Global problems have become local, meaning greater coordination is needed at city, county and state levels for national and international policies to be effective. FIU Professor Assefa Melesse will spend the next year engaging with mayors, governors and other officials to advance national policy on climate security.
Melesse is one of nine Jefferson Science Fellows for 2023-2024, a select group of scientists helping to build capacity for science, technology and engineering expertise within the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development. For the next year, he and his family will call the nation’s capital home as he works with the Office of the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and other agencies working on climate security and climate diplomacy.
It may seem like uncharted territory for the Earth and Environment researcher who specializes in remote sensing and hydrological modeling in FIU’s Institute of Environment. However, Melesse has spent much of his career getting his science in front of the right people to help effect positive policy changes, management strategies and development planning. He knows what it takes to convene stakeholders with competing interests and foster a dialogue that actually delivers community-based solutions for international problems. He’s done it before.
“Unfortunately, good data and science alone will not solve the entire problem we face when it comes to the environment,” Melesse said. “Data is good for diplomacy and negotiations, and understanding this process and knowing what it takes is critical in addressing environmental issues.”
A native of Ethiopia, Melesse has worked to ensure scientific data ends up in the hands of politicians negotiating the management of the Nile River’s resources. In recent years, controversy has surrounded Ethiopia’s effort to build the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, designed for much-needed electricity production. Other countries have expressed concerns about water availability, among them Egypt, which gets 97 percent of its drinking and irrigation water from the Nile. Melesse organized the International Conference on the Nile and Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in 2020 to bring experts together to share scientific information. Since that time, he has continued to convene experts focused on local solutions and even published a book sharing scientific data from the conference to help inform negotiations.
Now, he is taking that and other experiences, including work on climate change modeling in South Florida and the Caribbean, to Washington to explore local community-based policies designed to counter the climate crisis. He will engage directly with representatives from offices of mayors, governors, and other local officials in the U.S. and overseas to tackle plastic pollution, climate adaptations and coastal flooding.
“If I apply the knowledge of climate diplomacy to achieve climate security and promote adaptation strategies to avert climate disasters, that will be an achievement,” Melesse said.
He hopes to gain support from U.S. companies for a plastics reduction accord, and he’ll also help develop a climate guide for U.S. embassies and consulates to use with local leaders.
The Jefferson Science Fellows is a program of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. The 2023-2024 class marks the 20th anniversary of the program.