Seven Highlights in U.S. Environment and Science Diplomacy in 2017

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Seven Highlights in U.S. Environment and Science Diplomacy in 2017

Happy New Year! It’s time to take a look back on our 2017 major milestones. For the Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), 2017 has been a busy year.

Here are seven highlights:

1. Arctic Council Leadership

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson poses for a photo with Principal Participants and Heads of Delegations at the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska.

In May, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hosted the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska. The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among Arctic nations and communities on common Arctic issues. As the chair of the Arctic Council, the United States convened the foreign ministers of the Arctic states, together with delegations from the Arctic Council’s indigenous Permanent Participant organizations and observer states and organizations.  At the meeting the Arctic Council reaffirmed its commitment to maintain peace, stability, and constructive cooperation in the Arctic, and the eight Arctic States signed the Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation, which will facilitate scientists’ access to Arctic research areas.

2. Air Quality Awareness 

The U.S. Department of State celebrated its first Air Quality Awareness Week (May 1-5, 2017) and encouraged U.S. embassies all around the world to raise awareness in their countries about the importance of air quality. Events occurred all over the world that highlighted the harmful impacts of air pollution on human health, economies, and the environment and discussed solutions to this challenging problem.

Air Quality Roundtable hosted by the OES Bureau.

Additionally, in June, the OES Bureau hosted an air quality event that highlighted the progress being made across the globe and in Latin America to address air pollution. The event sparked further collaboration between U.S. private sector stakeholders and Latin American governments, and built awareness of international organization efforts. 

3. Zoohackathon 2017

Zoohackathon 2017 New Delhi Participants.

In the fall, hundreds of participants competed around the world to develop conservation technology solutions at the second-annual Zoohackathon. This program promotes understanding of the problem of wildlife trafficking and enlists new partners to combat it by developing practical and innovative conservation technology solutions. Teams were comprised of coders, designers, project managers, and conservation specialists. Each team selected a problem statement supplied by U.S. government agencies and their partners to solve. The winning team, from the London Zoohackathon, developed a prototype that refines image detection in field camera traps used to catch illegal poaching of wildlife. 

4. U.S.-EU Satellite Data Arrangement Aids in Hurricane Harvey Efforts

Satellite imagery of Beaumont, Texas captured by the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS).

In September, U.S. cooperation with the European Commission, facilitated by the OES Bureau, allowed for rapid activation of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS) over the Texas and Louisiana coasts affected by Category-4 Hurricane Harvey, the largest recorded tropical rainstorms ever to hit the contiguous United States. This service provided local, state, and federal disaster managers with free, real-time, all-weather radar satellite images of the affected areas. Thanks to European partners, including the European Space Agency and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, critical information was provided to impacted communities.

5. Advancing Health Security in a Dangerous World

Admiral Tim Ziemer participating in the closing press conference at the Global Health Security Agenda Ministerial Meeting in Kampala, Uganda.

2017 was a big year for strengthening systems to prevent, detect, and respond to disease outbreaks. OES Bureau led diplomatic outreach to secure the extension of the Global Health Security Agenda to 2024, and to scale up public diplomacy efforts to combat mosquito-borne disease via the GLOBE education program.  OES Bureau also spurred action on a series of landmark events. To increase emergency preparedness and international collaboration in the rapidly changing Arctic region, the bureau convened the first-ever Arctic Council One Health tabletop exercise.  OES also coordinated with interagency partners to negotiate outcomes of the first-ever G20 Health Ministers’ Meeting and the G20 Summit, where leaders established an R&D hub to coordinate the fight against drug resistant diseases. 

6. Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Catalyst Pitch Competition

GIST Catalyst finalists pose for a photo at the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

In November, the 2017 Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Catalyst pitch competition, managed and overseen by the OES Bureau, declared Ajaita Shah from India as the GIST Catalyst Grand Champion during the closing plenary of the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit.  Shah won after an intense two days in which 24 semi-finalists—selected following thousands of online public votes and expert review -- pitched their science and technology-related startup ideas to a panel of American business leaders. Her startup, Frontier Markets, empowers women to deliver solar and other energy products the “last mile” from hubs to their final destination in homes. Amazon, Dell, Google, Cognizant, Alice, and AirBnB provided over $450,000 in prizes to the 24 semi-finalists.  The competition received significant positive attention from senior American and Indian leaders, including Adviser to the President, Ivanka Trump, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Juster, and Indian Ambassador Arun Singh. 

7. Sustainable Landscapes Program Protects Livelihoods and Forests in Costa Rica 

Forest in Costa Rica.

In 2017 Dr. Randy Hamilton, a Climate Fellow based in Costa Rica with Department of State support, helped the country develop its first system to monitor changes in land use, land cover, and ecosystem health. The interagency SilvaCarbon program provided additional U.S. technical expertise. With a helping hand from the U.S. Sustainable Landscapes programs and other partners, Costa Rica is now poised to better protect its world-renowned forests and to demonstrate the results of its actions to the world. Healthy forests and other landscapes provide livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people, are home to some of the richest biodiversity on earth, and help ensure that rivers flow and soil sustains agriculture.  By working with the public and private sectors, the U.S. Department of State’s Sustainable Landscapes programs are helping partners to protect well over 880,000 square miles of forests and other landscapes while helping reduce more than 300 million tons of CO2 emissions.

About the Author: Georgia Mu serves in the Office of Policy and Public Outreach, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.