THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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
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
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.