Recently the Department of Defense (DoD) released a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap. Although the DoD first recognized climate change as a threat to U.S. national security in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, few people have taken notice of this new, evolving aspect of national security. Sure, climate change is important and needs to be addressed, but is it actually an issue of national security?
The White House notes that a climate change is a “threat multiplier.” Furthermore, it says that “rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.” Climate change will aggravate already existing problems and will also make it increasingly difficult to respond to more traditional crises or new issues that arise.
Therefore, the DoD is seeking to better identify and understand the effects of climate change and then integrate that knowledge into policy, training, plans, and future endeavors. As obvious as it is, it is important to acknowledge that climate change is a global problem and requires global action. It does not start or stop at nations’ borders and ultimately it will affect everyone. Although India and China failed to attend the UN summit on climate change back in September, it would behoove them to join the international community in more fully addressing this topic. Reports indicate India is extremely vulnerable to climate change and that its economy will experience negative impacts, and that threats to its food security could also occur. Earlier this year China promised to work with the U.S. on addressing global climate change but what the details of this cooperation will include is not yet particularly clear. As countries realize the extent to which climate change will have an impact on them, they are more likely to agree to contribute towards polluting less, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and so forth.
Last month, President Obama signed an executive order highlighting the importance of climate resilient international development. This executive order lays out policy and discusses how to incorporate climate resilience into international development, how to enhance data and tools, how to report progress, and it also establishes a working group. Encouraging other large and powerful nations to join the U.S. is vital, but so is providing assistance to developing countries.With a multi-agency and international approach, the U.S. is looking to protect its interests in relation to this immense challenge.
Abroad, climate change perhaps most notably affects America’s strategy in the Arctic and its pivot towards Asia. Domestically some areas of concern for the U.S. is the impact of rising sea levels, wildfires, and the role that the National Guard will need to play. Part of risk management is foreseeing potential future problems and trying to avoid them in the first place while simultaneously creating a plan for how to address them should it become necessary.
Complaints raised in the past have lamented a lack of action, despite an abundance of talking. However, many are hopeful that this time serious efforts and changes will be made. The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review succinctly notes that "the impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA), while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities." With this in mind, the importance of climate change to the U.S. is highlighted. Furthermore, it is not an issue that can be crammed into a single category, for it has far reaching implications and affects a wide range of policies, including our defense strategy and national security policy.