Former Diplomat: Fighting Climate Change Requires More Than Just Policy

Worldwide electricity generation is slated to increase significantly in the next few decades, and “If we care about climate change, we have to be more engaged than we were in the past,” former U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual told University of Virginia students Wednesday at Garrett Hall. “The direction we’re going in right now is not positive.”

The solution to fighting climate change is not just simple government policy, he said, but working to find common ground with stakeholders such as banks, investors and companies.

From 2011 to 2014, Pascual served as the U.S. Department of State’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs. Prior to this appointment, he served as ambassador to Mexico and Ukraine, the State Department’s Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, and special assistant to the president and National Security Council.

During his talk on “21st Century Energy Geopolitics,” sponsored by the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and the International Relations Organization, Pascual stressed the importance of energy to foreign policy. He detailed how global energy markets have changed significantly in the past 20 years as energy sources have become more diversified and the main international players have shifted.

For example, as U.S. shale gas production has boomed in the past decade, total U.S. natural gas production has increased by nearly a third since 2005, cutting U.S. petroleum imports from their high of 60 percent of domestic consumption in 2005 to 35 percent today.

Drawing on his experience in Ukraine, Pascual spoke at length about the country’s current situation. He said if the struggle is only between Russia and Ukraine, then Russia is likely to win. However, “if you bring the rest of Europe into the equation with its market forces, then you might have the basis for a solution.” If you can affect the growth rate of that market, then you send signals to banks and investors, he said, noting that the West’s initial sanctions were largely symbolic and not market-focused.

At the conclusion of his talk, Pascual gave some advice to students as they look to start their careers. “In 1986, after three years in the Foreign Service, I was asked to go to South Africa to work against apartheid,” he said. Against the advice of some of his colleagues, he took a chance. “When you get those opportunities to influence and affect change, don’t be afraid to grab onto them,” he told the students. 

After his public lecture, Pascual met with U.Va. graduate students in the Tri-Sector Leadership Fellows. Students from the Batten School, Darden School of Business and School of Law learned how he’s used multi-sector perspectives to solve problems throughout his career.


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