Former top military officials seek action, saying climate change poses ‘unprecedented security risks’
By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 24, 2019
A group of former top military and national security officials on Tuesday called for President Donald Trump to establish a sweeping plan that treats climate change as a major national security threat.
The Climate Security Plan for America recommends the creation of a White House Office on Climate Security to be led by a senior official reporting directly to the president “in order to combat these unprecedented security risks urgently and comprehensively.”
It also calls for elevating climate leadership positions within the Department of Homeland Security, Defense and State departments and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The plan was issued by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Center for Climate and Security and George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
It is endorsed by 64 former senior military, national security and intelligence leaders. Among them are retired Gen. Larry Welch, former chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force; retired Adm. Samuel Locklear, former commander of U.S. Pacific Command; and retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of U.S. Central Command.
The release of the Climate Security Plan comes on the heels of Friday’s youth-driven global climate strike, which by some estimates brought more than 4 million protesters to streets around the globe demanding action by world leaders on climate change.
Meanwhile, the United Nation’s Climate Action Summit commenced this week in New York City.
Any call to action, however, faces a White House that has slowed or reversed efforts by federal agencies to address climate change, most notably Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change in June 2017.
Climate change is a security threat primarily because it multiplies and complicates existing security risks. For example, drought can exacerbate regional instability by causing mass migrations or skirmishes over water rights.
Changes in climate also have real and lasting effects on American military installations. An uptick in the frequency and intensity of wildfires, hurricanes and flooding in the United States has already affected key bases.
A Pentagon report earlier this year concluded that about two-thirds of 79 major military installations are vulnerable to flooding, while half are susceptible to drought. Half of them are at risk to wildfires.
The plan released Tuesday focused more on managing future consequences of climate change than on steps to slow or reverse the effects.
Several recommendations call for the Pentagon to consider worst-case scenarios on how climate will affect military readiness and missions.
The plan recommends the defense secretary direct each of the armed services “to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the implications of climate change on readiness, training, testing and operations — making sure to consider worst-case climate risk projections — and to develop measures to address those vulnerabilities.”
It further recommends that combatant commanders – in conjunction with security officials of allies and partner nations — assess the impact of climate change on the posture of peer competitors, future requirements for humanitarian assistance and disaster response, political-social stability of nations within a combatant commander’s area of responsibility and emerging flashpoints.
“The Climate Security Plan for America is a call for Presidential leadership to prioritize this challenge and take action to protect our national security in the face of the coming storm,” John Conger, director of the Center for Climate and Security, said in a statement.
“We see the climate security threat with more clarity than ever and now we have a responsibility to prepare for it,” Conger said.