Climate Change News

White House: National Security Plans Must Consider Climate Risks

Along with the new policy directive, the administration released a report on how climate changes—from more extreme weather to sea level rise—can threaten national security.


A new U.S. presidential memorandum cites the threats of climate change to national security and establishes a policy requiring that current and anticipated climate change–related impacts “are fully considered in the development of national security doctrine, policies, and plans.”

The memorandum, issued by the White House on Wednesday, creates a federal Climate and National Security Working Group led by staff from the National Security Council and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The directive calls for the working group to develop within 90 days an action plan to identify, assess, and share information about climate-related impacts on national security. It also requires federal agencies to respond to the action plan by developing implementation plans within 150 days.

The new policy “is the most comprehensive approach ever taken by the U.S. government to identify and act on climate change–related impacts of natural security interest,” Brian Deese, senior adviser to the president, said at a 21 September briefing.

National Intelligence Council Report

The White House issued a related report, “Implications for US National Security of Anticipated Climate Change,” prepared by the National Intelligence Council (NIC). The report outlines ways that climate change can affect national security, including instability of countries hit by climate-induced “disruptions” such as drought and subsequent famine or other weather-related disasters. Climate change could also heighten social and political tensions due to decreases in water, access to farmland, and population migrations; could lead to boundary disputes related to the warming and opening of the Arctic Ocean; and could stress military operations and coastal military bases, the report notes.

During the next 5 years, national security risks linked to climate change “will mostly arise from distinct extreme weather events,” especially in countries with weak governance, poor living conditions, or conflict, according to the report. In the next 20 years, however, climate change also will play out in broader and more systemic ways as a result of more acidic oceans, rising sea levels, and other threats that will result in “sustained direct and indirect effects on US national security.”

Long-Lasting Impact of the New Policy?

The release of the new policy, which builds on earlier planning laid out in documents such as a 2015 U.S. National Security Strategy, marks “the first time that the intelligence community is delineating pathways” for determining when and where climate change impacts concretely affect U.S. national security interests, Deese noted at the briefing.

The memorandum will have a long-lasting impact beyond the Obama administration, predicted White House science adviser John Holdren, who chairs OSTP.

“There is every reason for the next administration to follow this blueprint,” Holdren said at the briefing. “The facts on the ground, in the atmosphere, and in the oceans are not going to change. In fact, the impacts of climate change on national security are only going to grow.”

Decreasing the Chance of Being Caught Off Guard

The memorandum “elevates attention to the risks of climate change to the highest levels of national security planning, which is a critical step in ensuring that our national response is commensurate to the risk,” Francesco Femia, cofounder and copresident of the Center for Climate and Security, told Eos. The center is a Washington, D. C.–based think tank with an advisory board of senior military and national security experts.

Femia added that the issue of climate change and national security has been of concern to the intelligence and military communities across administrations. The memorandum, along with the NIC report, “decreases the chances that we’ll be caught off guard by security risks driven or exacerbated by climate change,” he said. “That will help us be better prepared, both in the civilian and military sectors.”

The U.S. National Academies are organizing a public webinar—on a date not yet announced when this article went to publication—with briefings about the memorandum on climate change and national security.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), White House: National security plans must consider climate risks, Eos, 97, Published on 23 September 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • tolo4zero

    Obama can’t even read a scientific paper.
    In reference to Cook(2013) he said:
    “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and
    Which we all know is false.
    He got over 31 million followers on that tweet.
    Not one scientific academy corrected him.
    What’s gong on?

  • davidlaing

    Lest we become a ship of fools, we should acknowledge that our understanding of climate change is by no means “settled,” as some contend. For example, in the Keeling curve, as I note in my comment on the new German effort at long-term climate modeling, it is evident that CO2 variability peaks in May in the northern hemisphere. If we examine temperature anomaly records for the 24-year interval 1975-1998, during which global temperature rose dramatically by almost 1 deg. C, it is equally evident that positive temperature anomalies peak in March, two months earlier. I.e., unless there is a ten-month lag, CO2 increases have essentially no effect on warming. Also peaking in March is ozone depletion, suggesting that this must be considered seriously as a contender for global warming.

    Also, associated with each Dansgaard-Oeschger event in the GISP 2 ice cores is a major concentration of volcanic sulfate from Iceland, indicating that non-explosive, basaltic eruptions typically accompany major warming events. The longer-term geologic record supports this. Balsaltic volcanoes emit HCl and HBr, which, when photodissociated on polar stratospheric clouds, produce chlorine and bromine, which deplete ozone, admitting more solar UV-B to Earth’s surface, which could cause warming. This, too, should be considered by both climate scientists and by policy makers before they unjustly condemn CO2 for having a significant role in climate change. (Note, I have no investments whatsoever in the fossil fuel industry. I am purely concerned about the misuse of science for any reason, especially for political ends.)

  • pascalmolineaux

    If global climate change is recognized as a National Security threat and the Science behind our understanding of the causes of such change essentially accepted by all Science Academies the world, why is it that the AGU still accepts funding from EXXON-MOBIL’, knowing they have given solid financial backing to climate change denial over the years in an attempt to confuse the issues and ensure their profit margins for a few more years? Isn’t this acceptance of EXXON-MOBIL sponsorship deeply troubling for the AGU?