Briefer: Climate Change a “Top Tier Threat” in the 2022 U.S. National Security Strategy

By Sherri Goodman, Holly Kaufman, and Pauline Baudu

The Biden Administration’s new National Security Strategy (NSS), released in October 2022, elevates attention and focus on climate security beyond any prior NSS. The security risks of climate change get the attention in the NSS they have long deserved. Climate change is in fact framed as a top-tier threat on a par with geopolitical challenges from U.S. adversaries and competitors.

The NSS states:

“Of all of the shared problems we face, climate change is the greatest and potentially [most] existential for all nations. Without immediate global action during this crucial decade, global temperatures will cross the critical warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius after which scientists have warned some of the most catastrophic climate impacts will be irreversible.”

The world is already experiencing deadly and life-altering climate-related catastrophes (e.g, flooding in Pakistan, fires and drought in California, hurricanes in Florida) when the Earth’s global average land and ocean surface temperature has risen at least 1.1 degrees Celsius since the mid-1800s (approximately 2 degrees Fahrenheit). This NSS recognizes the unprecedented risks posed by such disasters. It therefore includes climate risks and related solutions in every aspect of national security and foreign policy, from reduction of carbon pollution to building resilience at home and abroad, and threading climate risks into every regional strategy. In this regard, the new NSS includes many of the recommendations in our Briefer of June 2021,“Climate Change in the U.S. National Security Strategy: History and Recommendations.”

The most recent NSS addresses our five key recommendations as well emerging concerns due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. These are 1) include all sectors, not just energy, including sources and sinks; 2) expand the concept of climate security to ecological security; 3) increase environmental monitoring; 4) forecast and plan for unpredictability; 5) assert strong U.S. leadership on climate and inter-related global ecological concerns, including passing aggressive climate and environmental restoration legislation and appropriating sufficient funding.

This briefer by the Center for Climate and Security focuses on these five recommendations and the relevant provisions within the NSS, concluding that the NSS both succeeds in recognizing the interdependence of all natural systems and resources, but also embodies several contradictions which should be improved. However, “the theme of the 2022 NSS is spot on: ‘No country should withhold progress on existential transnational issues like the climate crisis because of bilateral differences.'”

Renewed Urgency of Climate Security Action: Launch of the 2022 World Climate and Security Report Series

By Elsa Barron

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has set off a tsunami of global effects, including food, fuel, fertilizer, and finance crises, explained Dr. Patrick Verkooijen, CEO of the Global Center of Adaptation at the International Military Council on Climate and Security’s (IMCCS) 2022 World Climate and Security Report Series Launch

In the midst of these developing problems, NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges Hon. David van Weel explains that, “Climate change is an ongoing challenge, if we fail to slow it down, the results may be similar to those we can see in wars—famine, loss of land and livelihoods, and migration.”

These overlapping and intersecting crises underscore the need to accelerate the energy transition, which, as IMCCS Director Erin Sikorsky stated, is a win-win-win situation. “It protects soldiers and operations, it undercuts petro-dictators like Putin, and it combats long-term climate security risks.” Therefore, moving from word to deed on decarbonization is a prerequisite for global security. Gen. Tom Middendorp (Ret.), Chair of the IMCCS, noted that militaries, as some of the largest emitters, have an important responsibility to be a leading part of the solution. 

The first report in the World Climate and Security Report Series, Decarbonized Defense: The Need for Clean Military Power in the Age of Climate Change, addresses this responsibility and highlights the tools required to enact change. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” said Hon. Sherri Goodman, Secretary General of the IMCCS. At the series launch, she noted that one of the most important contributions of the Decarbonizing Defense report is standard-setting for measuring military emissions in order to advance emissions reductions–a process in which NATO can play an important role. 

Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister François Bausch pointed to the advantages of collaboration between NATO and the European Union around decarbonization in order to boost research and innovation around sustainable technologies. This innovation is particularly important for decarbonizing heavier operational systems, which is one of the largest challenges facing militaries. The technology development required to decarbonize these systems provides additional opportunities to reduce emissions in hard-to-abate civil sectors, leading to multiplicative benefits. 

Concluding his remarks, Minister Bausch expressed his hopes that, “the proposals made in this World Climate and Security Report will help us to further fuel and shape more concrete action towards climate neutrality in the defense sector,” a key step to achieving the long-term security of a global system increasingly destabilized by climate change. 

You can watch the full event recording here and read the Decarbonizing Defense report here.