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The Biden Administration and Climate Security: Week 3

Reuters/Rodi Said

Last week’s big climate security action in the United States came in the form of another Executive Order from President Biden: this time on planning for the impact of climate change on migration. The order calls for:

“…a report on climate change and its impact on migration, including forced migration, internal displacement, and planned relocation.  This report shall include, at a minimum, discussion of the international security implications of climate-related migration; options for protection and resettlement of individuals displaced directly or indirectly from climate change; mechanisms for identifying such individuals, including through referrals; proposals for how these findings should affect use of United States foreign assistance to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change; and opportunities to work collaboratively with other countries, international organizations and bodies, non-governmental organizations, and localities to respond to migration resulting directly or indirectly from climate change.”

This requirement exactly reflects the type of assessments we call for in pillar 2 of our Climate Security Plan for America — encouraging policymakers to “take advantage of unprecedented foresight about climate change” to inform strategic analysis and policymaking. We’ve written about the links between climate change and migration since 2012, including in our Security Threat Assessment of Climate Change, released in early 2020.

President Biden’s Foreign Policy Plans

Also this week, President Biden and his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke about their strategy and goals for US foreign policy. Sullivan argued climate change is an issue that challenges the lives and livelihoods of working families in America, while President Biden noted the importance of “integrating climate objectives across all of our diplomacy and raise the ambitions of our climate targets. That way we can challenge other nations, other major emitters, to up the ante on their own commitments.”

Confirmation Hearings Continue

Finally, confirmation hearings for key political appointees continued on Capitol Hill. The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing with Dr. Kathleen Hicks, nominee for deputy defense secretary. Of note, in the following exchange with Sen. Mazie Hirano (D-HI), she promised that the nominee put forward for Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment will be “very capable and competent” in terms of climate resilience. 

Senator Hirono: I do applaud Secretary Austin’s recent announcement that the Pentagon will prioritize climate change considerations in its activities, risk assessments and in the next national defense strategy. I believe that renewable energy is not simply an environmental calculation, but it is becoming a tactical necessity for the DOD, which is the biggest user of energy in our government. So, we have included provisions in NDA to prioritize energy security and resilience, military installations. I’d like to know whether you will make energy resilience and resilience and mission assurance a priority for the DOD.

Dr. Hicks: Yes, senator. I think the resiliency aspects on climate are critical as a business proposition for DOD. Again, focused really, if you just take a hard-nosed resource look at it. And I want to commend congress for re-establishing the assistant secretary of defense for energy installations and environment. If confirmed I would work with Senator Austin — excuse me, Secretary Austin to ensure that we put forward a nominee who’s very capable and competent in these exact spaces.

Finally, in a written response to questions provided in advance, Dr. Hicks also discussed extreme weather impacts on readiness:

Q: Over the last few years, hurricanes have resulted in more than $10 billion in damage to military installations across the U.S. How would you assess the readiness and resource impacts on DOD from recent extreme weather events? 

A: Severe weather and other climate change-related impacts have degraded DoD’s ability to operate and train at certain installations, imposing significant financial and readiness costs. If confirmed, I will work with all Components to develop a full understanding of the national security implications of extreme weather and climate change, taking a comprehensive approach that includes impacts on operations, readiness, installations, equipment, infrastructure, and force development.

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