The number of UK-based diplomats working on climate change issues for the UK government has fallen dramatically over the last six years, new Freedom of Information data released publicly earlier this week has revealed.
The total number of Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff in the UK working on climate change and energy issues has dropped 60 per cent between March 2011 and January 2017, from 554 to 221.
The number of full time staff working solely on climate change and energy within the FCO in the UK has dropped from 54 to 22 over the period, while numbers of other staff working part time in the area has fallen steadily from 500 in March 2011 to 199 in January 2017.
As of January 2017, there were an additional 112 staff members stationed overseas engaged in climate and energy work for the UK government. Comparative figures for 2011 were not provided.
The UK plays a key role in international climate diplomacy, and is particularly well regarded for its efforts to secure consensus for the Paris Agreement, which was struck in December 2015 and entered force last year.
Releasing the data, the government stressed its work on climate change spans the work of multiple departments – notably Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). It also said climate change and energy work is a “network-wide priority” that engages staff at all levels of government.
It also pointed out that when counting the number of UK-based staff working on the issue it has not included “locally engaged members of staff” – arguing that the 221 figure therefore “significantly under-represents” the full scale of the FCO’s climate activity.
The data falls against a backdrop of continuing government austerity as ministers battle to meet ambitious spending targets set out by the former chancellor George Osborne in 2015.
Other areas of government also appear to be axeing climate jobs as austerity programmes bite – a DeSmog investigation last year suggested more than half of local governments across England have cut the number of staff working in climate and sustainability positions since 2011. Many areas, including the cities Southampton and Nottingham, no longer have any staff working on directly on the issue, according to the 2016 data.
Across the Atlantic, the Trump administration is making headway in its quest to cut the headcount of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nearly 400 workers have left the agency since the end of August, the department said in a release on Tuesday, cutting the agency’s staffing numbers by 2.5 per cent in less than a week.
“We’re giving long-serving, hardworking employees the opportunity to retire early,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement. “We’re proud to report that we’re reducing the size of government, protecting taxpayer dollars and staying true to our core mission of protecting the environment and American jobs.”
Trump made rolling back the powers of the EPA a key plank of his agenda on entering the White House last year, as part of a wider strategy to unpick Obama-era policies to protect the environment and tackle global warming.
But the wave of departures – which could soon see the EPA headcount cut to 1998 levels – has sparked fears the agency may struggle to fulfil its core duties of ensuring compliance with US environmental law.