Secretary of State Slashes Special Envoy Positions, Axes Climate Envoy

Published October 5, 2017

Continuing President Donald Trump’s shakeup of federal government practices, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced plans for a dramatic cut in the number of special envoy positions at the State Department, including eliminating the envoy on climate.

In a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tillerson stated he planned to reorganize, shift, or eliminate nearly half of the 70 special envoy positions at the State Department. In addition to the climate envoy, other positions to be scrapped include special envoys for the Arctic, Syria, and cybersecurity. The climate envoy was one of many positions created in the State Department by President Barack Obama.

“I believe that the department will be better able to execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representatives offices within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original mission,” Tillerson wrote.  The aim of the cuts was to eliminate duplicative or unnecessary positions and empower regional bureaus, Tillerson stated.

Climate Policy Pattern

Tillerson says the role of special envoy for climate would be “removed,” with associated functions, staff, and funding shifted to the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.               

Tillerson’s move was in line with his and other administration officials’ pledges to reorganize and, where possible, downsize the federal bureaucracy and in keeping with Trump’s decision to deemphasize climate change and climate policy.

In June, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a similar shakeup of advisory panels at EPA, announcing dozens of advisors would be replaced when their terms expired rather than being automatically reappointed as was previous practice.

Envoy Numbers Reduced

The State Department had already been reducing the number of climate-related positions through attrition. The department’s science adviser, Vaughan Turekian, stepped down in July rather than seek renewal of his position, and only two of the seven science envoys in the Office of Global Change and Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change have had their terms extended.

Tom Harris, executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition, says the nation does not need a climate envoy.

“The United States has no special envoy for volcanoes, nor does it have a special envoy for earthquakes or other natural hazards,” said Harris. “Sensible people recognize that humanity has no control over these events.

“By creating the Special Envoy for Climate Change position, former President Barack Obama demonstrated that he was unaware that climate change is also a natural event over which humanity has no, or very little, control,” Harris said. “The Trump administration is right to correct this mistake by dismissing the State Department’s climate envoy.”              

Congress Reacts

Corker and Cardin acknowledged Tillerson’s authority to reorganize the State Department. Corker applauded Tillerson’s decision.

“Through the years, numbers of special envoys have accumulated at the State Department, and in many cases, their creation has done more harm than good by creating an environment in which people work around the normal diplomatic processes in lieu of streamlining them,” Corker said in a press statement. “That is one reason our committee took bipartisan action last month to require Senate confirmation of special envoys while empowering the secretary to reduce bureaucracy by reining in these often unnecessary positions. I appreciate the work Secretary Tillerson has done to responsibly review the organizational structure of special envoys and look forward to going through these changes in detail.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) lost little time in expressing his anger over Tillerson’s decision to scrap the climate envoy position in particular.

“The elimination of this critical position is just one more example of the Trump administration ceding climate and clean energy leadership to countries like China and Germany,” Markey said in a statement. “Secretary Tillerson must retain this position so the United States can keep a seat at the table.”

Spend It on Data?

James Taylor, president of the Spark of Freedom Foundation, says the money spent on the climate envoy would be better used to improve the country’s network of weather stations.

“Neither the American people nor our environment benefit from redundant layers of State Department diplomats, envoys, and bureaucrats,” said Taylor. “If policymakers feel they must dedicate to climate issues the money that funded the climate envoy position, they should direct the money to expand the U.S. Climate Reference Network.

“The U.S. Climate Reference Network is composed of more than 100 pristinely maintained temperature stations throughout the United States that allows us to accurately and objectively measure temperature changes around the nation,” Taylor said. “While the federal government wastes money on climate envoys, biased climate papers, and other unproductive ends, we should reallocate that money to making the Climate Reference Network a global network. With such a network in place, we could finally end the debate over how much the earth is warming.”

Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, says Trump is reducing the amount of climate propaganda the American people are forced to pay for.

“U.S. taxpayers are finally being freed from some of the expenses and propaganda that have been promoting the notion of human-induced global warming or climate change,” Rucker said. “It has become a massive PR enterprise devoted to empowering unelected bureaucrats and enriching purveyors of so-called clean energy.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “Special Envoy Letter,” 8/29/17:

Official Connections:

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN):;

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA):;