The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2017
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needed to resolve difficult negotiating issues and set the table

for ministerial-level decisions.

At the same time, however, FSOs have played an important

role throughout the course of the climate change effort. Doing

the bread-and-butter work of career diplomats, they built

relationships with a cross-section of host country colleagues,

advocated forcefully for U.S. interests and positions, reported

insightfully on the domestic needs and pressures affecting a

country’s negotiating positions, and alerted Washington to

changing circumstances that might open the way for closer

cooperation (or requite greater effort).

This better enabled the special envoy for climate change

and his team to engage in the meticulous task of building

common cause with traditional and new allies, as well as to

head off possible deal-breakers from players with ideological

or economic motivations to prolong an international stale-

mate. It also helped Washington optimize the strategic use of

foreign assistance, as the special envoy and his team designed

and implemented highly effective bilateral and multilat-

eral cooperation under the umbrella of the “Global Climate

Change Initiative.”

Nonetheless, in an international negotiations process with

such far-reaching implications, the relative absence of FSOs

remains a problem. “I [was] the only FSO involved in what

turned out to be one of the biggest issues and negotiations of

the decade,” Stephanie Kinney said, recalling her work in the

1990s in her 2010 interview for the Association for Diplomatic

Studies and Training’s Foreign Affairs Oral History Project.

Nearly a quarter-century later, I was one of only two FSOs

who were part of the core delegation in Paris in 2015. We can,

and we must, do better.

Perhaps few FSOs have taken part in U.S. climate diplo-

macy over the past quarter-century because they view climate

as too “technical” or strictly the domain of “tree huggers.” Or

maybe it’s because the State Department and Foreign Service

culture remain stuck in a 20th-century mindset, which holds

who the real power (and promotion) rests strictly with State’s

regional bureaus.

Whatever the reasons, the climate change challenge will

loom larger and larger going forward, affecting vital U.S.

interests around the world. Recognizing the importance of

having more FSOs play a more active, leading role in this fight,

then-Secretary Kerry made “mitigating and adapting to cli-

mate change” a key strategic priority in the 2015 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Among other things, th


QDDR called for State and USAID to strengthen climate diplo-

macy and development; strengthen staff understanding of and

engagement in climate issues; integrate climate change into

all of our diplomacy and development efforts; designate criti-

cal countries for in-depth climate engagement; and expand

climate and clean energy diplomacy beyond capitals.

We cannot wish the climate threat away. The need for FSOs

to step up on climate remains ever more vital. OES leadership

is cognizant of this need, and their efforts to open up greater

opportunities for FSOs on these issues deserve strong support

from the entire FS community.

We see the greatest progress when we have a deep bench

involving people on all levels and of all skill sets, from chiefs

of mission to political, economic and public diplomacy FSOs

engaged on an issue. It is long past time that the department

align its FSO recruitment, training and incentives to create

a stronger cadre of FSOs who are eager and fully prepared

to play more active roles in the fight to keep Earth habitable.

Implementing the 2015 QDDR would be a good and important

step in that direction.