YEAR 175 TOP TEN

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Near the end of each year I like to do a countdown of the greatest hits of the past 12 months as a way of pondering and celebrating prior efforts before jumping into the new projects ahead. I always enjoy assembling the Top Ten list, but 2013 posed a couple of special difficulties. First, this 175th year of American diplomatic engagement in the territory of Aotearoa has been one of the busiest and most exciting periods in that long history of relations between our two societies, which makes choosing just ten highlights very difficult. Second, this will be my final year-end musing as Ambassador, which makes the enterprise bittersweet.

A few of our featured icons.

A few of the American icons featured at our 2013 Independence Day receptions.

Among the impactful efforts that would easily have made the list in prior years but got edged out this time around were our exuberant, super-hero themed American Independence Day events, the visit of Attorney General Eric Holder in May, deployment of NASA’s SOFIA airborne telescope in Christchurch, our joyous tour of Samoa with the Harlem Gospel Choir, Dancing Earth’s inaugural trip, commemorations of the 70th anniversary of Eleanor Roosevelt‘s visit to New Zealand …

… the launch of the American Ambassador Award for Best Social Impact at the inaugural Film Raro Festival, the Arizona Diamondback baseball clinic in Eden Park run by superstar Paul Goldschmidt, the launch of Hawaiian Airlines service between Auckland and Honolulu, bringing the NASA Space Apps Challenge to Auckland University of Technology, and, of course, celebrating the 175th anniversary of the opening of the first American consulate in 1838 in the Bay of Islands.

Click for image source. Hawaiian soars above Oahu en route to New Zealand.

Hawaiian soars above Oahu en route to New Zealand.

Despite the overwhelming temptation, I decided against a Top Forty-Seven List because that just would not have had the right resonance. So, after a great deal of thought, anguish, and revision, what follows is my Top Ten countdown for the very special year now rapidly drawing to a close:

10.  Benjamin Franklin Salons

This year we launched a new program to assemble small groups of experts to share perspectives with each other, brainstorm, discuss common ground, and deepen understanding on particular issues of importance. Named after one of my American heroes, Benjamin Franklin, the series is among our most dynamic and impactful projects of the past four years. Thus far I’ve hosted salons on topics such as oceans health, civil society capacity-building in Pacific island nations, intellectual property, and social entrepreneurship.

Click for source.Benjamin Franklin’s legacy endures in this statue in Paris

Benjamin Franklin’s legacy endures in this statue in Paris.

Usually held at the Residence in Wellington or the Consul General’s home in Auckland, each salon brings together 12 to 15 experts and interested persons from a great diversity of perspectives and positions for an extended lunch discussion. For example, our oceans health salon included not only scientists and environmentalists but commercial fishing executives, journalists, and a poet. All of the salons have been interesting, dynamic, useful, and – despite the weighty topics – much fun.

I think that Ben would be pleased. One of history’s greatest polymaths and America’s first Ambassador, Franklin was dispatched to Paris to persuade the French king to recognize the young American nation and assist us in our Revolution. Denied access to the French court for an extended period, Franklin began regularly hosting salons that brought together French scientists, writers, philosophers, clergy, and politicians to discuss the big issues facing the two countries, thus building understanding that greatly benefited both societies. In my view, he invented public diplomacy and saved our Revolution.

9.  Our new Digital Studio

Another highlight of the year was the opening of our new Digital Studio in what had been the Embassy’s library for the past 40 years. Fully outfitted with alternate sets, full-wall green screen, and high-grade digital equipment, the space is now being heavily utilized for content creation for our social media platforms as well as taping interviews and features for other uses, livestreaming, multilocation hangouts and collaborations, audio/video podcasts, graphics, and more.

Interviewing CEO of Genovation Cars Andrew Saul in the Studio

CEO of Genovation Cars Andrew Saul is interviewed in our Studio.

Creating the facility was the most impactful manifestation this year of our commitment to developing and employing new diplomatic tools and approaches. As I’ve discussed before, we have positioned Embassy Wellington as a bit of an idea lab for 21st Century Statecraft because embracing change allows us to engage with Kiwis, Samoans, and others in a more expansive way, to have more meaningful conversations, and to be more effective in our work.

Thus far, dozens of visitors and local luminaries have shared their observations and ideas in front of the cameras, including Minister of Women’s Affairs the Hon. Jo Goodhew, NASA astronaut Marsha Ivins, Victory University Wellington Student Association President Rory McCourt, community resilience expert Daniel Aldrich, Lise Edwards of Gender Allies, visiting think tank and corporate leaders, and many of our Fulbright Scholars and IVLP alumni. And we’re just getting started.

8.  First Nations International Visitor Leadership Program

Although the study tour won’t actually occur until 2014, I have to include on the 2013 Top Ten list an exciting exchange program that we developed and planned over the course of this year. We will be sending six young Maori entrepreneurs and business leaders to the U.S. for three weeks next March to meet with American Indian and Alaskan Native business leaders and to experience firsthand the diversity and richness of American first peoples’ cultures, tribal structures, and economic enterprises.

Click for image source.Solar Project at Ho-Chunk Incorporated in Nebraska.

Among the planned stops on the itinerary are the extensive green energy and other enterprises of the Winnebago tribe in Nebraska.

Organized within the framework of the International Visitor Leadership Program, one of my favorite State Department exchanges, the itinerary will include visits to energy projects in Arizona and New Mexico, tech and investment companies in Washington State, a diversified international economic development enterprise in Nebraska, and large-scale commercial fishing operations in Alaska, all owned and operated by first peoples tribes. The study tour will end in Washington, DC with policy discussions at various agencies and the Embassy of Tribal Nations.

Our travelers will be Ngarimu Blair of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, Toa Greening of Te Huarahi Tika Trust, Gina Rangi of Tuaropaki Trust, Paki Rawiri of Tainui, Lisa Tumahai of Ngāi  Tahu, and Jamie Tuuta of Te Tumu Paeroa. My hope is that they will return to New Zealand with valuable new relationships, business networks, and ideas that will help expand, deepen, and enrich the relationship between our two societies and among the first peoples of our two countries. If successful, I hope that this will be just the first of an ongoing series of similar networking projects.

7.  Connecting Young Leaders Conference

It should be no surprise that our annual Connecting Young Leaders (CYL) Conference hits the list again this year. You just cannot beat the extraordinary energy, enthusiasm, excitement, and intellectual ruckus when we bring my student advisers from New Zealand’s various universities together for a long weekend of networking, policy discussions, and leadership training. I plan my year around Connecting Young Leaders, and it is always one of the most instructive and valuable events that I attend.

With several of my student advisers at the opening reception.

With several of my student advisers at the opening reception.

This year’s conference was the biggest and best to-date, with more than 80 of New Zealand’s top students and more than a dozen impressive speakers and workshop leaders convening at the University of Otago in Dunedin. The program included particularly dynamic break-out sessions on topics such as youth involvement in local government, establishing and running a charitable organization, sustainable development, the role of media in effecting change, and protecting heritage and cultural values.

As I’ve said before, perhaps what makes me happiest about my time as Ambassador is how well our student programs have put down deep, vibrant, authentic roots and spread to other Embassies. You can’t genuinely understand and embrace a society without engaging its youth, and I’m delighted that we have now firmly focused our attention on the future rather than just the past or present. It’s an investment that will greatly enrich both of our societies. I very much look forward to reading about CYL conferences for many years to come.

6.  Pacific Armies Conclaves (PACC & PAMS)

The United States and New Zealand have a long and distinguished history of working together to make the world a more stable, secure, and free place. Over the past four years we have together reinvigorated our security cooperation by conducting humanitarian and disaster relief exercises, restarting regular strategic dialogues, and celebrating touchstones of our shared history such as last year’s 70th anniversary of the arrival of American military forces in New Zealand during World War II and this year’s 70th anniversary of key exercises by U.S. Marines here before determinative battles in the Pacific islands.

New Zealand Defense Minister Coleman welcomes General Odierno to New Zealand.

Defence Minister Coleman welcomes General Odierno to New Zealand.

In 2013, we jointly hosted in Auckland both the 8th biennial Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (PACC) and the 37th annual Pacific Armies Management Seminar (PAMS), with an agenda focused on collaboration in peacekeeping operations in a United Nations context. The chiefs of army and other senior officers from 32 nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans region attended, including U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno and Commanding General of the U.S. Army in the Pacific General Vincent Brooks.

The American and Kiwi military co-hosts led multilateral discussions with our regional counter-parts on issues of humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, training for unit interoperability, and coordinating and expediting operational and tactical logistics during emergency situations. There was a full and productive exchange of perspectives, dynamic brainstorming, and the networking that seeds life-saving collaboration. PACC and PAMS were unequivocal successes, demonstrating the wisdom and value of our renewed security engagement.

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Please stay tuned. I’ll continue the countdown in a couple days.

DH Sig

While in New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session last week, Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the leaders of Pacific island nations for a panel discussion on climate change and sustainable development. The Secretary invited Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Neioti Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi and Republic of the Marshall Islands President Christopher Jorebon Loeak to offer their perspectives at the outset and to help lead the discussion.

Secretary Kerry, flanked by Prime Minister Tuilaepa (at right)and President Loeak (second from left).

Secretary Kerry, flanked by Prime Minister Tuilaepa (at right) and President Loeak (second from left).

The resulting conversation among the assembled leaders and other senior officials from the Pacific focused on the need for greater collaboration among like-minded governments, the utility of working through existing regional institutions, and the immediate importance of focusing on concrete outcomes in terms of reducing emissions and building resiliency against climate change impacts.

After the roundtable the Secretary hosted a reception at which the Pacific islands leaders and other senior officials from their countries could engage with senior officials from the State Department and the White House including Danny Russel, our Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia & the Pacific. The conversations launched during the panel continued at the reception. Below are the brief comments with which Secretary Kerry opened discussion at the start of the events.

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SECRETARY KERRY:  Welcome, everybody, and thank you for – sorry, I’m a moment late. I apologize. I’m very happy to be meeting today with Marshall Islands President Loeak and with the Samoan Prime Minister Malielegaoi and other Pacific Island leaders. We’re very happy to have all of you here.

 
This week these leaders and other leaders from around the globe have come to New York during the UN General Assembly to discuss some of the issues of greatest challenge to everybody, life and death issues that impact millions of people around the world. Climate change is one issue that absolutely impacts millions of people around the world, and no one knows just how deeply serious and present, how now this challenge is and its impacts than the people of the vulnerable Pacific Islands. They have experienced both historic droughts and the highest rates of sea level rise in the world.

So the science is clear and irrefutable, and today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed for the fifth time in 20 years that climate change is real, is happening, and is in large part caused by human activity. The IPCC findings have stressed that if we continue down our current path, the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, could be even worse than previously expected.

So as we work with our international partners to prepare for the impacts of climate change and the impacts that we’re already witnessing, we have an urgent responsibility to try to work together even harder to be able to change the way we’re doing things. I’ve been following this issue since, what, 1988 when then-Senator Al Gore and I held the first hearings in the United States Senate. And Jim Hansen came before our committee and said climate change is happening now. That was 1988. Everything has confirmed that ever since, but we still have a small window of time to prevent the very worst impacts of climate change from catching up to us. But that window is closing.

So we know that no one nation has the ability to address climate change alone. The United States, which is together with China a large proportion of emissions, if we acted all by ourselves and went to zero tomorrow it wouldn’t do the job. So we all are in this. We all have to figure out how to proceed forward. And between President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the important Majuro Declaration the Pacific Islands nations signed at the 44th Pacific Islands Forum earlier this month, between those things our countries have made clear our commitments to address what is one of the defining issues of our time. We’re equally committed to working toward a comprehensive UN climate agreement that takes into account the unique circumstances and capabilities of each nation.

I know I also speak for President Obama when I say that I – we stand with the Pacific Islands in the fight against climate change. And I’m looking forward to our discussion today, and most importantly, I’m looking forward to continuing our very important work as we together try to guarantee the future of our nations and indeed the future of the planet.

[End]

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From all accounts I’ve received, it was a productive session with a strong sense of shared interest and commitment. I’m glad that during such a hectic week the leaders were able to convene for this important discussion.

DH Sig

As part of our ongoing efforts to promote women’s leadership in addressing climate change, I’m pleased to announce that the State Department will be sending 12 extraordinary Pacific women to the United States for a two-week study tour in August. I am particularly delighted that all four of the nominees that I submitted have been included in the program — Kahealani Hekau of Niue, Ulamila Wragg of the Cook Islands, Anne Rasmussen of Samoa, and Charlotte Severne of New Zealand.

Click through for image source. In 2009 Kiribati President, Anote Tong, conceded it was doomed and requested international help to evacuate the country before it disappears.

The threat is obvious.

The program will bring together a diverse cross-section of women leaders from the Pacific region who are active in climate and environment issues. The trip will allow these leaders to network with other policy-makers and experts, learn about innovative efforts to address climate change and advance sustainable development technologies, and brainstorm about how further to engage and mobilize women and girls on such issues when they return home.

The participants will convene in Washington for policy discussions and then disperse to other cities for meetings and tours in their individual fields of focus. The participants will reconvene in Honolulu to share information, discuss lessons learned, and consider potential action plans. Over the course of the trip, participants will meet with many American women active in climate change, energy, and development issues in federal, State, and local governments, the private sector, academia, think tanks, and NGOs.

I’ll write in more detail about the program when the women return, and perhaps I’ll be able to induce one or more of our travelers to talk on video about their experiences. For now, I’d like to introduce our four participants:

Charlotte Severne.

Charlotte Severne has deep expertise in energy and natural resource issues and is a leading proponent of clean energy technologies.

She worked for 12 years as chief scientist for oceans research and Maori development at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), leaving recently to open her own consulting business.

Throughout her career Charlotte has served on the boards of numerous Maori organizations including geothermal peer review panels, bioethics councils, and forest trusts.

Click through for image source. Teuila flower.Samoa’s top expert on climate change, Anne Rasmussen has more than a decade of experience in the Samoan government on environmental issues.

Currently, she works at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE). Among other roles, she serves as project manager for climate change initiatives and as the climate negotiator for Samoa and the Alliance of Small Island States.

She has also been a negotiator for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), demonstrating very impressive leadership and organizational skills in working effectively across government agencies and with international partners.

Ulamila Wragg.

Ulamila Wragg is engaged in a variety of projects focused on advancing women’s empowerment in matters of the environment. She previously worked for almost 20 years in the mainstream media.

She negotiated for the Cook Islands at the UNFCCC and has been involved in Group of 77 activities. This year she peer-reviewed the regional Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s gender and climate change adaptation tool kit.

A co-founder of the Pacific Gender Climate Coalition in the Cook Islands, she conducts gender and climate change training for policy makers and NGOs in the Cooks.

Kahealani.

A graduate of Victoria University of Wellington and the University of the South Pacific (in Vanuatu), Kahealani Hekau served as legal counsel for the Niue Climate Change Project before establishing her own law firm.

She has worked with advocacy groups in the Pacific region to build detailed case studies on the impact of climate change which have subsequently been used at gender and climate change workshops not only locally but internationally.

A co-founder and board member of the Pacific Gender Climate Coalition, she is active in a variety of NGO activities related to public health as well as the environment.

I have not seen the bios of the women who will be attending the program from other countries, but I am sure that they are as skilled, committed, and interesting as our four participants. That will create an extraordinary opportunity for all involved.

Warm congratulations – and shortly, bon voyage – to Anne, Charlotte, Kahealani, and Ulamila. I very much look forward to hearing about their trip when they return.

dh sig

It was a pleasure to welcome Dr. Annmarie Eldering to Wellington last week. A scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Dr Eldering is working on the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) project. She came to Wellington to attend a conference organized to review current standards for measuring levels of carbon dioxide and other gases, in an effort to standardize such metrics worldwide.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which conducted the first-ever stand-up rocket engine test in 1936. Located with CalTech in Pasadena, California, JPL is a major research, development, and exploration hub with a long string of “firsts” to its credit. JPL was led for more than 20 years by Kiwi-American Dr William Hayward Pickering.

I have always had a strong interest in space travel and space sciences, so having someone from NASA nearby is a great temptation. Rather than pepper Dr Eldering with questions, however, I asked her to just talk a bit about the highlights of her visit to New Zealand.

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Dr Annmarie Eldering

Dr Annmarie Eldering.

Dr Annmarie Eldering:

Ambassador, thank you for asking me to write a few paragraphs about my trip.

As you know, the purpose of my visit was to attend a weeklong conference on Greenhouse Gas Measurements, but I did have time to get out and explore a bit.

I’ve never visited New Zealand, so I was impressed by the beautiful scenery of Wellington. I love hiking and getting outside, so on the afternoon of my arrival, I walked all along the waterfront and enjoyed the scenery and beautiful architecture.

The conference is a very interesting meeting of about 100 experts from around the world who take detailed measurements of greenhouse gases. There are measurements being made all over the world – in Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia, throughout the continents of Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and Africa, and in many small island nations. The goal is to make sure that all of these measurements can be compared to one another, and that they are precise enough that we can see small trends (i.e., changes over time) in greenhouse gases.

At this meeting, people share comparisons of their data, talk about things they have learned about how the instruments operate, and plan for next steps to improve and continue the measurements. More details about the meeting can be found at: http://www.niwa.co.nz/node/103049

NIWA’s Atmospheric monitoring station at Baring Head.

NIWA’s Atmospheric monitoring station at Baring Head.

I flew in for the meeting because the data that are being collected are critical to the project that I work on. I am one of the science leads of a JPL/NASA project called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2. We are building a satellite instrument that will make precise measurements of the carbon dioxide all around the globe.

We will measure the column of carbon dioxide — i.e., the total amount between the surface and the top of the atmosphere. It will be important to check that our measurements are correct, so we will rely on data that is collected by a set of special ground-based measurements like those being discussed at the meeting here in Wellington.

OCO-2 computer model.

Computer model of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2.

Scientists from NIWA are operating a special ground-based measurements site in Lauder and collaborating with us on checking our satellite measurements. I was very happy to meet those scientists in person after all our past communications via email and telephone.

Of course we spent most of our time in meetings at the Convention Center, but one evening we had dinner at the Te Papa museum. We were fortunate that the museum is open late on Thursday, so I had a couple of hours to explore the exhibits before the dinner started. I especially enjoyed the display called “Passports,” where I learned about the waves of immigration to New Zealand. The photos of recent immigrants who came as refugees from other countries were very powerful and certainly resonate with me as an American.

One afternoon, I took some time away from the conference to talk to students at two colleges in Wellington. I always enjoy having the opportunity to talk to students about the project I work on, and also about how I got interested in working in the area of atmospheric sciences and greenhouse gases in the first place.

The first school that we visited was Wellington Girls College. I was quite pleased to see that there was a room full of students who were interested to hear what I had to say. I talked about the path of training and work that I took to end up where I am today, in a science leadership position for the OCO-2 mission.

Dr Eldering at Wellington Girls College.

Dr Eldering at Wellington Girls College.

The girls had great questions — asking about other missions that NASA is building, how air pollution has changed over time, and how our understanding of climate change is improving. They were a very thoughtful audience, attentive, well-mannered, and appreciative. In fact, I left with a nice gift of a local Pinot Gris.

The next stop was Scots College. I was impressed again by the attentiveness of the students and the excellent questions that they asked. Again, it was clear that students had been learning about climate and the carbon cycle, so it was easy to have a good conversation with them. In fact, one of the students had just written an essay about climate change, won a contest, and will be traveling to New York to participate in meetings in the coming weeks.

Dr Eldering at Scots College.

Dr Eldering at Scots College.

It has been an interesting and productive visit, and good progress was made on a very important topic. Ambassador, I’ll keep you informed about how OBO-2 is proceeding.

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Thanks to Dr Eldering for taking time out of her busy schedule to meet some of Wellington’s future scientists during her time here. I always deeply appreciate when visiting VIPs are so gracious and enthusiastic about meeting with students.

Dr Eldering’s visit prompted me to do a bit of additional research, and I came across a great video from the State Department about the importance of women in science. I urge you to take a look by clicking here.