According to a summary provided by the White House, climate change was high on the agenda of a recent discussion between the U.S. National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, and the Indian National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon. The discussion, centered on the U.S.-India strategic partnership, was meant to lay the groundwork for a meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Singh on September 27. The summary states:
The two exchanged ideas on enhancing our security cooperation, reviewed progress on our civil nuclear and clean energy cooperation, and explored greater collaboration on climate change.
Attention to climate change from the U.S. National Security Staff was previewed by Ambassador Rice’s predecessor, Thomas Donilon, earlier this year. In public comments at Columbia University, Donilon detailed the national and international security implications of a changing climate:
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.
The recent meeting between Ambassador Rice and NSA Menon was also not the first time that Rice has highlighted climate change as a security risk. In her parting remarks as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice previewed her intention to take the climate threat seriously, stating:
…we have significant work ahead to prepare for and mitigate the grave consequences of climate change.
Ambassador Rice has also been outspoken about the need to address climate change at the United Nations Security Council, admonishing China and Russia last July for blocking concrete action:
In this Council we have discussed many emerging security issues and addressed them, from the links between development and security to HIV-AIDS. Yet this week, we have been unable to reach consensus on even a simple Presidential Statement that climate change has the potential to impact peace and security in the face of the manifest evidence that it does. We have dozens of countries in this body and in this very room whose very existence is threatened. They’ve asked this Council to demonstrate our understanding that their security is profoundly threatened. Instead, because of the refusal of a few to accept our responsibility, this Council is saying, by its silence, in effect, “Tough luck.” This is more than disappointing. It’s pathetic. It’s shortsighted, and frankly it’s a dereliction of duty.
It is heartening to see this high-level attention to climate change from the national security leadership. Hopefully, this will lead to actions commensurate to the threat.