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Security Highlights from the Leaders Summit on Climate

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U.S. President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. kicks off the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate in Washington, D.C., on April 22, 2021. 

By Erin Sikorsky

Last week’s Leaders Summit on Climate made history for many reasons — because of the number of new commitments on cutting emissions, its virtual nature, the focus on environmental justice, and that climate security was included at a level never before seen on the global stage. The big news out of the summit was President Biden’s announcement of a new target for the United States to achieve a 50 to 52 percent reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution in 2030. This step is in line with our call in the 2019 A Security Threat Assessment of Global Climate Change for “the world to achieve net-zero emissions as soon as possible in a manner that is ambitious, safe, equitable, and well governed, in order to avoid severe and catastrophic security futures.”

More specific to climate security risks already underway, US Secretary of Defense Austin led a session focused on identifying climate security risks and reiterating existing promises for combating them. While this administration has done more than any other towards elevating climate security as a foreign policy priority, it’s now time to move from talk to action–toward realigning priorities, strategies and missions to meet the climate security threat. The discussion led by Secretary Austin revealed multiple pathways to do so — and an international community that welcomes US leadership on the topic. Three of the key takeaways on which to build are as follows:


The Leaders Summit on Climate is a Historic Moment in Global Security

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U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry meets with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, March 9, 2021

By Kate Guy

Starting today, the Biden Administration is bringing together global leaders and Heads of State to catalyze ambition in the first ever Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by the U.S. Government. But this Summit is also historic in another way: the inclusion of a high-level conversation on the “global security challenges posed by climate change” at the center of its agenda. American defense and security leaders have never before attended a high-level summit on climate change, let alone chaired one. 

Now, climate security issues will take a featured role in a dedicated session hosted by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, with participation from the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and the Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Joining them will be senior security officials from six countries (the United Kingdom, Japan, Kenya, The Philippines, Iraq, and Spain), as well as the Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. This high-level participation represents a major advancement in the Center for Climate and Security’s decade-long effort to bring climate change to the big kid’s table of national and international security, as well as to better integrate security considerations into global climate policy.

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