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This article was originally published by UNC Global Affairs, written by Claire Cusick. You can access the article here.

“UNC-Chapel Hill hosts annual forum with the American Academy of Diplomacy”

Carolina students understand the urgency of climate change. During the most recent Diplomatic Discussion on Feb. 27, they heard directly from former senior government officials on how to use diplomacy to address environmental challenges.

But what is environmental diplomacy? What are the specific skills and tools diplomats use to approach this enormous global challenge?

The officials answered these questions at the Joseph J. Sisco Memorial Forum, an annual event presented by the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD). This year’s forum included three panelists — Robert O. Blake, Jr., Alonzo L. Fulgham and Anthony “Bud” Rock — and focused on the multidimensional, coalition-building nature of environmental diplomacy.

The key to environmental diplomacy, Blake said, is creating coalitions and convening stakeholders, as the U.S. and Japan did in negotiating the recent Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) with Indonesia. A former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, Blake served as senior advisor to Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and helped negotiate the JETP in Indonesia, which involved representatives across industries, agencies and communities in designing and implementing the program.

According to the panelists, diplomacy, however, has not always worked this way.

“The foreign policy architecture that got us to where we are in 2024 will not take us where we need to go in the future,” Vice Provost for Global Affairs and Chief Global Officer Barbara Stephenson said after AAD President Ronald E. Neumann introduced the forum and before she moderated the panel discussion. “The JETP is a great example of convening partners to address shared global challenges.”

Fulgham, former acting administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said it’s important to understand the breadth of what environmental diplomats do. In addition to climate change, they respond to water crises, pollution, energy consumption, mass migration and urbanization, through a multidimensional network of decision-makers and partners.

Rock, former acting assistant secretary of state for oceans, environment, science, technology and health at the State Department, emphasized that the nature of the challenges diplomats grapple with has evolved over time.  “In the post-World War II era, the dominant theme was threat — threat of nuclear war, global disease and famine,” he said. “Over time, we began to consider universal challenges, human rights issues, poverty reduction issues and gender equality issues. Incorporating those dynamics into fundamental environmental agreements is a challenge, but we are getting better at it.”

Bevin Adams ’26 is a global studies and sociology major at Carolina and attended the discussion. Afterwards, she said she appreciated that the panelists shared their experiences with coalition-building.

“Each panelist didn’t just work with government administrations; they pulled in bankers, scientists, businesses, nonprofits and anyone else who was needed in order to reach goals in concern to the environment,” she said. “This panel helped show me that it takes many different groups of people acting together to get something done.”

This year’s Sisco Forum was the third time AAD partnered with UNC-Chapel Hill to co-host the event (2020 and 2021). Carolina, the only university to co-host the forum three times, began its Diplomacy Initiative with a partnership with AAD.

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