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BRIEFER: Climate Change in the U.S. National Security Strategy: History and Recommendations

By Holly Kaufman and Sherri Goodman

2021 marks renewed and heightened U.S. government attention to climate and environmental security.  Reducing the threat of climate change is integrated into nearly every aspect of the Biden Administration’s agenda, into all cabinet and other senior positions, including those that deal with national security and foreign policy, and is the focus of three Executive Orders (EOs) that President Biden issued starting on day one of his presidency. The White House also published an Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” which states that the United States and the world have to act aggressively, now, to avert the most dire climate change consequences “for the health of our people, our economy, our security, and our planet.”

The President’s “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” EO starts with a directive to put the climate crisis “at the center of U.S. foreign policy and national security.” It directs the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence and others to analyze the security implications of climate change (i.e., the “Climate Risk Analysis”) and incorporate them into modeling, simulation, war-gaming and other analyses. This EO also calls for the first National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) focused on climate change – one of a number of measures to integrate climate change considerations into all aspects of domestic and international security planning. This is both unprecedented and critical. NIEs are the most authoritative analyses by the U.S. intelligence community. They provide policymakers with detailed data, information, and evidence-based analysis, without regard to whether the analytic judgments conform to current U.S. policy. Though a number of previous intelligence documents have addressed climate change, including a landmark 2016 National Intelligence Council memorandum, an NIE will go further in detailing the impact of climate change on America’s security. 

Read the full briefer here.

Climate Security and the U.S.-Russia Summit

Bilateral meeting Putin-Biden, March 10, 2011

By Steve Brock and Roger Ullman

When Presidents Biden and Putin meet today on the shores of Lake Geneva they won’t be short of contentious topics to discuss. With the bilateral relationship at its lowest point since the Cold War, many have pointed to cooperation on climate change as rare common ground worth exploring in a meeting that will be dominated by multiple areas of serious disagreement.  The emergence of climate as an unlikely bridge is largely based on Putin’s surprising participation and cooperative tone at President Biden’s April Leaders Summit on Climate. Over the weekend, Putin told Russian State TV that there were “issues where we can work together” with the United States, including climate change. Posturing aside, a frank discussion about the importance of addressing climate change merits a place on their crowded agenda given the urgency of the global security implications outlined in the recent World Climate and Security Report 2021 from the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security. Establishing discourse on climate security can serve both sides’ summit objective to find paths of de-escalation in a relationship that’s precariously close to rock bottom. To the world, it would also signal that even adversaries locked in bitter, wide-ranging disputes can recognize there is no longer time to waste in finding ways to come together to meet a global existential threat. 

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Climate Security: A Tale of Two Defense Hearings

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An aerial view of Offutt Air Force Base affected by major flood waters March 17, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by TSgt. Rachelle Blake)


By John Conger

Sometimes you want to hear from the very top, and sometimes you want to get into the details.  In the last couple of weeks, the U.S. Congress has done both, and each one teaches us something important about the way the Department of Defense (DoD) is planning to deal with climate change early in this Administration.

The first hearing described below included the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, covering a broad range of issues and setting the stage for the President’s budget release, which included      climate change as a priority.  The second addresses military infrastructure, which has been one of the key facets of the broader climate security portfolio within DoD.  It is the part of the climate challenge that has imposed the largest direct cost on DoD so far, and countering it also involves significant investment.  The second hearing gets into the details of this part of the portfolio.

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The CSR Team on the Biden Budget and Systemic Threats

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To date, the Biden administration appears to be prioritizing work to address the greatest threats to international security and stability, including biological risks, the security implications of climate change, dramatic ecological disruption, and nuclear threats. Analyzing, anticipating, and addressing these issues—and how they intersect and exacerbate one another—are at the core of the mission of the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR). 

In anticipation of the administration releasing its first full budget request on May 27th, the CSR team offers the following insights and hopes for what it will contain.

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