Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing, who helped lead the United States at the U.N. global warming talks for the past four years, will step down.
In an email to colleagues last night, obtained by ClimateWire, Pershing announced he will be the Department of Energy's new deputy assistant secretary for climate.
"I believe we have, collectively, made strides toward a cleaner world -- and one a bit less likely to be catastrophically damaged by climate because of our efforts," Pershing wrote in the email.
"Obviously, there is considerably more work to be done. While I leave with sadness at the idea of no longer being an active part of the international negotiations, I also leave with the confidence the effort will see continued success and lead to a more climate friendly world."
Pershing's move comes at a major transition time at the State Department. Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to step down later this month, and confirmation hearings for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has been nominated as her successor, have been scheduled for Jan. 24. Observers of the climate talks say they are unsure what shape Kerry might want his climate team to take.
Pershing joined the State Department in March of 2009 under Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern as part of what would be a new global warming ambassadorship under the Obama administration.
Tackling the government's biggest emitter
The two spearheaded and pushed the idea of a voluntary, "bottom up" approach to take the place of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which dictated emissions cuts to various countries. As part of that, they pushed consistently and largely successfully to ensure that China and other emerging countries made legally binding carbon commitments.
In doing so, the team, and Pershing in particular, became a lighting rod for many environmental activists who felt the United States was not doing enough domestically or making enough promises internationally. In the United States, though, he is widely praised for making sure any new agreement doesn't fall into the same pitfalls that Kyoto, which was rejected by the Senate, faced.
"Jonathan Pershing will serve the president and American people well at DOE. He is far more than a U.N. negotiator," said Nigel Purvis, president of Climate Advisers and a former Kyoto negotiator.
"Having directed climate and energy work at the International Energy Agency and the World Resources Institute previously, he has an excellent command of how energy policy can accelerate the transition to low-carbon energy," Purvis said.
"Jonathan played an important role in helping push the international negotiations to focus squarely on the need for real action, not theoretical action," said Jake Schmidt, international policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Pershing in his email described his new portfolio as more focused on domestic climate policy and on "making a contribution to the ongoing US effort to reduce emissions from a critical sector."
Before joining the State Department, Pershing served as director of the World Resources Institute think tank's climate and energy program. He also directed the environment program at the International Energy Agency, spending almost a decade before that in the State Department as a senior climate official working on the Kyoto Protocol.