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Climate Change in U.S. National Security Strategies under Obama, Trump and Biden

By Dr. Marc Kodack

As the Biden administration’s national security team ramps up efforts to incorporate climate change and its effects into their agencies and policies, work will begin on crafting a new National Security Strategy (NSS). To guide national security decision-making while the full strategy is drafted, President Biden has released interim national security strategic guidance (here). With the availability of this guidance we can compare and contrast how President Biden plans to address climate change and national security with how these issues were tackled in Obama and Trump National Security Strategies published in 2015 and 2017, respectively. In short, the Obama and Biden strategic guidance is strong on climate security (with Biden’s being especially robust), while the Trump NSS was almost entirely silent on the subject. Below is a detailed review.

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The Biden Administration and Climate Security: Week 3

Reuters/Rodi Said

Last week’s big climate security action in the United States came in the form of another Executive Order from President Biden: this time on planning for the impact of climate change on migration. The order calls for:

“…a report on climate change and its impact on migration, including forced migration, internal displacement, and planned relocation.  This report shall include, at a minimum, discussion of the international security implications of climate-related migration; options for protection and resettlement of individuals displaced directly or indirectly from climate change; mechanisms for identifying such individuals, including through referrals; proposals for how these findings should affect use of United States foreign assistance to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change; and opportunities to work collaboratively with other countries, international organizations and bodies, non-governmental organizations, and localities to respond to migration resulting directly or indirectly from climate change.”

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The Biden Administration & Climate Security: Week Two

White Press Secretary Jen Psaki flanked by Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy – Jan 27, 2021

“This executive order I’m signing today…makes it official that climate change will be the center of our national security and foreign policy.”President Joe Biden, January 27, 2021

The big news this week was of course the Biden Administration’s Executive Order “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” In announcing the measure, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said

“Today in the order that [President Biden] will sign he makes climate central to foreign policy planning, to diplomacy, and to national security preparedness. It creates new platforms to coordinate climate action across the federal agencies and departments, sorely needed. And most importantly, it commissions a national intelligence estimate on the security implications of climate change to give all of us an even deeper understanding of the challenge. This is the first time a president has ever done that.”

We at the Center for Climate and Security applauded this big step forward in an organizational statement, and dug deeper into what some of the provisions will mean for the US national security community in our panel event yesterday on the second pillar of our Climate Security Plan for America: Assess Climate Risks. You can catch up on the video from the event here

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A Climate Security Plan for America Part 2: Assess Climate Risks

By Erin Sikorsky

Part 2 of 4 in the Climate Security Plan for America blog series

See part 1, “Demonstrate Leadership,” here.

If the first pillar of the Climate Security Plan for America is all about leadership, the second pillar is about ensuring those leaders have the information they need to take decisive, effective action. In this section of the plan, we note that though climate change poses unprecedented risks, we’re also in a moment of unprecedented foresight – a combination that gives us a Responsibility to Prepare and Prevent. Advanced climate modeling allows us to project the implications of a range of emissions levels on risks such as sea level rise, rainfall variability, wildfires, impacts on biodiversity and marine and terrestrial ecosystems and functions, and new disease ranges. 

Foresight does not automatically translate to action, however. In order to leverage these models for national security insights, the U.S. government must have the personnel, programs, and systems in place to conduct robust and actionable assessments of climate risks. Our plan calls on the administration to “take advantage of unprecedented foresight about climate change.” President Biden’s new Executive Order (EO), Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, takes important steps in this direction–his actions and our recommendations for what should come next are below: 

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