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The Biden Administration & Climate Security: Week One

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What a week for climate security! In his inaugural address on Wednesday, President Joe Biden said, “The cry for survival comes from the planet itself,” acknowledged the “climate is in crisis,” and promised “we will be judged…by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era.” Not long after he was sworn in, President Biden signed an Executive Order to rejoin the Paris Agreement–recommendation 1.13 in our Climate Security Plan for America (CSPA). On Thursday morning, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry hit the ground running in a meeting with world leaders, promising “humility and ambition” in tackling the climate crisis.   

This week, the Senate also held hearings on key national security and cabinet nominees–many of whom recognized climate risks in their opening remarks. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines called climate change a “critical transnational threat,” while Secretary of State-Designate Antony Blinken and Secretary of the Treasury-Designate Janet Yellen both termed the threat “existential.” Homeland Security Secretary-Designate Alejandro Mayorkas noted his agency’s role in tackling  “longer-term threats like climate change”, stating that being “prepared for and resilient to natural disasters” requires work with state, local, tribal and territorial governments. Selecting cabinet officials who will put climate change front and center in national security discussions is exactly what we called for in the CSPA first pillar: Demonstrate Leadership

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Looking Back: The Center for Climate and Security 2020 Wrap-Up

As we begin 2021, we wanted to take a look back at the work of the Center for Climate and Security during the past year. Thanks to the dedication of our staff, fellows and Advisory Board, we’ve made significant progress on putting climate security front and center and advancing the recommendations in our Climate Security Plan for America

We began the year by launching (in person!) two ground-breaking climate security risk reports, the Security Threat Assessment of Climate Change and the International Military Council on Climate and Security’s World Climate and Security Report 2020

Not long after COVID-19 hit and the world shut down, we  highlighted the parallels between US intelligence community warnings on pandemics with its warnings on the security risks of climate change and made recommendations to ensure the US is not caught flat-footed again, underscoring the lessons we can learn from the COVID-19 crisis that are applicable to climate change.

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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

For First Time, the Pentagon IG Annual Report Identifies Climate Change as Top Challenge

By Dr. Marc Kodack

In another sign that the Department of Defense (DoD) is prioritizing climate security risks, the annual Inspector General (IG) summary of the Department’s top management challenges explicitly discusses climate change and extreme weather events. This is the first time the report has featured climate change, incorporating it along with global pandemics in a section on strengthening resiliency to non-traditional threats. 

The report explores a number of ways climate change and extreme weather challenge the DoD. It includes the following examples of the costly impact of extreme weather events on installations:  $3.6 billion in hurricane damages to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in 2018 and the 2019 flooding that caused $1 billion in damages to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The report also notes the risk of rising sea levels at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; noting they are expected to rise an additional 3.6 feet by 2050 causing significant campus flooding. 

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