Thursday, August 31, 2017

U.S. Is Eliminating Its Arctic and Climate Envoys.  What Message Does that Send?

The envoys gave the U.S. seasoned voices in international negotiations involving complex issues around climate change and the future of the Arctic region.

As U.S. climate envoy during the Obama administration, Todd Stern developed the United States' international leadership on climate change issues. "The (Trump) administration has already shown its colors on this issue," he said. (Credit: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty) Click to Enlarge.
As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson eliminates or shifts dozens of high-level diplomatic positions within the State Department—including the special envoys for climate change and the Arctic— those who have spent careers on these issues worry about the message being sent to the international community.

"On the appearance side, I think it definitely will be read by other governments as downgrading our interests," said Brooks Yeager, who was the deputy secretary for environment at the end of the Clinton administration.  "At least in appearance, we're not devoting the same level of attention as other governments."

In a letter sent to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) this week, Tillerson identified 36 special envoy positions that he plans to abolish.  "I believe that the Department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose," Tillerson wrote.

The move is in step with the continued shrinking of the federal government under President Donald Trump, where an exodus of Obama staffers, a hiring freeze and a lack of political appointments has left the State Department's ranks thinner by the week.

The appointees who have held top positions as envoys on climate change and the Arctic have represented the United States in international climate negotiations and in multilateral diplomatic talks on the future of the Arctic region.  Currently, both of those positions are vacant. Jonathan Pershing, former special envoy for climate change, and Admiral Robert Papp, former special representative for the Arctic, both resigned after Trump's election.

Read more at U.S. Is Eliminating Its Arctic and Climate Envoys.  What Message Does that Send?

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