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U.S. and Dutch National Security and Business Leaders Talk Climate Risks


Dr. Marcus King, Hon. John Conger, Hon. Sherri Goodman, Brigadier General Stephen Cheney at Washington, D.C., Hague Roundtable

By Shiloh Fetzek, Senior Fellow for International Affairs

“We have learned through the centuries what it is to live with water, to be flooded from time to time. After the 1953 flood [in the Netherlands] in which 3,000 people died, you learn to not waste that learning opportunity and to share it with others.” – Netherlands Ambassador to the US, Henne Schuwer

The Center for Climate and Security co-hosted a Hague Roundtable on Climate & Security* event in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in collaboration with the Institute for Environmental Security, the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and the Embassy of the Netherlands in the US and IHE Delft. The Roundtable was graciously opened by Ambassador Henne Schuwer, the Ambassador of the Netherlands to the United States.  

The theme of the meeting was “Climate Risks and Resilience – Highlighting Initiatives to Face Common Challenges.” Given the growing community of practice around this topic from the local to the national to the international scale, it was a timely discussion. The discussion also included how different sectors from government, the military, and private sector could better develop information tools for early warning and decision support.

Climate Security at the UN Security Council

At the international scale, there was a lot of focus on the role of the UN Security Council. Neelam Melwani, Second Secretary for Political Affairs at the Netherlands UN Mission, spoke on this topic, presenting the question:

 How do you depoliticize taking climate and water scarcity out of the environmental bubble and bringing it to the political and security program [at the UN]? That’s something that’s more challenging than I think we all thought it would be… It’s not taking it away from other bodies or negating the work of other parties, but it shouldn’t be possible for the Security Council to turn a blind eye and pretend that it’s not an issue, because otherwise you don’t have a climate-sensitive approach to looking at situations on the ground.”

This part of the discussion builds from the call for an institutional home for climate security at the UN, which is a key component of the Hague Declaration on Planetary Security and component of the Responsibility to Prepare framework that the Center for Climate and Security presented to the UN Security Council Arria Formula meeting on climate security, alongside the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands. Over the past year, UN Security Council actions on climate change have stacked up, with recent discussions and inclusion of language recognizing the security impacts of climate change on Lake Chad, Somalia and the Sahel.

These and other recent efforts, driven primarily by non-permanent Security Council members, have shown promise in creating institutional structures and processes beyond the Council for climate-sensitive risk analysis and assessment – in effect, laying the groundwork for an institutional home for climate security at the UN.

Other opportunities for incorporating climate and risk analysis language into UN outputs in the coming months are varied and very much dependent on the specific country situations. Several countries in the Council will likely push for more climate language in mandate renewals in the coming months, to ensure that the Council can make climate-sensitive decisions in country-specific situations.

Climate Security and National Security

The Roundtable discussion also explored the role of the military in responding to climate threats to stability. This included presentations and discussions with Brig. General Stephen Cheney, USMC (Ret) of the American Security Project (ASP) and the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (GMACCC), Hon. John Conger, Director of The Center for Climate and Security, Hon. Sherri Goodman, Senior Advisor for International Security at the Center for Climate and Security, and a screening of the documentary Tidewater followed by a discussion featuring Rear Admiral Ann Phillips, USN (Ret), a member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board. A lot of the conversation centered around managing the risks associated with sea level rise and the military’s mission. (See the Center for Climate and Security’s Military Expert Panel Report: Sea Level Rise and the U.S. Military’s Mission, 2nd Edition, for more on this). While the discussion was mostly from the US military perspective, preparing for and managing flood risks is something that the experiences of both the US military and the Netherlands can help to increase civilian preparedness. This is also an area of potential bilateral cooperation between the Netherlands and the US military that can build off of existing collaborative efforts. During Hurricane Maria and Irma, for example, Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander of U.S. Southern Command worked with the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and military on relief efforts.

800px-Navy Norfolk Virginia

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) transits up the Elizabeth River as it passes the downtown Norfolk waterfront after completing a successful and on-time six-month Planned Incremental Availability at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, VA. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tyler Folnsbee/Released)

A recent article in Rolling Stone magazine, What Happens When a Superstorm Hits D.C.?, echoed a lot of the comments during the presentations on climate change, national security and Washington DC. The article interviewed an official from the Netherlands Embassy:

“Other nations are well aware of this changed risk regime, and are moving forward with upgraded infrastructure. On a hilltop in northwestern D.C. is the Netherlands Embassy, and a very different world. “The term ‘once in a hundred years’ is relative,” Jan Peelen, an attaché for infrastructure and the environment with the Netherlands, tells me inside the embassy’s sleek confines, “and it’s changing because of climate change.”

It went on to quote Gen. Gerry Galloway, USA (Ret), a member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board:

“The U.S. military also has a monumental presence in D.C., with an Army base, an Air Force base, a Coast Guard installation, a Marine barracks, two naval research centers and a major Navy headquarters. Although flood maps show the Pentagon outside the flood zone, “the map,” says Galloway, “shows that with the storm surge the Pentagon parking lot will be under-water, along with many of the roads that come into it.” For certain employees trying to navigate flooded streets and reach the massive Department of Defense headquarters, he says, “the Pentagon is right across the street from Arlington Cemetery, and that’s on a hill, so people could walk through the cemetery.”

One of the big take-aways from this portion of the discussion was that urban resilience has national security relevance in cities that are co-located with military installations, given the interdependencies between installations and the surrounding communities. This is particularly acute in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, a concentration of military installations that is experiencing significant and problematic sea level rise – as presented by RADM Ann Phillips, USN (Ret), and explored in the documentary Tidewater, screened at the event.

Anticipating and Mitigating Risks: Private Sector Cooperation

Presentations on military vulnerability to climate risks in DC and the Hampton Roads region provided the backdrop for the third major pillar of the Roundtable discussion: the role of the private sector in helping communities and the government anticipate and mitigate climate risks. This portion of the discussion focused on Dutch and European water expertise for climate resilience and included presentations on the Water, Peace & Security Initiative by Charlie Iceland of the World Resources Institute and Ruben Dahm on behalf of Deltares, and IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and on sea level rise and Dutch flood resilience work in the United States and globally, including commentary from Greg Douquet, of SIM-CI in the Netherlands and Red Duke Strategies.

Importantly for those concerned with anticipating risks, the Water, Peace and Security Initiative, which was established by the Dutch government, is developing a water insecurity early warning system, the first version of which should be out in early August, debuting at Stockholm Water Week. This platform integrates information on water shocks with analysis of countries’ vulnerabilities to these shocks. It also investigates links between water insecurity and political insecurity.

640px-Canada Hurricane Katrina

Canadian Sailors unload supplies on a pier on board Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. to assist with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Jay C. Pugh

The big take-away from this portion of the discussion was that private sector entities can support climate security by developing complex technical products such as simulation models of cities or decision-support systems incorporating a range of climate scenarios. Examples discussed at the Roundtable include:

  • A water research system for localities that have been identified as high-risk for water shortages, which can analyze current water use and identify strategies aimed at preventing projected water shortages. These prevention strategies can in turn be assessed for their robustness under different climate scenarios and socioeconomic pathways.
  • A virtual reality platform that displays cities’ infrastructure and vital processes and can demonstrate the cascading effects of different disaster scenarios. The platform uses artificial intelligence and deep learning technology to assess critical infrastructure interdependencies and vulnerabilities, revealing pressure points for climate impacts that can help to support urban resilience planning.

The event’s discussions underscored the need for anticipating and preventing climate security crises by improving early warning and rapid reaction capabilities (e.g. on water), ensuring that multilateral security bodies including the UN Security Council are informed and able to respond to the climate-related dimensions of security crises in their remit, and that the infrastructure of response, such as coastal installations, are themselves resilient to climate threats. As Ambassador Schuwer noted, we should not waste learning opportunities. Roundtable discussions such as this one, and forums like the Planetary Security Conference convened by the Dutch Foreign Ministry, are critically important for fostering collaboration and learning between sectors, and between governments.  Such steps help get us closer to fulfilling a Responsibility to Prepare – a responsibility predicated on the fact that though we are facing unprecedented risks, we also have unprecedented foresight.

*The Hague Roundtable initiative aims to increase international cooperation in addressing climate impacts on issues including water scarcity, natural disaster/flood events, migration, and regional stability. For more information, contact Matt Luna, of IHE Delft and the Inst. for Environmental Security, Roundtable creator & organizer: mluna @

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