By John Conger
The Honorable Sherri Goodman, Senior Strategist with the Center for Climate and Security and former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security), and Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, US Navy (Retired), Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board and former Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations, Energy and Environment, testified Tuesday morning (April 2, 2019) before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on “How Climate Change Threatens U.S. National Security.” They were joined by Mr. Paul Weisenfeld, Executive Vice President for International Development of RTI International and Mr. Barry Worthington, Executive Director of the United States Energy Association. There was general bipartisan agreement on the security risks of climate change, and more to debate on the solutions.
In her testimony, Goodman urged the Members to focus on climate change from a pragmatic, U.S. national interest perspective. She spoke about the broad consensus that we’ve seen on climate security, and the 23 high ranking Pentagon officials in this Administration alone who have agreed that we must address the risks posed by climate change. She then offered a detailed description of the risks to national security posed by climate change, focusing on threats in the Asia-Pacific, the Arctic, the Middle East and Africa, including discussion of how China and Russia are taking advantage of climatic changes (and a lack of U.S. leadership on the issue) to expand their regional and global influence. Finally, her testimony outlined CCS’s Responsibility to Prepare agenda on how we should address these threats.
Vice Admiral McGinn’s testimony focused on the military perspective of climate-driven threats, identifying four key ways military leaders look at climate change: 1) as a threat multiplier and a source of conflict to which our forces may need to respond; 2) as a cause of misfortune and hopelessness that makes individuals vulnerable to recruitment by Violent Extremist Organizations; 3) as the creator of a new operating area in the Arctic, where Great Power competition is already heating up; and 4) as a driver of extreme weather and disasters to which the military must respond.
Four key takeaways from the hearing:
- Like we saw in the HASC climate hearing a few weeks ago, this hearing reflected a significant shift in the discussion in that there was broad, bipartisan agreement on the fact that climate change is real, that it is important to reduce greenhouse gases, and that even today changes in climate are creating security risks, including direct risks to our military readiness. Specifically, Republican Representative Michael McCaul noted: “The national security assessments are clear. Climate change poses risks to the security of the United States and the international community.” The differences were generally on how to respond to the threat.
- Notably, Rep. McCaul also referenced the prospect of a Manhattan Project on Clean Energy supported by Senator Graham. There was a broad consensus that the U.S. should promote its clean energy industry and fund R&D to not only help the U.S. to reduce emissions, but also to change the state of the art so nations like China and India would be able to lower theirs.
- The role of China loomed large over the discussion, whether the focus of the conversation was on its growing influence in the Arctic, its influence over fragile nations through supporting their climate resilience and clean energy transition efforts (in the absence of U.S. leadership), or the strength of its commitment to emissions reductions as part of the Paris Agreement.
- The Paris Agreement also loomed large over the hearing, especially with the approaching mark-up of H.R. 9, a bill that would block U.S. withdrawal from the agreement. Goodman and Vice Admiral McGinn repeatedly described the importance of U.S. leadership and the negative strategic implications of withdrawal from the treaty, including the negative implications for U.S. alliances and partnerships.
Regarding the Paris discussion, which centered on arguments related to diminished U.S. leadership and the difficulties other countries have been having with meeting their Paris commitments, Congresswoman Spanberger, a former CIA case officer, pointed out that the commitments within the context of the agreement are all voluntary, and arrived at separately by each nation that is party to the agreement (the Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs). She stressed that if the Europeans and Chinese stayed in the agreement and weren’t reaching their voluntary goals, what strategic benefit did the U.S. get from pulling out? In effect, withdrawing has contributed to a diminishment of America’s international stature vis-à-vis those nations that have remained within the agreement, with no material benefit.
In conclusion, the hearing reflected a consensus that has emerged on the fact, causes, and effects of climate change, and its significant security and military implications. Now we need a serious debate on how to address it.
Watch the full video of the hearing here: