The Center for Climate and Security Applauds the Biden Administration’s Executive Actions on Climate Change

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The Center for Climate and Security applauds President Biden’s Executive Orders (EO) on climate change released today, including the EO specifically addressing climate threats to national security titled  “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.”  This EO devotes a significant section (1.3) to climate security, following through on many of the policy proposals made in the President’s campaign plan, and reflecting recommendations the Center for Climate and Security made in its “Climate Security Plan for America.”

As we noted after the election last November, President Biden committed to making climate change a core national security priority. This EO begins to make that commitment a reality, noting that climate considerations are an “essential element” of all U.S. foreign and national security policy – signaling a major and unprecedented elevation of the issue.  It builds on the President’s appointment of former Secretary of State John Kerry to be his Special Presidential Envoy for Climate (a position with a seat on the National Security Council, established in the EO), and the creation of a Senior Director for Climate and Energy at the National Security Council  – actions that together go well beyond the Obama Administration’s actions on climate security.  

The Executive Order includes other campaign commitments and high-level climate security actions, including:

  • Requesting a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the national and economic security impacts of climate change (a major intelligence action requiring the approval of the heads of all 18 intelligence agencies)
  • Directing the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to consider the security implications of climate change in the “National Defense Strategy, Defense Planning Guidance, Chairman’s Risk Assessment, and other relevant strategy, planning, and programming documents and processes” along with an annual update on progress made
  • Directing the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with a number of other agencies including the Director of National Intelligence, to develop an analysis of the security implications of climate change (dubbed the “Climate Risk Analysis”)
  • Directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to incorporate the “homeland security implications of climate change” into its “strategy, planning, and programming documents and processes.”  

In addition, President Biden reinstated a 2016 Presidential Memorandum (PM) on Climate Change and National Security, which had been developed through the leadership of Alice Hill, then Senior Director for Resilience Policy on the National Security Council, but repealed during the last administration.  The PM directs relevant agencies to ensure climate change impacts and projections informed the development of national security doctrine, policies and plans, as well as the creation of an interagency, Assistant Secretary-level “Climate and National Security Working Group.”

Of course, these actions follow the decision issued last week under which the United States rejoined the Paris Agreement.

As stated above, these actions reflect recommendations the Center for Climate and Security made in its “Climate Security Plan for America.”  In that report, we highlighted the importance of rejoining the Paris Agreement (Rec 1.13), performing in-depth intelligence analysis on climate threats (Rec 2.1), and performing climate security risk assessments (on infrastructure – Rec 2.2, and on military missions – Rec 2.3).  The EO’s pillars on risk analysis also build on analysis by the Center for Climate and Security released last February in “A Security Threat Assessment of Global Climate Change,” conducted by the Center’s National Security, Military and Intelligence Panel on Climate Change (NSMIP).

The actions taken by the Biden Administration thus far are very encouraging–these steps establish the high-level framework needed for the more substantive progress that must follow to prepare for unavoidable climate change impacts, and to prevent severe and catastrophic ones.  This is, indeed, not the end of the beginning, but rather the beginning of the beginning.  It’s a critically important start to a long road ahead.

Finally, the Executive Orders were conveniently issued the day before our scheduled event: “Unprecedented Foresight: Opportunities to Improve Climate Security Risk Assessments in the Biden Administration.”  You can be sure we’ll be discussing this Executive Order and more, so sign up now!

Quotes from the Center for Climate and Security and partners (this section will be updated over the next few days):

“It is refreshing to see the kind of leadership that sees the world’s challenges and faces them with grit and determination instead of pretending they don’t exist.  Climate change is already shaping our national security, and its impact will only increase.  This set of actions, unveiled at the outset of the Administration, make me optimistic about the progress to come, even as we face this daunting challenge.”John Conger, Director of the Center for Climate and Security and former Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) at the U.S. Department of Defense

“Climate change is already shaping the security landscape around the globe.. We see it amplifying inter-state resource rivalries, exacerbating instability, and increasing the costs of humanitarian aid and disaster response missions. Understanding these dynamics is key to developing sound national security policies that keep America and the world safe. President Biden’s executive order today gives the US tools to do just that. It lays a critical foundation to build on in the coming months as the government ramps up efforts to manage climate security challenges.”Erin Sikorsky, Deputy Director of the Center for Climate and Security, Director of the International Military Council on Climate and Security, and former Deputy Director of the Strategic Futures Group at the National Intelligence Council

“It is a welcome development to see the new administration give climate change the attention it deserves. Having been an external reader on the first National Intelligence Assessment on climate and security in 2008, I am delighted to see this president elevate climate change to a national security issue. I am particularly heartened that he asked our intelligence agencies to deliver a National Intelligence Estimate and the Secretary of Defense and other agency heads to provide a Climate Risk Analysis. We ultimately need to turn this and other analytical work into investments that shore up our security at home and abroad.”Joshua Busby, Associate Professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas-Austin, Senior Research Fellow, The Center for Climate and Security

Five decades as a Marine have taught me that threats to our National Security are many and varied. It is not just about conventional or nuclear threats from other nations, terrorist attacks, or pandemics. The armed forces have long understood the link between a changing climate and instability around the world. Climate stressors — extreme heat, drought, famines, and other forms of resource competition—place grave burdens on institutions and infrastructure. All of us who have worn the uniform should feel comfort in the aggressive approach President Biden has outlined to fight climate change. Our President has issued a call to arms to face this existential threat by marshaling all our forces, including our farmers and ranchers. When I returned to my family farm in West Tennessee, I found farmers already battling atmospheric carbon with regenerative agriculture. These practices pull carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil, increasing soil fertility while reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases, the primary cause of climate change. The President recognizes their value and pledges his support to farmers as they continue the battle!” – Lieutenant General John G. Castellaw, US Marine Corps (Ret), Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, Owner Darden Hill Farm, Former Deputy Commandant for Aviation, United States Marine Corps, Former Chief of Staff United States Central Command

“This executive order is both timely and necessary, since climate change has always been an essential element of national security for the United States and indeed every nation.  Net zero by 2050 is an ambitious goal, but in collaboration with our allies and other nations, the Biden Administration can once again make the United States the global leader in development as we pursue a secure and sustainable future for ourselves and for the world.” – Elizabeth L. Chalecki, Woodrow Wilson Fellow, Environmental Change & Security Program, Associate Professor of International Relations, University of Nebraska Omaha

“The climate didn’t stop changing over the past four years. Wildfires devastated our communities, extreme storms caused billions of dollars of damage to our critical civilian and military infrastructure, severe droughts exacerbated instability, and seas continued to rise. The security community in the US, including military and intelligence leaders, understood this and kept trying to better understand and address the risks, despite contrary political winds. Today’s executive actions by President Biden, issued just seven days into his term, take concern about the threat of climate change to an unprecedented level in national security policy-making in the United States. The orders acknowledge climate change for the potentially catastrophic security threat that it is, and call for robust actions across the government that are commensurate to that threat. To take a phrase from former Vice President Biden, these executive actions on climate change are a ‘BFD.’ An important start. Now the hard work of climate-proofing our security begins.”Francesco Femia and Caitlin E. Werrell, Co-Founders, The Center for Climate and Security and The Council on Strategic Risks, Senior Advisors to the International Military Council on Climate and Security

“Climate change is a threat multiplier, increasing both global and domestic security risks.  President Biden and Vice President Harris recognize that climate change is a threat to our national security and have vowed to make it a central element in America’s foreign and national security policies, plans and action.  By raising climate ambition with clear plans to combat the climate crisis, President Biden’s executive actions today reinstate America’s climate leadership and will galvanize action both at home and abroad to reduce carbon pollution, develop climate and clean energy solutions, and ensure environmental justice.  By making climate change an essential element of foreign and defense policy, we will now be able to develop the tools to climate proof our security, our infrastructure , and better protect the American people. Secretary of Defense Austin further recognized the importance of climate change in his bold statement “There is little about what the Department does to defend the American people that is not affected by climate change.  It is a national security issue, and we must treat it as such.”The Honorable Sherri Goodman,  Chair of the Board, The Council on Strategic Risks, Secretary General, the International Military Council on Climate and Security, former U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security)

“President Biden has taken a giant leap forward in the nation’s effort to confront climate change risks. His actions will deepen our country’s understanding of the escalating threats posed by climate change.  Today’s presidential orders will leave intelligence officers, military officers, and homeland security personnel better prepared to protect the nation against worsening climate impacts, such as deeper droughts, higher sea levels, bigger wildfires, greater heat, and torrential rainfall.  These measures will bolster the nation’s economic strength, its public health, and its national security. After all, climate change is no longer a risk for the distant future. It’s here, it’s now, and it’s causing enormous harm already.”Alice Hill, Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Resilience Policy on the National Security Council

“We should applaud the efforts to put climate change at the heart of American security policy. Personally, this is the culmination of a 14 year journey, since I first started working to push through a National Intelligence Estimate on the impacts of climate change on security, with legislation that I helped draft and circulate as staff in the Senate. Now, we’ve got to make sure the important work gets done.”Andrew Holland, Chief Operating Officer, The American Security Project

“President Biden is reasserting United States global leadership against the existential threat of Climate Change!  The inaction of the last four years is over and the efforts of so many to keep the vision of a livable world alive is being rewarded with a comprehensive plan of action.  I am confident that our entire national security complex will accept the challenge and marshall  forces to achieve dramatic results!” – Lieutenant General Arlen D. Jameson, US Air Force (Ret), Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, former Deputy Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Strategic Command

The Biden-Harris Administration has rightly characterized climate change as an existential threat and taken immediate and decisive action including the appointment of a cabinet-level Special Presidential Climate Envoy. Likewise, the executive order on addressing climate change at home and abroad mandates national security climate risk assessments and a National intelligence Estimate recognizing that understanding the resilience of nations important to U.S. national security is a critical component of addressing the global climate crisis. These actions send the strongest possible signal that climate security imperatives now stand alongside the priorities of financial investing in a clean-energy economy, respecting climate science and improving domestic infrastructure. Together, the Biden-Harris Administration’s actions may well be America’s last best chance to avert catastrophe. – Marcus D. King Ph.D., Vice-Chair of the Board, The Council on Strategic Risks, Senior Fellow, The Center for Climate and Security

“The Executive Order signed by President Biden is an important first step in reconfiguring U.S. national security doctrine towards addressing emergent 21st century challenges such as climate change.  The President’s call for a National Intelligence Estimate, the most authoritative statement by the intelligence community on a particular threat, is especially welcome.  Not only have the science and security communities learned a great deal since 2008’s National Intelligence Assessment on climate change, the order telegraphs to the entire security community that the Biden Administration means business on climate change. It will be incumbent on Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to not only deliver a timely National Intelligence Estimate to inform policymakers, but also to rapidly reshape the intelligence community so that it can tackle the hard science-based questions coming down the pike in 2022 and beyond.” – Dr. Rod Schoonover, Advisor, the Council on Strategic Risks, former Director of Environment and Natural Resources, the National Intelligence Council

“I give an “A” to yesterday’s #WhiteHouse #climate announcement: it was just about perfect in scope, tone, and timing. Now the hard work begins. People are policy and you are your budget. Get the right people on the bus and execute!”Rear Admiral David W. Titley, US Navy (Ret), Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, Former Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy and Director of Navy’s Task Force Climate Change   

“The government-wide approach to climate change risk assessment and climate policy action launched by the Biden/Harris administration in its first week in office sends clear signals to the entire US government, the entire country, and to concerned policymakers around the globe, that the United States of America finally takes the climate crisis seriously. Every executive branch agency – including all those related to security, foreign policy and intelligence – must analyze challenges and opportunities and enact changes that reduce climate change and its associated risks and help Americans and people around the world adapt to the accelerating changes. These executive actions can help chart important and innovative courses toward the types of meaning climate action that will save lives at home and abroad.” – Stacy D. VanDeveer, Professor & Chair, Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security & Global Governance, McCormack School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston.

“I salute the Biden administration for its ambitious and necessary plan to again make the United States a leader in the fight against climate change, and I look forward to seeing action on this decisive executive order as we chart the course for the next several years of climate policy. This all-hands-on-deck approach is exactly what we need if we are to understand, mitigate, and adapt to the threats climate change poses to our national security and prosperity on many fronts. Ocean science and technology hold great promise to help address the climate crisis, and our great maritime nation, including the Navy and other “ocean agencies,” can and must redouble efforts to advance ocean research to this end – at flank speed!” Rear Admiral Jonathan W. White, U.S. Navy (Ret), President & CEO, Consortium for Ocean Leadership, Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, Former Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy and Director of Navy’s Task Force Climate Change   

If you have questions about the Center for Climate and Security’s perspective on the Executive Order, please direct inquiries to: Francesco Femia, ffemia at climateandsecurity dot org


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