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A Climate Security Plan for America Part 4: Prepare for and Prevent Climate Impacts

By John Conger

See Part 1, “Demonstrate Leadership,” here, Part 2, “Assess Climate Risks,” here, and Part 3, “Support Allies and Partners,” here.

As the Biden Administration rolls out its first budget request, we revisit the fourth and final pillar of the Climate Security Plan for America, Prepare for and Prevent Climate Impacts.  In many ways, the policy recommendations in the earlier pillars build to the investments, and the policies that shape investments, that are called for in this section of the report. 

In other words, once the Administration has demonstrated leadership by prioritizing climate security as a core element of national security, and it has assessed risks throughout the enterprise to understand what they’re up against, and finally incorporated a global perspective that reflects the principle that climate impacts abroad affect the United States, then what must be done to prepare?

Under the heading of preparing for and preventing the impacts of climate change, the Climate Security Plan for America (CSPA) summarized the challenge this way:

“Facing this future, the U.S. must incorporate climate change considerations into its military requirements, build long-term resiliency into its infrastructure, prioritize climate change threat reduction across the U.S. government, be prepared for global changes where there is no excuse for being surprised, and reduce emissions to prevent catastrophic security consequences.”

Investing in Resilience

The first several recommendations in this pillar are focused on investments in resilience, in part due to the significant impacts that extreme weather is having on both civilian and military infrastructure.  The capstone recommendation is to launch a Climate Security Infrastructure Initiative, announcing major new investments in both critical civilian infrastructure and military installations.  The recently announced infrastructure bill has parts of this, but per the White House description of its American Jobs Plan, it leaves a critical gap in that it omits any military infrastructure investments.   This is a missed opportunity, but one that can be rectified in the annual appropriations process by incorporating and coordinating investments in military construction, facilities sustainment, and other investments in resilience through programs such as the Energy Conservation and Resilience Investment Program or the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program.

In addition to the new investments the CSPA calls for within the Climate Security Infrastructure Initiative, it highlights several additional resilience recommendations:

  • Increase the climate resilience of the military’s training range lands to ensure long term availability and capability to support current and future training and weapon systems. 
  • Require that new defense investments incorporate climate resilient building standards, and that existing infrastructure is retrofitted for climate resilience.
  • Create a Civil-Military Climate Partnership that would synchronize DoD and FEMA investments in resilience and drive collaboration between DoD installations and their neighboring communities.
  • Produce a Climate Security Strategy for Critical Infrastructure that prepares for worst-case scenarios, updating the earlier National Adaptation and Resilience Strategy in a way that focuses resources and investments on the nation’s most critical infrastructure and communities.

Preparing for New Missions

Beyond infrastructure, the CSPA’s recommendations incorporate preparing for new threats and new missions.  For example, it calls for the creation of a new National Arctic Security Policy – a recognition of the emerging access that climate change is driving in the Arctic and the increasing influence that Russia and China are having in the region.  Since publication of the CSPA, each of the military departments have issued their own Arctic strategies, setting the stage for a holistic, climate change-informed National Arctic Security Policy.  More broadly, the CSPA calls for all COCOMs to incorporate climate change into their preparations and planning for their respective regions. 

The plan also calls on an expansion of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to explicitly incorporate climate change threats.  As DTRA has in its mandate to address emerging threats, climate certainly qualifies, but this should be made explicit.

Preventing Future Impacts

Finally, the report recommends a Climate Security Prevention Policy, calling for reduced emissions to allow us to avoid catastrophic future security impacts.  Without question, today’s emissions will drive tomorrow’s security challenges, just as historical emissions are driving the climate changes we see today.  The report concluded:

“Based on the national security implications alone, the President should embrace an all-of-the-above Climate Security Prevention Policy to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions both in the U.S. and globally at a scale necessary for avoiding the catastrophic security consequences of current plausible emissions pathways, including worst-case scenarios. That means both significantly reducing U.S. emissions, demonstrating leadership to ensure that global emissions are rapidly reduced to avoid catastrophic security scenarios, and accelerating the research, development, techniques, and technologies in diverse fields from energy production and storage to agriculture, forestry, and beyond needed to ensure that net global emissions are reduced.”

While comprehensive progress will incorporate the entire economy, it’s clear that to reflect and to remain consistent with this broader principle, the entire Federal government will need to emphasize ways it can lower emissions, including at DoD.  Fortunately, the Biden Administration has demonstrated a commitment to focusing on this goal at every level, from Federal budgets to regulatory levers to global diplomacy.  That kind of commitment is absolutely necessary to avoid the catastrophic security futures associated with unchecked climate change.

For more, register for our virtual event on the subject to be held on May 12.

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