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Implementing the Biden Administration’s Climate Executive Order – The DHS Strategic Framework For Addressing Climate Change

President Biden at the Leaders Summit on Climate – 22 April 2021

Last week, the Biden Administration released several climate security reports in accordance with the Executive Orders on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration. We are publishing a series of blog posts examining each report in depth. Previously we looked at the Defense Climate Risk Analysis

On November 17, 2021, the Center for Climate and Security will hold a virtual seminar discussing these reports and where the Biden Administration goes next. RSVP for this session, Analysis to Action: Advancing Climate Security in the Biden Administration here.

The DHS Strategic Framework for Addressing Climate Change – Key Takeaways

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created nearly 20 years ago in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to, as President Bush said at the time, “defend the United States and protect our citizens against the dangers of a new era.” With the release of the DHS Strategic Framework for Addressing Climate Change last week, the Department acknowledges the United States is once again facing new dangers, now from the security threats posed by climate change. 

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas notes at the beginning of the document that the agency must adapt to an evolving threat environment, noting that the impact of climate change on the homeland deserves as much attention as other DHS priorities such as terrorism, cyber threats, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Importantly, the framework recognizes that climate change will intersect with geostrategic competition, emerging technology and demographics to create compound threats as well. 

The document identifies five lines of effort for the Department’s climate strategy, expanding on work it began in 2016 under the Obama Administration. The lines of effort are: 1) Empower Individuals and Communities to Build Climate Resilience; 2) Build Readiness to Respond to Increases in Climate-Driven Emergencies; 3) Incorporate Foresight and Climate Science into Strategy, Policy, Programs, and Budgets. 4) Invest in a Sustainable and Resilient DHS; 5) Develop a Climate Change-Informed DHS Workforce.

This plan reflects many of the recommendations CCS made in its Climate Security Plan for America in 2019, which called for DHS to comprehensively assess risks to critical infrastructure, prepare a strategy to address those risks, and develop training programs to ensure federal employees understand how to characterize and respond to climate security risks.

Particularly notable are the lines of effort around foresight and climate science and building a climate change-informed workforce. The CCS Responsibility to Prepare and Prevent (R2P2) underscores the importance of bridging the gap between the scientific and security communities to better integrate predictive climate capabilities into security analysis, advocating for the creation of new mechanisms to regularly interpret, translate, and deliver information and warnings about climate-related risks to policymakers. The DHS framework creates such mechanisms, stating: 

Incorporating climate science into DHS planning assumptions and activities will enable the Department to prepare for a future that will differ dramatically from the past and present due to climate change…A rigorous foresight practice…will enable the Department to complement urgent action on climate change with longterm vision. DHS will do more than identify future threats. The Department will also identify creative solutions that may include new authorities or policies, in addition to enhanced capabilities and capacity to address the complex and extended timelines of climate change-driven disasters. 

This is an important step forward, and one that should be replicated by all national security agencies. As should the DHS commitment to building what it calls a ‘climate-change informed’ workforce. The steps DHS outlines in its Strategy, including hiring more scientists and engineers, educating its acquisition professionals and public engagement specialists, leveraging existing fellowships and advisory programs, as well as exploring the creation of new hiring authorities in partnership with Congress are steps that should serve as a model across the all national security agencies as they look to sustain a climate security focus in the long run. Finally, the DHS report notes the importance of collaboration across agencies, and continual evaluation of progress in its implementation of its strategy. Overall, the document presents a clear path forward for the department to meet its mission of safeguarding the American people, the homeland and the country’s values in the face of climate change threats.

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