WASHINGTON, Jan 18 (Reuters Point Carbon) - Jonathan Pershing will move from his post as the number two U.S. climate negotiator to a new role in the country’s Department of Energy, the State Department confirmed on Friday.
Pershing, the U.S. deputy climate envoy under Todd Stern, announced to colleagues that he will be the Department of Energy’s new deputy assistant secretary for climate.
The State Department would not confirm whether Stern will remain in his post.
Pershing’s move is the first major personnel change in the State Department's climate team since Senator John Kerry was announced as Hilary Clinton’s replacement as secretary of state last month following the re-election of President Barack Obama.
He became the deputy climate envoy in 2009 after heading up climate policy at the Washington, DC-based think tank World Resources Institute.
Pershing's departure comes at a critical time for United Nations climate change negotiations.
Earlier this week, Stern said that the so-called Durban Platform agreed at U.N. climate talks in 2011 could be the last chance for the multilateral process, which poor nations say is vital to providing them with funds to help adapt to climate change.
"Jonathan's departure leaves a hole that needs to be filled. The U.S. is about to engage in a new round of climate negotiations, which comes at a critical juncture as climate change is rearing its ugly head," said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
With Kerry due to take the helm of the State Department in February, some climate policy analysts expect the U.S. to engage in more bilateral negotiations in addition to the multilateral process involving almost 200 nations.
Kerry has been a long-time advocate of strengthening U.S. efforts to combat climate change and co-authored a comprehensive carbon cap-and-trade bill with former Senator Joe Lieberman that died in the Senate in 2010.
"Mitigating climate change is clearly becoming an ever more important part of the State Department's brief, as western emissions fall and eastern emissions increase," said Paul Bledsoe, a former White House climate aide to Bill Clinton and now an independent consultant.
He said Kerry and his negotiating team are likely to engage in "even more direct negotiations with major emitting nations," inclusing on efforts to phase out of potent greenhouse gases called HFCs, "which the Chinese and Indians are preventing."
At the Department of Energy (DOE), Pershing will tackle both domestic and international clean energy policy, according to an email sent to DOE staff by the acting undersecretary for environment and energy.
"Jonathan will help lead our work on domestic climate and clean energy policy, as well as help manage key international engagements on clean energy including the Clean Energy Ministerial," said David Sandalow, referring to an annual global meeting on green technology.
Jennifer Morgan, director of climate policy at the World Resources Institute, said Pershing will be well suited to tackle both domestic and global energy and climate issues in his new job and bring more international visibility to the DOE.
"I think that Jonathan is a person who can raise the profile of the position," she said.
"The U.S. can only be taken seriously if it handles its emissions at home."
(adds DOE and additional comments)
By Valerie Volcovici – Valerie.firstname.lastname@example.org and Ben Garside