Home » climate and security » Secretary of Defense Panetta Reaffirms Climate Change as a National Security Risk

Secretary of Defense Panetta Reaffirms Climate Change as a National Security Risk

In a comment this past March, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke of the national security implications of climate change.  He strongly reaffirmed DoD’s attention to this issue in a major speech last Wednesday, May 2 (we were out of town, and are a little late out of the gate on this).  In addition to highlighting the unique threat that climate change poses to U.S. national security, Secretary Panetta also discussed how the Department of Defense was well-placed to address this threat because of its ability to take the long-term view in preparing for risks (see our recent piece on why the U.S. national security establishment takes climate change seriously, which touches on similar issues). Below is a key section of the speech that we found notable, and here is a link to the full speech on the DoD’s website.

Our mission at the Department is to secure this nation against threats to our homeland and to our people.  In the 21st Century, the reality is that there are environmental threats which constitute threats to our national security.  For example, the area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security:  rising sea levels, to severe droughts, to the melting of the polar caps, to more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

I was pointing out the other day that with the polar cap melting, we now have problems with regard to who claims the area in the polar region.  And very frankly, one of the things I hope we get a chance to work on is to finally get the United States of America to approve the Law of the Seas treaty, which has been hanging out there for so long.  We are the only industrialized nation that has not approved that treaty.  It’s time that we did that.

The quest for energy is another area that continues to shape and reshape the strategic environment – from the destabilizing consequences of resource competition to the efforts of potential adversaries to block the free flow of energy.

These strategic and practical considerations weigh heavily on us at the Department of Defense.  They weighed heavily on us as we developed our new defense strategy.  In crafting that strategy, we decided that this could not just be an exercise in budget cutting.

It had to give us the opportunity to look to the future, and decide what is the Defense Department going to be, not only today but in the future.   And that meant we have to be efficient, we have to be innovative, and we have to invest in the technologies of the future.

As one of the largest landowners and energy consumers in the world, our drive is to be more efficient and environmentally sustainable.  We have to be able to have the potential to transform the nation’s approach to the challenges we are facing in the environment and energy security.  We’ve got to look ahead to try to see how we can best achieve that.


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