Can Transformative PD Practitioners Tackle Environmental Issues?

I felt compelled to respond to Copeland’s article, as I believe Copeland is spot on when describing the rise of importance in public diplomacy (a theme that has popped up virtually every week) as a viable alternative to other means of conflict-resolution. Furthermore, I agree with his assessment that diplomacy has become, if not in vogue, at least an area worthy of scholarship and attention, and that PD practitioners need to update their skills within the context of transformational diplomacy to be better able at “assisting with broad-based development, supporting democracy and human rights, and building bridges to civil society.”

Where I diverge from Copeland stems from his analysis of the engine that drives this necessary transformation. According to Copeland, globalization is completely re-shaping the landscape (literally and metaphorically), especially in the political realm, thus necessitating this embrace of transformational diplomacy. Of course I do not disagree with this observation; I do contest the idea, though, that public diplomats have the ability to effect environmental change on a global level.

Copeland perhaps overstates the ability of public diplomats to tackle the major issues facing humanity today. There are areas where diplomats can be highly effective (he mentions the issue of an “international educational deficit”), and then there are others where PD practitioners are simply too limited as representatives of their states (and thus limited by their state’s interests) to be able to make a meaningful difference. I specifically refer to environmental issues like water shortage and climate change, where states, motivated mainly by economic interests, cannot make the necessary sacrifices in order to reach compromises on these significant issues of today. One need only look at the charades of these world conferences (Copenhagen, Rio) where nothing meaningful materializes to understand that we cannot rely on states, and thus PD practitioners acting within a state role, to tackle these environmental issues which are more effectively handled by non-state actors (NGOs) and community-based organizations acting in grass-roots campaigns.

Copeland does a great job in stressing that PD practitioners are definitely needed in today’s ever-evolving political landscape, and thus should update their skills to take advantage of the rise in importance in diplomacy. But he oversteps in his analysis when he fails to recognize that areas do exist, particularly within environmental issues, where public diplomats are restricted by the state they represent to effect meaningful change.

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