General Ron Keys, U.S. Air Force (Ret); Senior Member, Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board; Chairman, CNA Military Advisory Board; former Commanding General, Air Combat Command.
Panel One: Climate Change Impacts on the U.S. Military
Extreme weather impacts on Tyndall Air Force Base, Camp Lejeune, and Offutt Air Force Base in 2018 and 2019 significantly disrupted operations and cost more than $8 billion, raising both Department of Defense and Congressional concerns about climate impacts on the military’s mission. Sea-level rise, flooding, wildfires, droughts, increased extreme heat days, record precipitation, and Arctic ice melt are impacting operations and base readiness across the United States and abroad. Senior Members of the Center for Climate and Security’s Advisory Board reflect on these risks and what to do about them.
- Lt. General John G. Castellaw, United States Marine Corps (Ret); Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Central Command
- Rear Admiral Ann C. Phillips, Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection, State of Virginia; U.S. Navy (Ret); Former Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group TWO
- Brigadier General Gerald Galloway, U.S. Army (Ret); Former Dean of the Academic Board, West Point
- Joan VanDervort, Former Deputy Director for Ranges, Sea and Airspace
- Hon. John Conger (moderator), Former Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller); Director, Center for Climate and Security
Highlight: Climate and Security Fellowship Program
Release of the Climate and Security Fellowship Program’s Risks Briefers
- Caitlin Werrell, Co-Founder, the Center for Climate and Security
Panel Two: A Climate Security Plan for America
The Climate and Security Advisory Group (CSAG), comprised of 64 senior military, national security and intelligence leaders, and chaired by the Center for Climate and Security in partnership with the Elliott School of International Affairs, has developed A Climate Security Plan for America, calling on the U.S. President to recognize climate change as a vital national security threat, and issue a National Strategy to fulfill a “responsibility to prepare for and prevent” that threat. Our distinguished panel of CSAG Members will discuss the Presidential plan, which includes recommendations on leadership, assessments, support for allies and partners, preparation and prevention.
- Hon. John Conger, Director, Center for Climate and Security; Former Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller)
- Hon. Sherri Goodman, Chair of the Board, the Council on Strategic Risks; Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Env. Security)
- Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, U.S. Navy (Ret.); Senior Member, Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board; Former Asst. Sec. of the Navy, Energy, Installations & Environment
- Dr. Rod Schoonover, Ecological Futures Group; Former Director of Environment and Natural Resources, National Intelligence Council
- Francesco Femia (moderator), Co-Founder, Center for Climate and Security; CEO, Council on Strategic Risks
This event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP to expedite check-in.
Welcome and Introductions
Carol Werner, Executive Director, EESI: It’s important to understand how climate change impacts our national security in so many different ways.
John Conger, Director, the Center for Climate and Security: This is a national security topic. The Center for Climate and Security is not an environmental group that works on a security topic as a side issue. This is a security group that’s looking at an environmental issue. We’re looking at this from a national security perspective and dealing with a very difficult issue. The agenda for the day:
- Keynote speech from General Ron Keys, USAF (Ret)
- Panel One: Climate Change Impacts on the U.S. Military
- Panel Two: A Climate Security Plan for America
General Ron Keys, U.S. Air Force (Ret); Senior Member, Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board; Chairman, CNA Military Advisory Board; former Commanding General, Air Combat Command.
- We owe America’s sons and daughters the best leadership to keep them out of harm’s way. This is not a religion of politics, big or small government, liberal or conservative views, this is about the religion of math.
- We need more capability, less cost, more options, less risk. We need to have the ability to react in the face of threats, and climate change will make that more difficult.
- Record precipitation, hot days, flooding, and extreme weather events are affecting communities around the country as well as military operations.
- Climate change will be a catalyst for instability around the world.
- We need to demonstrate leadership on climate issues.
- We need to build resilience to climate risk and reduce its scale and scope, including by reducing emissions.
Q&A for General Ron Keys
What are the impacts of climate change on the Air Force, specifically?
- There are bases on the coast which will be affected by climate change. This not only includes damage to operational infrastructure, but also increased flooding risks for housing areas, as well as the potential for more forest fires near our bases.
- We also need to be able to respond to an increased number of disasters by training more forces to do rescue missions.
Can you discuss possible base closures?
- The military needs to consider how much money can be put into our bases before it becomes a bad investment. We hope to build levees high enough and change our procedures enough to survive and operate, even if that is at a reduced level. However, this will not be possible in every scenario, and some bases may need to be closed.
How does climate change lead to conflict?
- Mass migration will occur as a result of desertification and loss of food production exacerbated by climate change. Some victims in search of better lives may join groups that intend to do harm to other nations and peoples.
What can the military do to help island nations?
- That’s actually a better question for the State Department, which is in charge of foreign aid.
- That being said, the military is charged with providing humanitarian aid when it can do so. But resources will be stretched by climate change, making providing such aid harder.
Panel One: Climate Change Impacts on the U.S. Military
Lt. General John G. Castellaw, United States Marine Corps (Ret); Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Central Command
- Lt. General Castellaw provided a
- Sea level rise:
- Storm surges will hurt coastal military infrastructure and cost billions of dollars.
- Extreme storms:
- Bases and their support communities are subject to extreme events, flooding, and rainfall.
- Erosion is accelerating as a result of increased rain and extreme events.
- Extreme drought:
- The lack of clean water sources in countries can lead to instability or can be a catalyst for instability. Farmers experiencing droughts are unsure where to turn, giving extremist groups like Boko Haram better recruitment prospects.
- Arctic Ice Melt:
- As the permafrost melts in Alaska, there is more erosion in its coastal areas, putting coastal bases at risk. Further inland, melting permafrost destabilizes buildings and roads.
Rear Admiral Ann C. Phillips, Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection, State of Virginia; U.S. Navy (Ret); Former Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group TWO
- We expect a high acceleration of sea level rise in Virginia in the years before 2050. Coastal Virginia is already experiencing rising waters, causing more coastal flooding.
- We have a large port in Virginia, and it is vulnerable. It is part of our military logistics supply chain. It is also a major shipment facility for coal and agricultural products.
- Everything is interconnected. Even the impact of water-front property values impacts the military, since these properties generate tax dollars.
- We need climate security plans that are cohesive and all-encompassing moving forward. In particular, we need to:
- Set standards that are collective and apply to entire regions.
- Ensure support of universities to get the best possible science and updates.
- Collaborate, collect, and share that data.
- Identify critical and vulnerable infrastructure.
- Determine how we will pay for this. What are the funding instruments and strategies that are required?
- We must recognize the interdependence of communities in order to build successful partnerships.
Brigadier General Gerald Galloway, Professor of Engineering, University of Maryland; U.S. Army (Ret); Former Dean of the Academic Board, West Point
- Our military bases are places of training, of military operations, and of supply chains. Climate change will impact servicemembers’ ability to travel to the bases, and the ability of these bases to stay powered and operational consistently.
- What should we be doing to prepare?
- We must avoid a failure of imagination. Think the tragedy. We have to face the unknown and consider what is the best action to take.
- We must deal with uncertainty, and accept that protection cannot be guaranteed. We have modeling for weather models that can predict hurricane paths and other weather events, but they are often wrong—nature takes its own course.
- Flash flooding has and will continue to kill soldiers, heat fluctuations make equipment less effective, and our allies will need more help.
- We need to ready ourselves and our technology for the 21st century.
Joan VanDervort, Former Deputy Director for Ranges, Sea and Airspace
- Joan VanDervort is kept awake at night by how climate change impacts training, which has been the focus of her career.
- To decisively win and survive on the battlefield, the military requires training and replication of the operational environment.
- Climate change is a game-changer when it comes to having a fully-prepared force.
- Each of the services already faces shortfalls and challenges with regard to their training capabilities (limited funds, spectrum issues, airspace limitations…). When climate change is added to the mix, it further impacts range capability, as well as the capacity of the land to support that training. Examples include:
- Air Force Base Offutt in Nebraska flooded with 7 feet of water in spring 2019, causing $650 million in damages.
- In 2018, Hurricane Michael flattened Air Force Base Tyndall and caused $4.7 billion in damages.
- Permafrost loss has reduced the amount of training space and the number of months when the lands in Arctic areas can be used.
- We not only need to understand the full risk to our training capacity, but also understand how the land will respond to climate conditions now and over time.
Panel One Q&A:
Is the United States particularly vulnerable to climate change compared to other nations?
- No, we are not unique, but other countries are working harder.
- They’re seeing coastal surges and flooding, and they’re attempting to address those issues.
- We are all sharing ideas on what should be done.
How can DOD use its partnerships to move forward on climate issues?
- There have been conferences between DOD and its partners to discuss programs and the way funding can be used effectively.
- There is more and more interest in making buildings environmentally resilient.
- Bases have been working with local partners to ensure the resiliency of bases.
- The City of Hampton, VA, is working with Langley Air Force Base to help the base prepare for the possibility of moving its runway inland.
- We need the military and communities in a room together with shareholders so that there can be a shared understanding. The most important thing is to build relationships with people and find solutions that are relevant to where you are.
With the increased flooding that comes with climate change, there will be more free-standing water. Diseases that fester in such waters are some of the biggest killers in the world. How will climate change affect global health security?
- Everyone around the world recognizes that the more you have these lasting flooding events, the more you will have to deal with those health effects. We need to work with the United Nations and the World Health Organization to address these problems, and we need to communicate and share information with a variety of shareholders.
Highlight: Climate and Security Fellowship Program Releases “Risks Briefers”
Caitlin Werrell, Co-Founder, Center for Climate and Security; CEO, Council on Strategic Risks
- The Climate and Security Advisory Group’s “Climate Security Fellowship Program” is a collaborative effort of the Center for Climate and Security, the American Security Project and the Wilson Center. The inaugural class of Fellows released its “Risks Briefers” report, a compilation of articles on climate and security. Applications for the next class are open until September 30.
Panel Two: A Climate Security Plan for America
Francesco Femia (moderator), Co-Founder, Center for Climate and Security; CEO, Council on Strategic Risks
- The Climate Security Plan for America calls on the current U.S. President, or the next one, to recognize climate change as a vital national security threat, and to lead by issuing a National Strategy to fulfill a “responsibility to prepare for and prevent” that threat. The top recommendation is that the President issue a new National Strategy Directive creating this Climate Security Plan for America, and to establish a White House Office on Climate Security, led by a senior official reporting directly to the President, to implement a major government-wide effort to address the issue in all its security dimensions.
- The Plan calls on the federal government to both prepare for locked-in threats to security from climate change, and prevent major security disruptions in the future by significantly reducing the scale of the problem—namely by leading the charge to reduce emissions globally.
- The Plan is endorsed by an extraordinary group of 64 senior military, national security and intelligence leaders, including 8 retired 4-star generals and admirals, 30 senior military officers, a former NASA Administrator, a past Chair of the National Intelligence Council, the former climate lead at the National Intelligence Council (on the panel), and a number of former Assistant Secretaries and Deputy Under Secretaries (three of whom are on this panel), and many others.
- The Plan recommends 4 pillars of action: 1. Demonstrate Leadership; 2. Assess Climate Risks; 3. Support Allies and Partners; 4. Prepare for & Prevent Climate Impacts. Each of our panelists will be addressing one of these categories, in particular.
Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, U.S. Navy (Ret.); Senior Member, Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board; Former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Energy, Installations & Environment
- : This is a group of experts in national security—military and civilian, intelligence and military operations—that know the national security structure, the problems and challenges here and abroad. The who is about as credible as you get.
- : The Climate Security Plan for America.
- : Everywhere. In addition to infrastructure threats, there will be an acceleration of threats of accelerating violence that our military will be called upon to face.
- : Now. This is a today problem.
- : If you look at the people on these panels and in the Climate and Security Advisory Group, you must ask, why are they doing this?
- They are not doing it because they getting money from oil companies. They are patriots who want the United States to be a beacon of hope for the world. In order for that to happen, we need leadership.
- We can address problems better when we know about them, so communication around climate change and this report will be essential to our success.
- This report is a detailed strategy for getting climate leadership in every aspect of our federal government. It will put us in a much better position to solve this problem, which is the greatest challenge of the 21st century.
- For people who don’t believe in climate change, we need to tell them to get out of the way. We’ve got a problem to solve. We need leadership that will provide solutions.
- We need to get back into the Paris Climate Agreement. In order for international action to be taken, along with action by China and Russia, we need American leadership.
- What’s going on right now at the United Nations in New York City requires United States leadership.
- We can do it now, or we can do it in January 2021.
- Climate change is the greatest challenge of the 21st century for our future national security, economic well-being, international order, and quality of life across the globe.
- It is essential that the United States step forward and lead by acting boldly now—we have the opportunity to transform this tremendous challenge into opportunities for technological advancement, sustainable growth and global cooperation.
- We are the people we have been waiting for—nobody else is going to do it for us.
- We need the leadership at the federal level to match the leadership that we are seeing in the private sector and at the state level.
Dr. Rod Schoonover, Ecological Futures Group; Former Director of Environment and Natural Resources, National Intelligence Council
Framing question: The intelligence community has been warning about climate change risks to security for many years now (it’s been in the Worldwide Threat Assessment issued by the Director of National Intelligence, for example, every year for the past 11 years). Despite that, we’ve seen how political pressure or a simple lack of interest can obscure such analysis. How do we avoid that? How do we both ensure that such assessments continue, and ensure that the U.S. government is using them (and not ignoring them) when shaping policy?
- Climate change is one of the greatest challenges, if not the greatest challenge, of the 21st century
- The job of the intelligence community is to assess risk and provide strategic warning to those risks, and those risks include climate change. When the intelligence community looks at this issue broadly, it looks at threats to the military, threats to militaries globally, and also threats to other things the United States depends on—i.e., global food supplies and the economic system.
- A lot of time is spent studying threats to political stability, social cohesion, mass movement of people, and surprises— an intense program of study for the intelligence community.
- The Director of National Intelligence’s Worldwide Threat Assessment is essentially drafted without regard for the political party in power. I watched one being drafted in the run up to an election and it did not change after the election.
- The intelligence community is overwhelmingly apolitical, similar to the scientific community.
- Climate change needs to be viewed less as an environmental add-on to other national security issues, and more of a foundational issue of national security—the efforts of this group and the forum help further that framework.
- The strength of the Climate Security Plan for America is that it illustrates a wide-ranging commitment to addressing climate change needed across the national security enterprise.
- Addressing climate change probably requires a broadening of what the national security enterprise is in the U.S. government. The Intelligence Community will have to bring on people from the Department of Agriculture, NOAA and NASA into the national security framework, particularly from the scientific components of those institutions—the climate scientists, the hydrologists, the ecologists, etc.
- We need a more robust marrying of national security analysis with bleeding-edge science from within the federal science agencies.
- Climate change is helped greatly by presidential leadership.
- The Intelligence Community, because of its role assessing risk and providing strategic warning, continues to work at threats to national security such as climate change.
- The President should establish a Center inside the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that brings together expertise from the scientific community, the intelligence community and the larger science community.
- We need more personnel who more fully acknowledge climate change as a threat—personnel as policy.
- We start with the prioritization of climate change as something beyond an environmental issue, but rather, as a foundational national security issue to be looked at by many different elements within the U.S. government.
Hon. Sherri Goodman, Chair of the Board, the Council on Strategic Risks; Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security)
Framing question: Doing something big on climate change is often touted as an altruistic thing for the United States to do, especially at the international level. And it certainly can be that. But there are also many potential strategic benefits for the United States to act on climate change, vis-a-vis both our allies and our competitors and adversaries. Why are we not taking advantage of that? And what can be done to more fully realize those strategic benefits?
- Scores of military leaders, both active duty and retired, both in the United States and internationally, recognize climate change as one of, if not the most, fundamental threat of our era.
- I say that with deep seriousness as a Cold Warrior who worried about the next “bolt out of the blue” attack by the Soviet Union, and spent years of my life figuring out how to deter and defend against that threat.
- I started my professional career on the Senate Armed Services Committee working for Sen. Sam Nunn (GA) in the nuclear era when we were ratifying the now defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, and we were figuring out how to manage nuclear weapons, and what kind of nuclear arsenal we needed to deter the Soviet Union and others.
- Fortunately we won the Cold War. Nuclear weapons are still a threat, as are other weapons of mass destruction. But climate change is equal in nature to that great global challenge.
- Climate change is a global challenge.
- Leaders in New York this weekend were calling for American action and leadership.
- The risks of America not leading right now is that our adversaries will fill the vacuum we have created. It is emboldening our adversaries.
- Temperatures in the Arctic are set to rise twice as fast as other places on the planet.
- Last week, I was in Oslo (Norway) for the first-ever NATO Arctic Workshop—a strategic foresight analysis workshop, including all 29 NATO member countries, to address the opening of the Arctic as a new theater of operations in which NATO has to be prepared to operate.
- Why? With sea ice retreating at a rapid rate, permafrost collapsing, and extreme weather events happening in Arctic:
- Russia sees this an opportunity to convert its Northern sea route (freed of ice) into a toll road for transport that will eventually be a major shipping route. Putin has called for increasing dramatically the tonnage shipping across the Northern sea route (it has already doubled significantly in the last few years).
- China has declared itself to be a “near Arctic stakeholder,” and they are investing heavily with the Russians at the Yamal energy plant and elsewhere across the Arctic—in Russia, Iceland, Finland, Greenland, they are helping create a “data Silk Road.” China is at the center of building out communications infrastructure across the Arctic. China will be plying the melting Arctic to bring energy resources back home to market.
- One of my colleagues was up at the USS Healy this summer and they were prepared to face temperatures of 20 degrees below zero, and it never dropped below 32 degrees, for the three weeks she was in the Arctic Circle.
- We need to couple science and research with national security and intelligence analysis. That is fundamental—the next great frontier in research and analysis.
- This depends on translating science into practical applications for national security planners, analysts and programmers.
- Our allies and partners across the board want the United States back in the climate game at every level—whether it’s engaged in the Paris Agreement, working with them on NATO planning—at every level, particularly in diplomacy.
- China has been filling the void of humanitarian assistance and natural disaster relief to nations when the United States is not always there.
- In the Pacific and the Caribbean, China is investing in the resilience of small island states. Some of these nations may not even exist within the next quarter century because of sea level rise, or due to a lack of freshwater to support themselves.
- We have a global migration challenge being fueled by climate risks—one that we will need to work closely with our partners and allies to manage.
- My hopeful news is that military leaders across the world recognize these risks and have come together in the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), which currently includes military leaders from 28 countries from every region of the world.
- The IMCCS wants to assess the risks, provide the leadership, integrate climate security considerations into national security planning, and raise attention to climate security among global policymakers.
Hon. John Conger, Director, Center for Climate and Security; Former Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller)
Framing question: The United States is clearly not immune to the security risks of climate change. More devastating extreme weather events, often exacerbated by climate change, have in recent years cost many American lives, and disrupted many parts of this nation’s critical infrastructure, including major military bases such as Tyndall, Offutt, and others. The military recognizes this, but it doesn’t seem like the United States is fully prepared for these cascading disasters, from flooding to wildfires. What needs to happen, on the adaptation side and the mitigation side, to both adequately prepare us for locked-in security risks of climate change, and to prevent the avoidable worst-case scenarios?
- Climate change is too important to be left to the environmentalists.
- Climate change is more than an environmental issue now, we are past that. This issue is affecting our national security today.
- We have a responsibility to prepare for what’s coming.
- There is only so much that we can do without active support from the White House.
- President Trump signed a bill, passed by a Republican Congress in 2017, that said that climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.
- When the Republicans were here in the majority in 2018, they passed a whole host of sensible, pragmatic climate resilience legislation. It was important to do; it was setting the groundwork.
- This Congress, in the House and Senate, has continued to pass important legislation moving the ball forward.
- But there’s only so much you can do without active White House support.
- You have to recognize the changes that are coming, and then be bold.
- The Climate Security Plan for America literally has dozens of recommendations on how to move forward.
- In this report, we recommend a Climate Security Infrastructure Initiative—to actually spend money on resilience efforts within the DOD, within the national security community.
- We have $1 trillion worth of infrastructure at the DOD. A lot of it is vulnerable to climate change, a lot of it is old. Older infrastructure is more vulnerable to the changes that are coming.
- When you build something in a smart way, it can be protected from the changes that are coming—i.e., the new Strategic Command HQ at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, which was built at a higher elevation than the rest of the base. So when the floods came, and the Missouri River swept over the levees, that building wasn’t damaged. Someone thought ahead of time that it might be smart to put your most expensive building at a higher elevation and make it less vulnerable.
- On the other hand, we spent $1 billion on a radar facility on the Marshall Islands and then realized that the island may be uninhabitable in the next ten years because of sea level rise. Don’t spend your billion dollars in a place where you’re not going to be able to use it anymore.
- Foresight will save us money and protect our interests in the long run. DOD should set aside money for resilience projects. A law was passed to reform the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding, with 6 percent of the program’s money held for pre-disaster mitigation.
- One of the recommendations in the report is that DOD should set aside some of its funding for climate resilience efforts (Climate Security Infrastructure Initiative).
- The report also recommends improving building resilience standards.
- One of the key things in this report—that you need to hear from this group of senior military leaders who endorsed the report—they are also calling for the United States to avoid catastrophic security futures.
- That means, as we look forward in the coming decades, there are going to be security problems that we aren’t even seeing a fraction of today. You’re going to have millions of displaced people from coastal regions. You’re going to have water security issues, food security issues that are going to drive massive migration. You’re going to have people’s lives at risk, and significant human misery expanded around the world because of these changes.
- In order to avoid the conflicts that will be coming as a result, the human misery and the humanitarian disasters that will result from these issues, you have to start taking action to reduce emissions, or to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
- We’re technology agnostic and policy agnostic on this because we’re security people. We see into the future, and recognize the security futures that are a problem, and say you have to do something about this because we are looking at catastrophe in the future.
- We are on a really bad pathway to security futures that are untenable. We have to do what we can to avoid them. We have to mitigate the changes that we know are inevitable, and do something to avoid the changes that are catastrophic.
Panel Two Q&A:
How likely are these recommendations to be implemented?
- It is quite likely, irrespective of the party that comes to power in the next election, that some of the top recommendations will be implemented.
- Some may be more likely to be implemented than others.
- The President/ a President has to be interested in the issue in order for this report to be successfully implemented.
- The report was written to be usable by any administration. It is written and endorsed by military, national security and intelligence professionals with a mandate to come up with a clear-eyed plan to address the security threats of climate change, regardless of the political circumstances. It is not partisan in any way.
To what extent does the report address decarbonization?
- It is addressed in urgent but general terms. The report’s authors are not energy or regulatory experts, they are national security experts. And as national security experts, they are concerned about the security implications of our current emissions trajectory.
- The report does call for the reduction of climate emissions at a scale sufficient to reduce climate security consequences. On page 31, the Plan includes the following recommendation: Prevent Catastrophic Futures: Embrace an economy-wide Climate Security Prevention Policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a scale necessary for avoiding catastrophic security consequences.
- The authors are agnostic on how to get there, but they do call for significant reductions in order to avoid catastrophic security scenarios.
Will the Arctic remain a zone of peace, or do you see it becoming a place of geopolitical and military competition?
- One concern is Russia’s lax environmental regulations around military operations. There is deep concern about the lack of Russian transparency, poor communications in the Arctic, and the lack of understanding of what it would take to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic.
How do our climate security initiatives stack up against China and Russia?
- China has a technological lead in key areas where it is important for us to be globally competitive, such as 5G and artificial intelligence.
- The need to keep up is particularly acute now that we are decoupling our economies, which had been moving closer together.
- There are real concerns with China, but we have to be clear-headed about who is winning and losing in these fields.
- China has been investing in bus fleets and solar development.
- The United States may be ahead in thinking of the analytics of climate security, but China has been developing technologies that are deeply troubling to the American way of life.