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Congressional Hearing on Resilience Highlights Climate Change Risks

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By John Conger

On Friday, March 26, the Readiness Subcommittee of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on resilience, which in recent years has become synonymous with climate change adaptation.  It was a remarkably substantive hearing, with senior representatives of the military services (LTG Douglas Gabram, Commander Army Installations Management Command; VADM Yancey Lindsey, Commander Navy Installations Command; MajGen Edward Banta, Commander Marine Corps Installations Command; and Brig Gen John Allen, Commander Air Force Civil Engineering Center) citing progress on a variety of fronts, listing actions at specific bases, and clearly communicating the seriousness of the resilience requirement in the face of climate change and the increasing impacts of extreme weather.  It was also clear, however, that they had a very long way to go.

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U.S. Congress: Bipartisan Support for Investments in Combating Climate Change at the Department of Defense

Sherri Goodman, Chair of the Council on Strategic Risks, speaks to the House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee, March 17, 2021

By John Conger

As the Fiscal Year 2022 budget is discussed within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), a budget that will reportedly include an increased focus on dealing with the threats that climate change poses to the Defense Department, the House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee held a hearing on March 17 to consider the risks – and the costs – imposed by climate change.  The panel witnesses were Sherri Goodman, Chair of the Council on Strategic Risks, Senior Strategist and Advisory Board Member of the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) and Secretary General of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS); and Vice Admiral (ret) Dennis McGinn, Member of the CCS Advisory Board.  

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The U.S. Congress Overrode Trump Veto on FY21 NDAA: Here are the Climate Security Highlights in the Bill

By John Conger

On January 1, the U.S. Senate voted to override Mr. Trump’s veto of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with an 81-13 vote.  A few days earlier, the House voted 322-87 to override the veto.  It is worth noting that the Statement of Administration Policy, which lists Mr. Trump’s objections to the bill, did not express opposition to any of its climate provisions.

This bill continues the trend we’ve seen in recent years of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees passing pragmatic climate security legislation without making it a political issue.  In this bill, for example, Congress directs the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a strategy to follow up on its 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, essentially asking for a plan to climate proof the DoD.  Given the signals the incoming Biden Administration has sent, there is every reason to expect it to develop an ambitious plan in response.  It also continues the trend of expanding resilience authorities by granting broad authority to fund projects that improve the climate resilience of DoD installations – even when located on private land.  (For those readers unfamiliar with the nuances of DoD funding, this is a big deal… and it’s important because climate change doesn’t recognize fence lines and sometimes the actions you need to take are outside the base.)

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The Council on Strategic Risks Condemns Violence Against U.S. Democratic Institutions

This week, the American democratic system withstood a direct and violent attempt to prevent it from working. Despite this despicable attempt, the U.S. Congress proceeded to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. This Constitutional process, which started in the afternoon of January 6th but could not be completed until the early morning hours of January 7th, affirmed the votes cast and the electoral certification processes completed by every state in the nation.

The Council on Strategic Risks condemns this assault on the U.S. Capitol, Congress, and on our democratic institutions, and the political forces and actors who instigated it.

Americans have strongly-held, if often divergent, views. Nonviolent public expression of those sentiments and actions to drive change are fundamental elements of the nation’s democratic processes. However, the forced takeover of government facilities, the threats to the safety of elected officials and law enforcement personnel, the attempt to prevent a legitimate election certification process from occurring, and the violence that resulted in five deaths, are not.

Unfortunately, the strains and trends that led to these events were foreseeable and predicted. The Council on Strategic Risks has long expressed concern that the issues the United States has been facing could spur violence and the erosion of democratic governance.

More broadly, history is replete with lessons from situations around the world in which significant changes, strains, and destabilizing forces mounted to the point of overtaking the systems meant to reinforce democratic governance against rising violence, ethno-nationalism, and conflict.

Economic devastation, environmental degradation, technological evolution, rising oppression, the impacts of climate change, and other sweeping trends can combine to create conditions that pave the way for great disruption and change. This has been true in the last century and continues today, where anti-democratic forces have exploited changing conditions to the detriment of citizens worldwide. A major catalyst—such as a life-changing pandemic—can be a significant factor in a system failure, and that is even more likely when political leaders are unwilling or unable to prevent such failure.

Indeed, systemic risks to security never stand alone. They coincide, converge, are fueled by, and fuel, social and political changes and disruption, and at times, violence and conflict. This week’s violent assault on the U.S. Capitol and Congress was clearly fueled by President Trump and other political actors, and by the spreading of blatant falsehoods concerning the November elections through social media and other platforms. However, there is no single cause behind the threat to democracy that the United States has recently witnessed, nor are there singular solutions. But the launching point for advancing solutions is that America’s strong democratic institutions have stood up and prevailed in the face of threats we have not seen in modern times.

We hope January 6th marked the worst of the violence we will see in the United States, and the worst of threats to the U.S. democratic system.

We know there is a long road ahead to find solutions to the deeply-rooted challenges that have been growing in the United States and around the world for many years. The mission of the Council on Strategic Risks is to anticipate, analyze and address core systemic risks to security in the 21st century. We will continue to play a role in the community building that will be necessary to meet this mission, and hopefully in our work will contribute to acts and policies that strengthen our democracy.

The Center for Climate and Security is an institute of the Council on Strategic Risks

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