On Thursday, President Biden hosted a virtual international climate summit. The big news from the administration was a commitment to cut emissions at least in half from 2005 levels by 2030. But once again, it was the president's "whole of government" approach to climate change that caught my eye. For example:
Avril Haines, President Biden’s director of national intelligence, told world leaders on Thursday that climate change was no longer a peripheral issue but now “at the center” of U.S. foreign policy, with far-reaching impacts on force deployments and the stability of hard-hit regions.
Ms. Haines, speaking at this week’s virtual global climate conference, struck a tone of urgency at variance with the attitudes of many of her predecessors, who downplayed the role of rising sea levels, droughts, crop failures, fires, diseases and more frequent severe weather events.
“To address climate change properly it must be at the center of a country’s national security and foreign policy,” she said, echoing the words of Lloyd J. Austin III, the defense secretary, who addressed the conference a few minutes earlier.
“It needs to be fully integrated with every aspect of our analysis in order to allow us not only to monitor the threat but also, critically, to ensure that policymakers understand the importance of climate change on seemingly unrelated policies,” Ms. Haines said.
So...the Defense Secretary and the Director of National Intelligence have said that addressing climate change will be at the center of this country's national security and foreign policy. Here's why:
A pair of recent intelligence reports have presented a grim picture of climate change. The annual worldwide threat assessment, which looks at short-term challenges, said extreme weather caused by climate change would increase the potential for surges in migration and cause instability around the globe.
The changes will “exacerbate political instability and humanitarian crises,” the annual threat report said.
The intelligence agencies issued even more dire warnings with the quadrennial Global Trends report issued on April 8, which argued that climate change would contribute to instability, strain military readiness and encourage new political movements. It said that all societies would be forced to adapt to a warmer planet through changes both small and complex, including the building of massive new sea walls and the relocation of cities and towns.
It is also important to keep in mind that the U.S. military has been the world's largest single petroleum buyer. Back in 2011, leaders from the 4 branches of our military wrote an op-ed about why the development of alternative energy sources is important for our national security.
[T]here may be no better time for our country to increase support for clean energy than now, when our economy is in desperately need of jobs and emerging clean-energy companies are trying to grow — and in doing so, add new employees, many of them veterans.
The military knows climate change is happening and that our current energy posture is a growing threat to national security. Clean energy is a solution we must pursue.
Demonstrating the impact of that kind of investment, here is how Pike Research introduce their report on the military's involvement in renewable energy sources.
The various composite branches of the DOD, as an organization, combine to form the single largest consumer of energy in the world – more than any other public or private entity and greater than more than 100 other nations. Energy consumption is the lifeblood of the U.S. military – and the supporting governmental infrastructure that facilitates and controls it.
Military investment in renewable energy and related technologies, in many cases, holds the potential to bridge the “valley of death” that lies between research & development and full commercialization of these technologies. As such, the myriad of DOD initiatives focused on fostering cleantech is anticipated to have a substantial impact on the development and growth of the industry as a whole.
The armed forces nearly doubled renewable power generation between 2011 and 2015, to 10,534 billion British thermal units, or enough to power about 286,000 average U.S. homes, according to a Department of Defense report.
The number of military renewable energy projects nearly tripled to 1,390 between 2011 and 2015, department data showed, with a number of utilities and solar companies benefiting. Many of those projects are at U.S. bases, where renewable energy allows the military to maintain its own independent source of power in case of a natural disaster or an attack - or cyber attack - that disables the public grid.
Even the president who called climate change a "Chinese hoax" was not not able to undo that part of Obama's legacy. As Reuters reported in 2017, "the largest U.S. government agency - the Department of Defense - plans to forge ahead under the new administration with a decade-long effort to convert its fuel-hungry operations to renewable power."
Those are just a few examples of why a "whole of government" approach to climate change is necessary. What Biden and his team are demonstrating is a recognition that climate change cannot be addressed in isolation from the rest of the federal government. It must be embedded in every domestic, economic, and foreign policy action we take.