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Event: China’s Climate Security Vulnerabilities
In an era increasingly defined by climate change, the United States and China stand out as the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases—but neither country is immune to its impacts. China, home to nearly 20% of the world’s population and 6.5% of the Earth’s land surface, faces a number of climate security challenges. A recent report published by the Center for Climate and Security identified three categories of risk: (1) direct risks to military and critical infrastructure; (2) compounding risks to internal political stability as climate change threatens food and water security; and (3) external risks as competition over shared resources is heightened and China contends with the impacts of climate on its more vulnerable neighbors. Not only will the country be affected by climate impacts, but global responses to climate change are also likely to have an impact on the country’s growth prospects and standing on the world stage. How climate change and responses to it influence China’s domestic and foreign interests are significant not only for China but also for the international community, including the United States.
To discuss these themes, the Center for Climate and Security and the Wilson Center are co-hosting a public discussion on Tuesday, April 11th, from 9:30 to 11 am ET on “China’s Climate Security Vulnerabilities”. The discussion, moderated by Wilson Center Program Director Lauren Herzer Risi, will include:
- Robert Daly, Director, Kissinger Institute on China and the United States
- Greg Pollock, Principal Director for Arctic & Global Resilience Policy, Office of the Secretary of Defense
- Erin Sikorsky, Director, Center for Climate and Security
- Jennifer L. Turner, Director, China Environment Forum & Manager, Global Choke Point Initiative
RSVP For Event
This event will be a live-streamed discussion with in-person participants. We hope that you will join us! Please choose a registration option below to access the full invitation and event details.
Changing Tone, Shifting Priorities and Continuing Progress: Lessons from a House Armed Services Committee Hearing under the New Republican Majority
by John Conger
On February 28, 2023, the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee held its first hearing of the new Congress, with new Chairman Mike Waltz (R-FL) presiding, a handful of new Members joining the Subcommittee, and a newly minted Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment, Brendan Owens, joining his service counterparts to discuss the installations portfolio. While the hearing was held in advance of the submission of the President’s Budget Request, there was still much to learn both from new voices and from old voices in new roles.
Several months ago, after the election, I shared some thoughts on what might be expected from the Republican House, particularly in the context of past Congresses where Republicans held the majority and made progress on climate security. Tuesday’s discussion echoed some of the same themes I highlighted, including an emphasis on mission assurance and installation resilience, concerns about Russia and China, and a particular concern about critical minerals.
In his opening statement, Chairman Waltz invoked concerns about China, both in the context of threats in the Pacific and the context of Beijing’s dominance of critical minerals supply chains. He noted that the leverage this gives China as the United States pursues vehicle electrification, renewable energy and large-scale battery storage. He also said he found it “concerning” that the DoD was focused on climate change as a national security priority because of this leverage – and particularly noted he wanted to dig into the Army’s plans to electrify its tanks.
Later, the Chairman posed it as a choice. In perhaps his most illustrative statement, he said, “We’re charging headlong into our climate plans… but we cannot trade risk to climate for risk to force.” In other words, under his chairmanship the Department is going to get some ability to pursue its climate efforts, but it needs to ensure none of those efforts sacrifice warfighting capability in the name of climate. This is an unnecessary strawman – the Department is not proposing to limit readiness or warfighting capability to prepare for a climate changed world. Secretary Austin has made this clear, and the climate plans published by the Army, Navy and Air Force all emphasize that the very reason the climate plans exist is to protect their ability to conduct their missions.
Even with the concerns Rep. Waltz shared, he promoted resilience, the importance of incorporating it into installation master plans, and concerns about the leverage that Russian energy supplies give it over our installations in Europe. The bottom line was that military capability, in his mind, is paramount, and any environmental efforts would only be acceptable if they supported the primary goal.
Representative John Garamendi (D-CA), the Ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee and former Chairman, embraced Mr. Waltz’s opening comments, highlighting the vulnerability to climate hazards of installations like Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. He noted that there was the potential for “divisiveness” on energy, but as long as Congress focused on cost savings, resilience, microgrids, and even increased use of small modular reactors, that there would be continued bipartisan progress.
Mr. Owens and his counterparts included a significant focus on resilience to climate threats – including the role clean energy can play in building resilience – in their opening comments. It is clear that a focus on resilience to climate risks continues to offer opportunities for bipartisan progress.
During questioning, some key topics that were raised included:
- The reliance on – and prospects for independence from – Russian energy at DoD’s European bases (Rep. Waltz);
- The dependence on Chinese-manufactured solar panels and batteries to achieve energy goals (Rep. Waltz) – with each of the respondents emphasizing the importance of bringing production of these materials and finished products to the United States;
- Exploring the use of small modular nuclear reactors for power generation (Rep. Wilson, R-SC);
- Lessons learned from achieving net-zero energy status at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany (Rep. Sherrill, D-NJ);
- The importance of avoiding Chinese-produced batteries as we shift to EVs (Rep Scott);
- Additional emphasis on the need to ensure no Chinese materials are included in military equipment (Rep. Gimenez, R-FL); and
- Climate resilience plans (Rep. Escobar, D-TX).
In the end, what was learned?
- Concern about reliance on both Chinese minerals and Russian energy echoed through the hearing, and both will have reverberations throughout the Department’s climate efforts. As it pursues its climate plans, DoD will make more progress where it directly addresses the concerns and priorities of the committee.
- The new Chairman will need reassurance that the Department’s climate plans will augment, rather than compete with, military capability.
- Installation resilience appears to be a key priority that intersects with climate security agendas and committee concerns, and both parties will continue to support efforts to protect facilities, the energy grid, transportation routes and other critical infrastructure from climate impacts.
BRIEFER: How the United States Can Prevent the Weaponization of Climate Migration in a Warming World: A Humane Approach
By Katelin Wright, 2021-22 Climate Security Fellow
The views expressed in this briefer are those of the author and do not represent the position of the Center for Climate and Security or the Council on Strategic Risks.
In the summer of 2021, several European Union (EU) countries began to see an influx of irregular migration from neighboring Belarus. Migrants, including children, from throughout the Middle East, Africa, and some as far away as Cuba, overwhelmed border officials in Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland as they attempted to enter the EU. The ensuing humanitarian crisis was not spontaneous but rather a well-calculated act of retaliation on behalf of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. In response to EU sanctions placed on Belarus over its repression of protests against a fraudulent presidential election, Lukashenko used vulnerable migrants and refugees as political pawns. Deploying a combination of misinformation and disinformation, Lukashenko encouraged people considering migration to come to Belarus as a means to enter the EU. The case of Belarus demonstrates how weaker states can employ unconventional tactics to fight against stronger nations. Although portrayed by the media as a new precedent, countries have weaponized migrants before. Cuba, Turkey, and Morocco, to name a few, have used similar tactics in the past. While weaponized migration might not be entirely new, it is likely to become increasingly common as intensifying climate change contributes to further human displacement and migration. In this context, nations, including the United States, should get ahead of the phenomenon by changing their approach to climate migration – through policies that recognize and address the role climate change plays in decisions to migrate.
This briefer explores the complex and multicausal drivers of migration–from escaping violence to displacement caused by climate change–and suggests how the United States can reform its immigration policies to mitigate the risks of weaponized climate-driven migration.
Climate & Food Security on Stage at the Munich Security Conference
By Erin Sikorsky, Patricia Parera, and Brigitte Hugh
Almost a year after the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine began, it was no surprise that the 2023 Munich Security Conference focused on the importance and implications of the ongoing conflict. This focus included a look at the second-order effects of the conflict, such as global food insecurity and the energy transition – a recognition that tackling such transnational challenges are integral to what the conference report identified as a need for “A re-envisioned liberal, rules-based international order…to strengthen democratic resilience in an era of fierce systemic competition with autocratic regimes.”
Underscoring the importance of these issues, early in the conference NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmerman, and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell met to discuss the intersection of climate change and security. As Kerry said, “While we must confront the security risks the world faces head on, we must also do so with an eye to the climate crisis, which is making these dangers worse.”
The Center for Climate and Security (CCS) and the International Military Council for Climate and Security (IMCCS) helped drive the conversation forward on these topics at the conference through two high-level side-events: “Cleaner and Meaner: The Military Energy Security Transition by Design” and “Feeding Climate Resilience: Mapping the Security Benefits of Agriculture and Climate Adaptation.” The events included government officials, NGO and private foundation representatives, defense sector leaders and the media.
Implementing NATO’s Climate Security Action Plan
NATO and IMCCS co-hosted the Cleaner and Meaner side-event, which focused on the challenges and opportunities facing NATO members as they consider the security risks of climate change and the need to transition away from fossil fuel dependence. During the event, the NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges David van Weel, said that the alliance needs “to mainstream climate change and energy transition considerations into the entire NATO enterprise, including training, exercising, force planning, and the development and procurement of military capabilities.”
The conversation culminated in three key takeaways: first, public-private partnerships are critical for decarbonizing defense. As one participant put it, militaries must work with the private sector to more quickly turn clean energy technologies into capabilities. Second, competing timelines are a key challenge for militaries – the need to resupply today in the face of the Ukraine conflict with the longer timeline needed to integrate new clean energy technologies. Further complicating matters is the fact that equipment procured today may not be as useful in a warming world, and participants noted militaries will need to reexamine their assumptions and strategic planning priorities to manage such change. A third takeaway was the importance of focusing on the operational benefits of clean energy for the military. Demonstrating that investments in clean energy will help militaries achieve their core duties will help speed the transition.
The Food and Climate Security Nexus
The Feeding Climate Resilience side-event hosted by CCS explored the intersection of food insecurity, climate change, and conflict. As one participant put it, investing in stable ground through climate and agricultural adaptation ensures that the soil is less fertile for insurgencies. The conversation emphasized three key needs: (1) the adoption of a more holistic and systems approach to the issues of climate change, food insecurity, and instability; (2) an increase in technology innovation in agriculture; and (3) more inclusive policy and decision making, from the subnational to international level. Participants discussed the need to develop, collect and disseminate concrete examples of successful and sustainable climate and food security-related initiatives which reduce conflict and build peace.
Participants underscored the security benefits of increased support for sustainable development policies and technological innovations that promote climate-smart agriculture and investments in science and technology that target the needs of small farmers–especially women. The conversation also identified the importance of scaling up climate finance and developing more responsive and inclusive planning and policy systems for finance, water management, and markets. Perhaps the most crucial lesson in addressing the current food security challenge is the importance of partnerships, particularly at the local and subnational level and between the private sector, government and civil society, among others. South-South cooperation and Triangular cooperation, or that between developed and developing countries, is also critical. The most promising multilateral partnerships are in areas like science and technology, because they can leverage the immense capabilities and assets of the private sector in cooperation with government and civil society.
The group concluded that tackling these issues requires a new Green Revolution. Research and innovation in agriculture are at the core of long-term food security and diminish the possibility of conflict, instability, and hunger, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Additionally, the conversation on food and climate must include water advocates as water is a key socio-economic driver for sustainable growth, livelihood, justice, food security, and labor. Without equitable and secure access to water for all, there can be no sustainable development or climate security.
CCS and IMCCS look forward to acting on the priorities outlined by participants in both sessions through targeted research, policy development and community building to increase awareness and investment in the military energy transition, agricultural adaptation, food security, and climate resilience.
Featured image sourced from: MSC / David Hecker, Munich Security Conference.