Tom Donilon, National Security Advisor to President Obama, spoke at length on the security implications of energy and climate change at the launch of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. Donilon acknowledged that speaking at energy conferences was somewhat unusual for National Security Advisors, but given the very real intersection between energy, climate change and national security, the appearance was certainly appropriate.
While the primary focus of the launch event was global energy policy, and Donilon’s remarks appropriately centered on U.S. energy policy and the shifting geopolitics of energy, he also made some very strong statements regarding the security risks of climate change.
Donilon began by pointing out these risks to both the United States and countries around the world:
The national security impacts of climate change stem from the increasingly severe environmental impacts it is having on countries and people around the world. Last year, the lower 48 U.S. states endured the warmest year on record. At one point, two-thirds of the contiguous United States was in a state of drought, and almost 10 million acres of the West were charred from wildfires. And while no single weather event can be directly attributed to climate change, we know that climate change is fueling more frequent extreme weather events. Last year alone, we endured 11 weather-related disasters that inflicted a $1 billion or more in damages – including Hurricane Sandy.
Internationally, we have seen the same: the first twelve years of this century are all among the fourteen warmest years on record. Last year, Brazil experienced its worst drought in five decades; floods in Pakistan affected over five million people and damaged or destroyed over 460,000 homes; severe flooding across western Africa and the Sahel impacted three million people across fifteen countries–to give just a few examples among many.
Donilon also asserted that the Administration recognized, from the outset, the security threat posed by climate change:
The fact that the environmental impacts of climate change present a national security challenge has been clear to this Administration from the outset. The President’s National Security Strategy recognizes in no uncertain terms that “the danger from climate change is real, urgent, and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of land across the globe.”
He concluded his comments on climate change and security by pointing to a few key reviews and assessments conducted by the U.S. national security and intelligence communities:
The Department of Defense’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, issued by Secretary Robert Gates, warned not only that climate change “may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world” but also of the potential impacts of climate change on our operating environment, and on our military installations at home and around the world. A National Intelligence Assessment in 2008, multiple Worldwide Threat Assessments produced by the Director of National Intelligence, and numerous expert analyses have reached similar conclusions. This underscores the need – for the sake of our national security — to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change and to ensure that we are as prepared as possible for the impacts of climate change.
The National Security Council is certainly an appropriate institution for managing the U.S. government’s preparation for, and response to, the national security risks of climate change. It is encouraging to see the National Security Advisor speaking publicly on this critical issue, and we hope to see more of this in the future.
Donilon’s full remarks can be found here.