The Future of Climate Security
The impact of unmitigated climate change as a paramount national security issue was discussed at a World Affairs Council public event on March 28 that featured three distinguished speakers: Lukas Haynes, Vice Admiral Robert Parker, USCG, and Ian Kraucunas. The conversation was moderated by Davis Wright Tremaine Partner and Co-chair of Energy Practice Craig Gannett. Issues addressed during the conversation included: the increasing risk climate change poses to national security, the U.S. Military Intelligence’s underrecognized work on identifying climate change as a national security priority, the axes upon which scientists investigate climate change, the role that the private sector and private citizens can play to mitigate climate change, and the Trump administration’s stance on climate security.
All three speakers brought with them expertise and insights from three different sectors – all of which are making great efforts in addressing climate change. Lukas Haynes is the Executive Director of the David Rockefeller Fund and on the Center for Climate and Security’s Advisory Board and represented the efforts of the philanthropy sector to mitigate climate change. Vice Admiral Parker brought to the discussion his extensive military and National Security experience – he currently serves as an independent consultant and advisor for National and Homeland Security, and served as the USCG Commander of the the Atlantic Area encompassing all territory from the Rocky Mountains to the Arabian Gulf. Ian Kraucunas is the Director of the Atmospheric Sciences and Global Change Division at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and represented the scientific community’s efforts to identify, track, and suggest strategies to curb the harmful effects of climate change.
Lukas Haynes communicated the gravity of climate change as a national security issue by placing it above other peace and security issues which are often viewed as more pressing. He noted that throughout his philanthropic career, he has invested more than 100 million dollars into peace and security issues ranging from nuclear nonproliferation, biological sciences, cyber security, anti-satellite weapons, and counter terrorism. Yet, among all of these issues, he views climate security as the foremost issue placing the United States at risk and emphasizes the need to develop immediate and long-term program policies on the region, national, and international level. He explained that the National Intelligence Council published an extensive report delineating the vast and devastating consequences of climate change such as the expected increase in instances of drought, rising sea levels, desertification, and more. These changes in climate will likely be accompanied by horrific consequences such as food and water shortages, intensified conflict and state fragility, and the deterioration of the rule of law and governments.
Mr. Haynes drove his point home by highlighting the watershed statement made by Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ that climate security cannot be ignored and should be placed to the front of queue of national security challenges. In a testimony to the Senate Armed Service Committee he stated: “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today…Climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects.”
Admiral Robert Parker brought to the fore the difficulty of balancing immediate priorities with future projected challenges, as well as emphasized looking climate change through the lens of responsible investment. Mr. Parker explained that climate change is increasingly difficult to ignore as you become familiar with the science, yet admitted that it took him decades to appreciate its security threat. He explained that as a military officer he was fully immersed in responding to immediate crises and it wasn’t until weather related disasters began to increase with a vengeance – causing devastation in the Caribbean, New Orleans, and the New York metropolitan area – did it resonate with him that this uptick in natural disasters wasn’t an anomaly, but a trend. Additionally, from the perspective of the U.S. military, investment must target locations that don’t place crucial infrastructure at high risk due to climate change. For this reason, the main Coast Guard facilities was rebuilt in Bayonne, NJ instead of Sandy Hook.
Ian Kraucunas’ work with PNNL furthers the development of tools and technologies to provide decision makers with the ability to predict the likely effects of climate change. In order to help frame the discussion, he explained that his laboratory approaches climate change on three separate axes to help policymakers make informed decisions. Firstly, there is the domestic vs. international axis which encompasses the consideration of broad domestic infrastructure versus the international considerations such as decreasing sea ice and mineral mining changes that are linked to environmental consequences such as water and food insecurity. Secondly, there are direct and indirect effects of climate change; for example, drought is a direct effect of climate change and ensuing conflicts such as food security and state fragility, are indirect. Lastly, one can approach climate change in terms of adaptation versus mitigation in determining how one responds to climate change.
The speakers were unanimous in their assessment of the Trump administration’s stance on climate security. In reference to the executive order President Trump signed that would dismantle the Obama Administration’s environmental regulations, Mr. Haynes asserted, “today’s actions are detrimental to our role as a leader in the realm, and we have made ourselves vulnerable from a national security standpoint”. He argued that we are witnessing is a complete takeover of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy by fossil fuel interests. However, Haynes was optimistic in the ability of the private sector and the low-carbon industry to combat the detrimental steps taken by the administration. Mr. Haynes noted that the low-carbon sector is growing and scaling at a faster rate than anyone expected, and that this trend will be difficult to reverse due to market forces. Additionally, he explained that while they’re still honing the mechanisms measuring the exact ROI of impact investing, all signs point to huge successes in divestment from fossil fuels and subsequent re-investment in the sustainable energy sector.
The question was raised on how private citizens can address the issue of climate change. While advocacy avenues and private sector funds where impact can be made were suggested, the panelists reminded attendees that ultimately the U.S. political agenda is at the mercy of the electorate’s priorities. Therefore, what is needed is a shift in the U.S. narrative on climate change, and to find a way to make the severity of the climate change issue resonate with the broader American public. Only when it is deemed a national security priority by the people, will this be reflected in domestic and foreign policy formations placing climate change atop the national security agenda.