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Looking Back to Look Forward: The DoD and Opportunities in a Changing Climate

us_navy_military_sealift_command_underway_replenishment_oiler_usns_walter_s-_diehl_provides_fuel_and_suppliesAs the current Administration winds down, each of the President’s Cabinet members have submitted “Exit Memos” detailing “the progress we’ve made, their vision for the country’s future, and the work that remains in order to achieve that vision.” They are all worth a read. Of particular note is Secretary of Defense Ashton “Ash” Carter’s memo, and how it contextualizes the risks and opportunities associated with a changing climate. Despite perceptions to the contrary, Secretary Carter joins a growing list of defense leaders, civilian and military, stretching back to the early years of the George W. Bush Administration, that have taken climate change seriously as both a matter of national security, and a driver of innovative action. (more…)

Defense Secretary Carter on Climate Security at Defense Ministers of the Americas

ash_carter_dod_secretary_portraitSecretary of Defense Ash Carter attended the 12th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (CDMA) in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on Oct. 11, 2016. During his prepared remarks, Secretary Carter focused on the “‘tremendous progress’ in the hemisphere’s peace, security.” In particular, he highlighted progress made in addressing natural disasters and challenges such as climate change that do not recognize national boundaries. The theme of the Conference was “Strengthening Defence and Security Co-operation in the Hemisphere in an Increasingly Volatile Global Environment,” with dedicated sub-themes looking at the impact of the military on the environment, the impact of climate change on the military, and security and defense cooperation in “humanitarian emergency assistance” – a timely subject in the wake of Hurricane Matthew’s devastating impact on Haiti. (more…)

Secretary of Defense Carter: the “growing strategic impact of climate change”

ash_carter_dod_secretary_portraitU.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made a recent statement at the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, calling for a “principled security network” for the Asia-Pacific region – one that could collectively address the region’s myriad security challenges – including “the growing strategic impact of climate change.” Rather than ranking threats against each other, which tends to miss the integrated nature of the security landscape, Secretary Carter places climate change within the broader context of a range of pressing security threats and opportunities facing the region, that will be best addressed through a cooperative approach: (more…)

Enhancing U.S.-Philippines Defense Cooperation in a Changing Climate

Underway supply replenishment

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian H. Abel

By Christine Parthemore, Executive Director, The Center for Climate and Security

As part of a long trip through the Asia-Pacific, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made news this week during his stop in the Philippines, where he announced new details of America’s current defense relationship and plans to expand it. The U.S. will be “deploying nine aircraft and hundreds of U.S. troops and special operators to at least seven bases in the Philippines as part of a new, regular presence there,” as Stars and Stripes reported. This additional presence, Carter stated, is primarily to “tamp down tensions” in the South China Sea.

With more U.S. assets and personnel heading to the region, the U.S.-Philippines partnership needs to include measures to ensure preparedness for some of the more damaging effects of climate change, including sea level rise, that will hit the Philippines particularly hard. The bilateral relationship already includes work relevant to preparing for the changing climate, including the humanitarian assistance/disaster relief elements of the annual Balikatan exercise. Other productive cooperative activities could include:

  • Sharing sea level rise projections relevant to military and coast guard facilities.
  • Where projections need updating, develop them together. This should include reviewing whether data can be leveraged from existing terrestrial monitors and remote sensing assets.
  • Share lessons with the Philippines from U.S. bases already being hit by sea level rise, such as our critical defense sites in the Virginia Beach-Hampton Roads area.

Be sure to track Carter’s trip at the Department’s extensive Asia-Pacific Rebalance website, and check out the Center for Climate and Security’s analysis and recommendations on climate change and the Asia-Pacific rebalance here.

Defense Secretary Carter on the Strategic Implications of Climate Change


Photo by US DoD

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter recently spoke to a group at the Commonwealth Club in California. His remarks touched on issues related to climate risks, including state stability, the oceans, and the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific (for more on this see “The U.S. Asia-Pacific Rebalance, National Security and Climate Change). The question and answer session following Sec. Carter’s remarks included a question specifically on what the Department of Defense was doing on climate change (transcribed below). In his response, Sec. Carter makes it very clear that climate change is a strategic threat to the Department of Defense, and something the military is watching closely.


Climate Security Prominent in the Shangri-La Dialogue

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates addresses the audience during the 6th International Institute for Strategic Studies conference, the Shangri-La dialogue, in Singapore, June 2, 2007, Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates addresses the audience during the 6th International Institute for Strategic Studies conference, the Shangri-La dialogue, 2007, Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby

The IISS Shangri-La Dialogue (14th Asia Security Summit), an annual gathering of Asia-Pacific defense ministers, military and civilian staff, just concluded on May 31. Most of the media attention was focused on exchanges between the United States and China over the South China Sea, but climate security found its way into a number of discussions, including the prepared remarks of U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Ash Carter; Cirilo Cristóvão, Minister of Defence, Timor-Leste; Dr Fabian Pok, Minister for Defence, Papua New Guinea, and Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (and Vice-President of the European Commission). Several other officials also addressed the issue during the Q&A sessions.

Below are excerpts from the speeches. Perhaps equally as significant as where climate change was mentioned is where it was not. It is perhaps these parts of the discussion, including the plenary sessions on New Forms of Security Collaboration in Asia and Preventing Conflict Escalation, that provide an interesting look into how these discussions can continue to evolve to better incorporate climate security dynamics. In the Special Session on Energy Security Challenges in the Indo-Pacific Region, for example, climate change was not mentioned until the Q&A portion of the discussion.

On the other hand, attention to humanitarian assistance and disaster response was, appropriately, ubiquitous. Given that climate change is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters in the region, future discussions on how to address these increased risks could potentially lead to additional opportunities for broader and deeper cooperation between Asia-Pacific nations. (more…)