Climate change threats are 'real, urgent and severe', says national security adviser

Posted: Apr 26, 2013

Written by

John McArdle, Greenwire

White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon spoke about the "real, urgent and severe" national security threat that climate change presents in a speech at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy this morning.

In his prepared remarks, Donilon acknowledged that it might seem unusual for the president's national security adviser to be a featured speaker at an energy conference. But he said energy and climate matters play a vital role in U.S. national security and foreign policy.

And among the biggest issues affecting the global energy landscape, he said, is climate change.

"The national security impacts of climate change stem from the increasingly severe environmental impacts it is having on countries and people around the world," Donilon said in remarks released by the White House this morning.

Donilon pointed to widespread droughts and wildfires in the United States last year and the rise of extreme weather events. Last year alone, he noted, the country endured 11 weather-related disasters that inflicted $1 billion or more in damage.

The good news, he said, is that the Obama administration has recognized the threat and is working to address it.

"The fact that the environmental impacts of climate change present a national security challenge has been clear to this administration from the outset," he said.

Quoting from the White House's 2010 National Security Strategy, Donilon said the president recognizes "in no uncertain terms that 'the danger from climate change is real, urgent and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources, new suffering from drought and famine, catastrophic natural disasters, and the degradation of land across the globe.'"

As the United States works to address those challenges today, Donilon said, the administration has a strong new ally in the fight.

"As we look forward, we are fortunate to welcome into the Obama administration one of the most experienced and impassioned climate diplomats America has ever had: [Secretary of State] John Kerry, who already has launched a new process to ensure that climate change will be a central part of our Strategic and Economic Dialogue with China later this year," he said.

Along with working to mitigate climate change, Donilon said, the United States must also prepare for the climate impacts that are already too late to avoid. He pointed to several ways the Obama administration is already doing that.

"The United States is building greater climate resilience at home and helping developing nations withstand the impacts as well," he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. intelligence community is studying ways to understand where and how climate-fueled security challenges may emerge. The Defense Department is also funding research projects on climate change and factoring the issue into its own planning.

Under President Obama, the DOD recognizes the challenge that climate change presents "for mission-critical infrastructure and military installations, capabilities, and readiness," Donilon said.

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