The Foreign Service Journal, June 2023

AFSA NEWS 48 JUNE 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Inside Diplomacy Climate Change and the Role of Diplomacy On March 10, AFSA invited Monica Medina, the assis- tant secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scien- tific Affairs (OES) and the president’s special envoy for biodiversity and water resources, to talk to members about the role that diplomats play in halting the catastrophic effects of global climate change. Assistant Secretary Medina called climate change “one of the defining challenges of our time” and said the Biden administration sees it as a priority. “We are back at the table and absolutely engaged,” she said of the administration’s push to return the U.S. to its former status as a leader in the movement to protect the planet. “The president issued an executive order within a few days of taking office that put the climate crisis at the center— at the center —of U.S. foreign policy and national security,” said Medina. So what does OES have to do with solving the climate crisis? “Climate is related to almost everything we do in the OES bureau,” said Medina. Work disrupting international criminal net- works and preventing illegal fishing, mining, logging, and wildlife trade ties directly back to the health of the natural world. Even the bureau’s man- date to forge cooperation on space exploration is linked to the climate crisis, Medina explained. “Work- ing with partners, bringing other countries with us as we go to the moon and go to Mars, is a great way for us to not only expand our diplomatic efforts, but also to expand their ability to help us solve the climate crisis by all the observations that we’re going to get from space.” She is most proud of OES’ work to finalize a United Nations treaty on the con- servation and sustainable use of the high seas, which was agreed to in March 2023 after more than a decade of negotiations. Once ratified, the treaty will protect the parts of the ocean that are beyond any country’s 200-mile national jurisdiction—half the planet, she said, will be covered under the new agreement. She added: “It took a Herculean effort by a team of people led by OES, including our lawyers and an interagency team that was phenomenal.” It was diplomacy that made this happen, said Medina. “It is because we’ve developed strong relation- ships with countries from all over the world. …We really have worked very, very closely to try to understand each other’s perspectives.” “We couldn’t solve these global problems without strong partnerships in gov- ernment, in private sector, in philanthropic organizations, and businesses,” she said. Her team is now tak- ing part in negotiations on a global treaty on plastics. “It’s time for us to address the plastic pollution crisis that we see worldwide,” said Medina. There are 8 billion people on the planet, she noted, and there are 21,000 pieces of plastic in the ocean per person. Medina hopes this new agreement will be like the Paris Agreement, allowing for flexibility in how each country chooses to solve the problem within its borders. Medina said she is mak- ing a case for increased resources in OES. In the past year, she said, the depart- ment increased the number of Environment, Science, Technology and Health (ESTH) climate directed offi- cers by “a couple dozen,” and they are working to get more. She also pointed to training being done at the Foreign Service Institute so that officers “who don’t necessarily spend all their time on climate and environ- ment issues can learn them and know them and see how they impact their day-to-day jobs.” She said new Foreign Service officers she meets have a great interest in climate issues. “I think many people are joining the Foreign Service in order to help solve these very problems, because they are global in nature, and it is a pivotal time, and they are really interested in making sure that they have a healthy planet for generations to come.” Diplomats will continue to play an important role in solving the climate crisis. Medina wants to see an increasing number of ESTH officers and regional hub officers focused on the subject in order to set global standards that have regional cooperation. A recording of the event is available at ID-AS-OES. n Assistant Secretary Monica Medina Climate is related to almost everything we do in the OES bureau. —Assistant Secretary Monica Medina