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U.S. Coast Guard On the Front Lines of Climate Change and National Security

Bow ThrustersToday, President Obama delivered the commencement address to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Excerpts from the speech related to climate change and security are below. The White House also simultaneously released a review of federal reports on climate change and national security here (for more documents and resources, see our ClimateSecurity101). Below are responses from Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board members and staff.

Lieutenant General John G. Castellaw, US Marine Corps (ret), Advisory Board Member, The Center for Climate and Security
“The U.S. Coast Guard is on the front lines of the national security implications of a changing climate. It’s time our nation’s policy-makers gave them the support they need to help prevent, prepare for and respond to those risks.”

Rear Admiral David Titley, US Navy (ret), Advisory Board Member, The Center for Climate and Security; Penn State University; CNA Military Advisory Board
“The rhetoric is all good.  What we are waiting to see is if this administration will commit real resources in the budgets of the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to enable those Departments to take actions commensurate with the challenges the President describes so eloquently.”

Brigadier General Gerald Galloway, US Army (ret), Advisory Board Member, The Center for Climate and Security; University of Maryland; CNA Military Advisory Board
“The President is on the mark. Climate change is a national security issue.  Today’s officers must not only think about what they’re going to do tomorrow but about what will happen a decade or two in the future. Climate change has the potential to limit our forces’ abilities to train at or operate from certain bases, and, in the case of our partners abroad,  to create the potential for instability as climate changes shifts people from their lands or threatens the manner in which they subsist. Many of the ways in which climate change must be addressed will take years to accomplish, especially infrastructure modification and operational adaptation. Now is the time that many actions must begin if they are going to address the problems that will arise five, ten and twenty years from now.”

Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, Founding Directors, The Center for Climate and Security
“The Department of Defense has noted that climate change poses immediate risks to national security. The Coast Guard is on the front lines of responding to those immediate risks from climate change. Going forward, our policy-makers need to support the Coast Guard, and all the services, by advancing measures that will significantly lessen the security risks of a changing climate.”

Excerpts from President Obama’s commencement speech to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, May 20, 2015

This is not just a problem for countries on the coast or for certain regions of the world.  Climate change will impact every country on the planet.  No nation is immune.  So I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.  And so we need to act—and we need to act now.


You are part of the first generation of officers to begin your service in a world where the effects of climate change are so clearly upon us.  Climate change will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip, and protect their infrastructure, today and for the long-term.


Climate change, especially rising seas, is a threat to our homeland security—our economy, infrastructure, and the safety and health of the American people.  In Miami and Charleston, streets now flood at high tide.  Along our coasts, thousands of miles of highways, roads, railways and energy facilities are vulnerable.  It’s estimated that a further increase in sea level of one foot—just one foot—by the end of this century could cost our nation $200 billion.


Climate change poses a threat to the readiness of our forces.  Many of our military installations are on the coast, including, of course, our Coast Guard stations.  Around Norfolk, high tides and storms increasingly flood parts of our Navy base and an air base.  In Alaska, thawing permafrost is damaging military facilities.  Out West, deeper droughts and longer wildfires could threaten training areas our troops depend on.

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