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Forecast: Climate Change and Security in the 116th Congress

Rain_on_Capitol_HillBy John Conger

One of the most tangible successes on climate change during the 115th U.S. Congress was the firm establishment of a bipartisan consensus that climate change is a direct threat to national security.  In fact, Congress voted in 2017 to say exactly that and the President signed the bill into law.  Senior military officials echoed this sentiment on multiple occasions, but the Department of Defense has been cognizant of the risks it faces from climate change for many years. So what does all this mean for the 116th Congress? Here are three initial observations.

Climate and security issues are poised for a potentially broader profile – in the House

While a bipartisan coalition has emerged in support of facing the national security risks of climate change, the political environment of the past few years has made it difficult to elevate the issue beyond the defense realm (e.g. annual defense bills and questions during hearings before the armed services committees).  Under the new Congress, we can expect climate and security issues to also come up in hearings, amendment votes, and possibly standalone legislation in other domains.

For example, there is already talk of reestablishing the select committee on climate change, previously called the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which considered its national security implications in hearings from 2007-2011.  Climate and security is also a cross-cutting issue that would continue to come up in deliberations by the House Armed Services Committee, which has already done much work on the subject under the current Congress. However, under the 115th Congress, the subject may also be taken up in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which generally avoided the topic over the past two years.

We can also expect that there will be resolutions passed by the House that incorporate climate and security themes, amendments made in order that address climate and security priorities, and programs funded to address key resilience and capacity-building efforts.

To be clear, there has already been bipartisan success in advancing climate security measures in Congress over the last two years, particularly on defense, but it is reasonable to expect these concerns to be more broadly addressed across the House in a new Congress.

The Senate posture will likely remain largely stable.

With the Senate Republicans retaining their majority, one might expect climate security issues to remain pretty much the same.  The Senate has already shown some bipartisan support for climate resilience when it comes to military infrastructure, and the changes we have seen in the Senate shouldn’t change that.

For example, recall that the Nelson Amendment requiring a “Defense Threat Assessment and Master Plan for Climate” passed without opposition during the Senate Armed Services Committee’s consideration of the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.  In addition, changes to military construction rules to improve resilience to increased flooding was based on the bipartisan Schatz-Moran-Reed bill.

The Senate may posture itself for negotiations with a more forward-leaning House, but the basic sentiments that made military installation resilience a priority haven’t changed.

Many Republicans who have shown support for climate security in the 115th Congress will not be around in the 116th

Many of the Republicans who supported climate security initiatives and made it a bipartisan effort will not return for the 116th Congress.  The chart below tracks Republicans who have shown support for this issue in three key ways – joining the Climate Solutions Caucus; co-sponsoring H.Res 195, a resolution introduced by Rep. Stefanik that recognized the importance of climate security issues; and by voting to defeat the Perry Amendment in 2017, protecting the language declaring climate change to be a direct threat to national security.

Based on the chart below, we can observe that:

  • Only 20 of 44 voting Republican members of the Climate Solutions Caucus are certain to be returning to Congress.
  • Only 10 of 23 Republican co-sponsors of the Republican environmental resolution sponsored by Rep Stefanik will be returning.
  • Of the 46 Republicans who voted to defeat the Perry Amendment in 2017, only 21 have been re-elected, though more have leads in uncalled races.

Figure 1: House Republicans and Climate Security – 2018 Election Results

Congress 2019_1Congress 2019_2Congress_2019_3

Conclusion

Given these observations, we can expect Congress to build on the bipartisan record it has built over the last two years, but it won’t happen by itself.  With an influx of new members and the departure of some climate security allies, there will be a continuing demand for more education and outreach, particularly in those committees that may be making their first forays into these issues.

 


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