH) posts in Latin America. An environmental planner in

California for 10 years prior to joining the State Department in

1994, he will return to the private sector later this year.

T

hough it was slow to unfold, the

emerging crisis posed perhaps the

gravest potential threat ever to human

civilization. It menaced human health,

economic development, social cohe-

sion and the security of nations around

the world. The only way out was to pull

together a cooperative effort involv-

ing the entire global community. This

meant undertaking the most complex, painstaking diplomatic

process in history, with far-reaching implications. Are we talking

about an impending attack by space aliens? No. Thermonuclear

war?

Nyet

. Viral pandemic? Nope. Climate change? Yes, absolutely.

Climate change is one of the gravest dangers facing the world

today, with profound implications for the future of all humanity.

Notwithstanding the specious denials put forward by self-styled

“experts” and the seeds of doubt sown by fossil fuel–funded

think-tanks and pundits, the weight of scientific evidence shows

FOCUS

that the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities are

already driving significant changes to Earth’s climate. As a result,

overall global average temperature has risen by about 0.85

degrees Celsius (about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) since the dawn of

industrialization in the late 1800s.

While no increase is deemed safe, an increase of 1.5 to 2

degrees Celsius is widely viewed as the upper limit of what we

might tolerate. Beyond that, we would likely face greater risks

of catastrophic impacts. If left unchecked, this planet—still our

only home—is on track to experience a global temperature rise

of 4 degrees Celsius or more by 2100. Regardless of the Trump

administration’s posture on the Paris Agreement, FSOs will have

to contend—for better or worse—with the very real and endur-

ing challenges and opportunities posed by climate change. These

issues will long remain central to U.S. security and economic

interests and will likewise remain of great interest to our partners

around the world. We ignore them at our peril.

We are already seeing the effects of this change. Without a

decisive shift to low-carbon energy sources, the impact will be

even more devastating, threatening the very existence of some

nations. Among other things, climate change brings:

• Increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events

(e.g., prolonged droughts, killer heat waves and intense episodes

of rain or snow);

• Changes in water patterns or flows, undermining agricul-

tural production and food security;

• A rise in sea level, inundating coastal communities, destroy-

ing infrastructure, salinating sources of fresh water and submerg-

ing low-lying islands and prompting mass migrations;

• Ocean warming and acidification, which will destroy coral

BY T I M LATT I MER

ON ENVIRONMENTAL DIPLOMACY