The Foreign Service Journal, September 2015

62 SEPTEMBER 2015 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL AFSA NEWS Tackling Air Pollution Through Open Data THE WI L L I AM R . R I VK I N AWARD FOR A MI D - LEVEL FORE I GN SERV I CE OF F I CER SAMUEL KOT I S Speaking at the Feb. 18 launch of the joint Depart- ment of State–Environmental Protection Agency effort to expand EPA’s AirNow system to diplomatic posts abroad, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy praised Embassy New Delhi for understand- ing that engagement on air pollution strengthens, rather than weakens, our diplomatic relationships. AWeb-based platform, EPA’s AirNow program pro- vides real-time information on air quality in U.S. cities. Thanks to the efforts of For- eign Service Officer Samuel Kotis, the program is now operational in India and soon will be in countries such as Mongolia and Vietnam. However, nobody would have guessed in August 2013, when Kotis arrived at post, that Mission India would lead the charge on air pollution. Despite having installed premium air quality monitors (AQMs) at the embassy and the four U.S. consulates in India, the mission feared that releasing the data would cre- ate an unnecessary irritant in the bilateral relationship. Kotis knew the difference between action and inaction could amount to life or death for tens of thousands, and urged embassy leadership to make the info public. There was precedent for using AQM data to catalyze change. In 2008, Embassy Beijing began monitoring levels of fine airborne particles and tweeted the results hourly. Despite initial push- back from Chinese officials, the govern- ment was eventually forced to acknowledge the scale of the prob- lem and start taking action to address it. Undeterred, Kotis diligently gathered data and built alliances to support his mis- sion. His breakthrough came in the spring of 2014 when the World Health Organization announced that New Delhi was the most polluted city on the planet, with nearly double the amount of airborne particulate matter as Beijing. This occurred around the time that Kotis arranged for an authoritative U.S. expert to brief the ambassador on the urgency of India’s air pollution challenges. The pre- sentation prompted a change in policy; and in June 2014, Mission India began publish- ing the AQM data. His nominator calls Kotis’ approach “principled, col- legial, patient yet insistent, constructively critical and, most of all, effective” and credits Kotis with creating a precedent of collaborat- ing closely with an emerging power whose cooperation is critical for keeping the world on a steady path toward cleaner air and improved health. Kotis has written on his experience using constructive dissent to push this initiative through (see page 37 ). Having just concluded his assignment as deputy minister counselor in the economic, environment, sci- ence and technology affairs section in New Delhi, Kotis is headed to the U.S. Mission to the International Civil Avia- tion Organization in Montreal next. Since joining the Service in 1991, he has also served in Jakarta, Singapore, Tunis, Amman, Budapest, Baghdad and London. He and his wife, Beth, have two children. n FSO Samuel Kotis (right) poses with the Honorable Robert S. Rivkin at the June 9 ceremony. The Rivkin family sponsors the constructive dissent award bestowed upon Kotis. AFSA/JOAQUINSOSA AFSA CONSTRUCT I VE D I SSENT AWARDS