The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2017
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reefs, weaken marine food chains and threaten the food security

of the billion or so people who depend on the sea for most of

their protein;

• 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.