THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
reefs, weaken marine food chains and threaten the food security
of the billion or so people who depend on the sea for most of
• Spread of diseases (e.g., dengue fever, West Nile virus and
Lyme disease) to previously untouched areas; and
• Mass extinctions of species, with one in six species at risk of
disappearing in this century, thus tearing apart the interdepen-
dent web of life that sustains us all.
As a consequence of potential climate-related social upheaval
and economic disruption, successive secretaries of Defense,
both Republicans and Democrats, have stressed that climate
change poses serious security risks. Most recently, this past
March, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that “climate change
is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of-government
response.” Private-sector executives and local authorities are also
increasingly focused on taking prudent steps to avoid or mini-
mize their exposure to the risks posed by climate change. Why?
Because it is clearly in their business and community interests
to mitigate risks and seize the opportunities presented by the
emerging clean energy economy.
In 1988, amid a growing body of scientific evidence and media
hype about climate change, the United Nations created the Inter-
governmental Panel on Climate Change to provide authoritative
scientific and economic analyses, thereby laying the groundwork
for eventual negotiation of an international climate agreement.
Ever since, the U.S. State Department and American diplomacy
have often led the way in meeting this challenge.
For more than 25 years, climate change negotiators across
the globe have worked to bridge deep divides among virtually all
of the world’s countries to reach consensus decisions with far-
reaching implications for how economies are structured and how
we will maintain a habitable planet. While Civil Service experts
have done most of the heavy lifting on U.S. negotiating teams,
career Foreign Service officers also play a vital role in the field,
engaging with counterparts from around the world to cultivate
relationships, build trust and explore possible compromises to
overcome seemingly impossible differences.
A Global Response, Born in the USA
Climate change is much more than an environmental issue. It
is fundamentally about how our economies are powered, i.e., the
energy sources we use to drive economic expansion and job cre-
ation. In essence, international climate negotiations have been a
“design and build” process, restructuring 21st-century economies
so that we can move beyond fossil fuel-based development to
low-carbon or zero-carbon development. No one country can
solve the global challenge that is climate change, but the United
States has an outsized role in finding a solution, both substan-
tively and symbolically. Much of the world looks to the United
States for leadership, not simply because of our political, military
and economic might, but because of the historic responsibility
we have as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases.
The State Department started laying the official U.S. govern-
ment groundwork for climate negotiations in 1988. At that time,
the Bureau of Oceans and International Scientific and Environ-
mental Affairs (OES) moved Daniel Reifsnyder, a career civil
servant, from its bilateral scientific cooperation office to lead a
new office, the Office of Global Change (OES/EGC). Stephanie
Delegates to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference assemble in the plenary hall in Paris.