Background Press Call on Climate Security
(October 20, 2021)
4:20 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Thanks. And hello, everyone. Our sincere apologies for starting late and for the mix-up with the dial-in. We will be sure to have a transcript available for you all and those who are joining, or not able to join, at some point later on this evening.
We are here to discuss forthcoming announcements by the Biden-Harris administration on climate security. Today’s briefing is on background, attributable to a “senior administration official.” And for your reference, our speaker today is [senior administration official].
As I mentioned, we’ll have a transcript. We will also have an embargoed factsheet that, when it’s ready, I’ll be sending out to those who have RSVP’d. That will also be embargoed until 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.
By participating in this call, you are agreeing to those ground rules. And so, right now, we’ll start with remarks from our senior administration official, and then afterwards, we’ll open it up for Q&A.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, thank you so much [senior administration official]. Thanks, everyone, for joining this afternoon. And again, apologies, for starting a bit late, but appreciate all your time and attention to this really important issue.
As many of you all know, we are all seeing — all of us are seeing the climate crisis reshape our physical world with the Earth’s changing climate faster than at any point in modern history. And extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more severe and affecting the entire world.
In just 2021, we’ve seen wildfires rage across the western United States, throughout the Mediterranean region. And eastern Russia, Europe, China, and India have experienced extreme flooding. And the world has suffered unprecedented levels of drought.
The scientific community is clear: Human activities are directly contributing to climate change. We are already experiencing the devastating impacts that climate has wrecked on almost every aspect of our lives — from food and water insecurity to infrastructure and public health. And this crisis is exacerbating inequalities that intersect with gender, race, ethnicity, and economic security.
And these security challenges are among the many reasons the administration has prioritized addressing the climate crisis both at — here at home and as a core element of our national security and foreign policy.
The administration is placing climate at the center of much of this work, and we’re taking a whole-of-government approach to how we implement an ambitious plan for domestic action to address the climate crisis, while also stepping up our global leadership.
With more than 85 percent of global emissions coming from beyond U.S. borders, we alone cannot solve this challenge. We need the rest of the world to accelerate their progress alongside with us. And our focus — and we know that our — we know that with climate change, it is definitely a security issue and a national security issue.
So, tomorrow, agencies across the federal government representing core components of our national security and foreign policy apparatus, in coordination with the National Security Council, are releasing a suite of analyses fulfilling key requirements of both the January 27th Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad to put the climate crisis at the center of U.S. foreign policy and national security, as well as the February 29th Executive Order on Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration.
These analyses will serve as a foundation for our critical work on climate and security moving forward. It is important to flag that these analyses reinforce the President’s commitment to the United States: making evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.
So while national security agencies led the development of these analyses that I’ll describe later today, the nation’s premier science agencies played a central role in ensuring that the best available science and data were included in each of these products.
So, with that, let me just briefly summarize the four products that you’ll be seeing tomorrow:
The first is the National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change. In the executive order I mentioned at the top from January 27th — EO 14008 — it called for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to oversee the development of the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate — or “NIE” — on Climate Change.
For those of you that may not be familiar with this product, the NIE is the most authoritative assessment from the intelligence community and represents the consensus view of all 18 intelligence community elements.
In developing the NIE, the IC worked closely with U.S. federal science agencies who provided the baseline observational data and climate modeling that enabled the IC to conduct the geopolitical analysis of the implications and risks to the United States.
Climate change will increasingly exacerbate a number of risks to U.S. national security interests from both physical impacts that could cascade into security challenges, to how countries respond to the climate challenge.
The three broad categories of risks identified in the NIE include: One, increased geopolitical tension as countries argue over who should be doing more and how quickly, and compete in the ensuing energy transition. Number two, the risk of cross-border geopolitical flashpoints as countries take steps to secure their interests. And three, the risk of climate effects straining country-level stability in select countries and regions of concern.
The intelligence community judges that all of these risks will increase and that no country will be spared from the challenges directly related to climate change.
The second report and analysis that’ll be released tomorrow is from Department of Defense. It’s the Department of Defense’s Climate Risk Analysis. This is the first Department of Defense report focused on the strategic and mission implications of climate change.
This report, known as the “DCRA,” is a critical first step for incorporating climate change security implications across relevant DOD strategy, planning, and programming documents and processes.
As the global and crosscutting consequence of climate change increase the demands on the Department of Defense, the DCRA provides a starting point for a shared understanding of the strategic and mission risks of climate change, and lays out a path forward.
Both climate change threats and the global efforts to address climate change will influence U.S. defense strategic interests, relationships, competition, and priorities. The DCRA will identify security implications of climate change for DOD at the strategic level, including impacts to missions, international partners, as well as risks to regions.
To protect our national security, the Department of Defense will integrate the ways climate change affects mission, strategy, plans, and capabilities. It’ll consider the effects of climate change on areas such as how to train, fight, and win in an increasingly complex environment.
And working within the whole of government and in coordination with allies and partners, the Department of Defense will strive to prevent, mitigate, account for, and respond to defense and security risks associated with climate change.
It’ll also, lastly, consider how they — how crises exacerbated by climate change are likely to increase demand for defense missions and impact critical supply chain infrastructure and readiness.
The third product is the Department of Homeland Security Strategic Framework to Address Climate Change. DHS is releasing a Strategic Framework for Addressing Climate Change to govern the department’s efforts to combat the climate crisis. The Strategic Framework builds on DHS’s Climate Action Plan and applies to strategy, plans, policy, and budgets across DHS.
It’ll have five — it’ll include five lines of effort. The first is empowering individuals and communities to develop climate resilience. The second will be building readiness to respond to increases in climate-driven emergencies. The third, incorporating climate science into strategy, policy, programs, and budgets. The fourth, investing in a sustainable and resilient Department of Homeland Security. And the fifth, ensuring that the DHS workforce is informed by climate change.
The framework was developed and coordinated through the first-ever DHS Climate Change Action Group — the CCAG — which is comprised of senior officials from across the department and focuses on promoting resilience, addressing multiple risks, including flooding, extreme heat, drought, and wildfires.
The third — that’s — the fourth and final product of tomorrow will be in response to the executive order I mentioned from February, Executive Order 14013. President Biden called for an official assessment that climate change is having on migration. So this assessment will mark the first time the U.S. government is officially recognizing and reporting on the linkage between climate change and migration.
The report identifies migration as an important form of adaptation to the impacts of climate change and, in some cases, an essential response to climate threats — response to climate threats, to livelihoods, and wellbeing.
We were very careful not to frame migration as purely a negative coping mechanism, and that our goals remain to ensure that migration, for any reason, is done in a safe, orderly, and humane (inaudible) way. This is no different for migration as a result of the impacts of climate change.
The report is structured in four main thematic areas. It’ll talk about the geopolitical implications, foreign assistance, protection and resettlement of affected individuals, and multilateral engagement.
Development and humanitarian assistance programs help address the underlying causes of forced migration displacement in the face of insecurity. And the report will also talk about how addressing individuals’ human security can decrease the livelihood — the likelihood of migration and second-order implications for international security, and that it’s critical to approach these efforts in a way that acknowledges that in almost all cases, climate change is not the sole driver of migration.
The U.S. has a compelling national interest in strengthening global protections for individuals and groups displaced by the impacts of climate change. And we’re going to work to identify ways to apply existing protection frameworks in the context of climate-related displacement and to identify gaps where the United States could forge new legal pathways to protection.
The National Security Council is establishing a standing interagency working group on climate change and migration to coordinate U.S. government efforts to mitigate and respond to migration resulting from the impacts of climate change, including to explore how we might best pursue this new pathway.
Through this working group, representatives from across the scientific, development, humanitarian, democracy, and human rights, peace and security elements of the U.S. government will work together to coordinate U.S. policy, strategy, and budgeting affecting populations vulnerable to climate impacts.
Given that climate-induced weather extremes will grow in severity in unexpected ways, this working group will provide a venue for developing long-term strategies consistent with the evolving scientific understanding of climate impacts, such as those communicated through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. National Climate Assessment.
In closing, I just want to flag that, you know, this is coming at a time when we are just a mere two weeks away from the U.S. attending and participating in the climate conference in Glasgow, known as COP26; the President be attending as well. And so it’s a really pivotal moment to underscore how the U.S. is thinking about climate security, its risks, and how we’re responding to many of those and the heightened urgency we face in addressing climate change across all the different strategies and tools we have in our toolbox to demonstrate U.S. leadership on this critical issue.
So, with that, let me open it up to questions.
Q Yeah. Hi. Thanks for taking the call. Can you just — on logistics, can you tell us at what point we’ll be able to get a copy of the migration report? And can you walk through some of the — some of the topline findings in some more detail at this point?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, no problem. [Senior administration official], do you — on the timing of this, do you know when the embargo is lifting on it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, all of the materials of the four components from the agencies, as well as the migration report, will be posted tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. We may have some before then, but we can guarantee that everything will be posted at 9:00 a.m.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks. And, in terms of your questions on the report itself — the migration report: As I mentioned, the four — the Impact of Climate Change on Migration report is the U.S. government’s first assessment and analysis of the relationship between climate — the climate crisis and migration displacement. And it outlines ways to improve access to protection and strengthen migration cooperation.
The recommendations of the report will help guide related U.S. policy development, foreign assistance, and diplomatic engagement. And it’s a product of an interagency effort set forward in the executive order from February.
In the four sections — I’ll give you a bit more color of each of those four sections. The first section, as I mentioned, it was the U.S. government’s consideration of the international security implications of climate-related migration. The focus of this section is on both the direct and indirect geopolitical security implications of climate-related migration, and not the consequences of migration more generally, or non-migration implications of climate change.
Many countries and regions most vulnerable to climate change are also fragile and are experiencing conflict or violence, and — when climate change can cause or exacerbate resource scarcity, which may drive conflict more directly, as well as induce migration of populations in vulnerable situations, attempting to secure safety or livelihoods elsewhere.
Policy responses in the developed world will have a direct impact on political stability elsewhere. As forced migration increases and countries struggle to maintain migration flows within and across borders, the cost of migration to migrants and (inaudible) communities already exceedingly high for many conflict-affected countries is likely to increase. And so, the migration is an important form of adaptation to the impacts of climate, and in some cases an essential response.
The second section will talk about the options for protection and resettlement of individuals displaced directly or indirectly by climate change.
As I noted, the U.S. has a compelling national interest in strengthening global protection for individuals and groups displaced by the impacts of climate. The U.S. is particularly concerned about the impacts of climate and displacement on people already in vulnerable situations. And climate has a disproportionate — and the fact that climate has a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities, compounding those situations of vulnerability and increasing the risks of displacement.
The third area — proposals for how these findings should affect the use of foreign assistance. Here you’ll see a bit more about how the U.S. government works with host governments and communities to enhance observations, models, and forecasts that enable monitoring and warning systems for floods, droughts, cyclones, extreme temperatures, as well as food insecurity, conflict, and humanitarian hotspots.
Also in this section we talk about U.S.-led adaptation, resilience, disaster risk reduction, nature-based solution programs to help communities and countries anticipate, prepare for, and manage climate change impacts and protect their critical, economic, and development gains.
Another part of this section also talks about the humanitarian assistance, which supports people forcibly displaced by conflict and violence, persecution and climate events, and recognize that migration can be an important strategy — important adaptation strategy in how U.S. government programming has supported safer migration that is more likely to benefit migrants and their families.
And then, lastly, the section on multilateralism and opportunities to leverage multilateral engagement. We’ll talk a bit there about U.N. bodies, such as the Security Council and General Assembly, that has already increasingly debated risks and impacts, and how increased U.S. diplomatic engagement of likeminded as well as other governments, especially those impacted by climate and displacement, can generate more attention and resources to implement key agreements and resolutions that aim to address climate change and migration.
We’ll also talk a bit more about the collaboration with U.N. entities, NGOs, academia, governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders, and how governments are working both on a regional level, as well as the civil society organizations and local communities, to play a pivotal role in the global multilateral engagement to effectively address climate-change-related migration, raising voices of local actors and other stakeholders.
So, those are a bit more — that’s a bit more detail about the four elements that you’ll see tomorrow in the report when it’s released.
Q Thank you for that. Just real — real quick follow-up.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure.
Q First, on logistics, can someone tell us at what time we’ll get a copy, under embargo, of the report?
And then, switching back to the contents of the report, is there anything in the report you would point to that would constitute some sort of announcement of a new policy initiative or direction or anything new in terms of revealing or saying how the administration intends to deal with these issues?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On timing, is that — is there anything (inaudible) embargoed?
MODERATOR: Apologies, but I can’t give an exact time on when we will send. We’ll aim to get it out as soon as possible. But still working through it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And then, to your question about what’s new in this report and what’s coming out of this: The key part and the central recommendation and the new part of this are both — first — well, first, two things.
One is the fact that this report exists and that we are taking a proactive position on the nexus of climate change and migration.
It’s important, if you’re going to have an effective strategy on this, the first part of developing such a policy is to understand the challenge itself. And that’s the goal of this report — is to ensure that we have, in developing any new policies, that we have a full understanding of the challenge itself.
And so, the central recommendation of the report is to establish an interagency policy process, which has not existed before, with potential lines of effort to be considered that are outlined in the report. And so, that’s a key part of this.
And the interagency policy process — that’s a new interagency policy process on climate change and migration. The goal of this process will be to coordinate the full range of U.S. government efforts to address the climate risks driving migration, displacement, and respond to migration resulting from the impacts of climate change.
It lays out several concrete lines of effort for the interagency to consider. And so, we have a good steer, and we’re going to have more on this as the process unfolds.
Q Thank you.
Q Will this — will the, you know, analysis have any specific effects on what the U.S. position will be during the Glasgow conference? And will this affect any concrete proposals?
And also, if I may add a second question on the NIE: You mentioned that one of the findings is that the likelihood of conflict increases, I understand, as a result of competition for resources. Is there — does that go into any specifics, naming any countries? Or can you speak more on that? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. On the NIE, I’ll direct you to the intel agencies who are briefing this out further for any further questions about the specifics of the National Intelligence Estimate.
On the impact on Glasgow, I will say what this report — what this series of reports will do, in terms of the U.S. positioning going into Glasgow, is that it underscores not only the whole-of-government approach that is being brought to Glasgow — I think you saw — you probably saw the announcement last week about over a dozen Cabinet-level secretaries and leaders and principals will be going to Glasgow. I think what it also underscores is the importance that — how we view climate security as a key element to the urgency to why the President has called it the decisive decade for action on climate.
What all these reports demonstrate and show is that without taking ambitious action on climate this decade, we are bound to see far more exacerbated — the worst impacts of climate change upon all of us.
And so, it really — what it gives us is a heightened sense of urgency going into Glasgow for why we must marshal all the — all other countries — the other 85 percent of global emissions, beyond the United States — towards a 1.5 degree aligned limit to global temperature rise. Because if we don’t see that happen, many of these impacts and the worst — the most dire impacts could be realized that further underscore challenges to our national security across both the United States but around the world.
And so, I think that having this report come out tomorrow — I mean, sorry, having these series of reports come out tomorrow from across all of our agencies, particularly the security-focused agencies, are really critical to demonstrating how important it is that we use this year in Glasgow and beyond to close the ambition gap, to drive increased action on climate from all actors to ensure that we keep the 1.5-degree Celsius global temperature limit in reach over the next several years.
Q Hi. Good afternoon. Thanks for doing the call. I was wondering if the report tomorrow will contain any specific recommendations or analysis on how climate change affects migration originating specifically in Central America?
I’m asking about — I’m asking because of — last year, we saw lots of migration after disasters like Hurricane Eta and Iota hit the region. So, I was wondering if there’s something specific to Central America. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you so much for that question. The report does — so, again, I mentioned four different products that are coming out tomorrow. And let’s just — I’ll just talk about the migration report itself.
The migration report does talk about different countries and regions that are affected by climate migration, and it includes countries within the Western Hemisphere and what we can do along those lines as well. But that’s what I’ll say to that for now. And then I’ll — we can follow up later and let the report speak for itself on the rest of the — of what is happening within the Western Hem.
But there are regional — we do have a regional consideration discussion around Central America, in particular, and the work that’s being done there.
Q Thanks so much for doing this. Just building on the earlier questions about the findings, I was hoping you could point to examples or just some more evidence in the migration report that backs up the linkages of climate change and migration.
And also, similarly, on the NIE, is there — are there examples or evidence that you can cite here — examples now that you can give that kind of speak to or that back up the finding of increased geopolitical tension and the risks of instability? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I won’t speak to the NIE. But on the migration report, as I mentioned, in the first few sections of the report, particularly on the geopolitical implications of climate change, we do a pretty thorough discussion about the relationship between climate change and migration and conflict, in particular, whether it’s around the impacts of climate-related migration and political instability, non-state actors, non-state armed actors and climate change and related migration, malign state actors and climate-related migration, and then the risks and opportunities going forward in that.
So that section that I mentioned at the top — you know, to go in a bit more specificity — there is a — as I mentioned, this is sort of a foundational report to really understand what we can build our policy off of. And they go through — and it’s a pretty heavily cited document to go — to give you them — as those examples that you’re exactly asking for. So —
Q Can you give us — is it possible to give us one example now, though, that kind of speaks to that? That would help us as we prepare our reports for the morning.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, one of those I guess I could talk about is how climate change-driven migrations will likely cause migrants to desire to emigrate to the nearest stable democracies that adhere to international filing conventions and have strong economies. So, many of these countries are U.S. Allies or partners that have experienced waves of migration.
Many of these countries adjoin destination countries that have experienced domestic instability as migrant populations have increased along destination country borders — here are examples of Greece and Turkey or UK, France, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Libya. And that climate change-related migration could cause greater instability among U.S. Allies and partners, and therefore could cause a relative strengthening in adverse — in adversarial conditions.
And so, in the absence of additional actions here, we really want to see, you know, a robust strategy for engagement to address the climate-related migration.
Q Thank you.
MODERATOR: And with that, we’re going to have to conclude the call. I want to thank everyone for their flexibility. And apologies again for starting late.
Thank you to [senior administration official] for their time.
As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to a “senior administration official.” The call contents and the materials that we’ll be sending afterwards — hopefully as soon as we can this evening — will be embargoed until tomorrow, 9:00 a.m.
And if you have any follow-up questions, please feel free to email me. I will try to get you the transcript of this call as soon as I can as well.
Thanks, everyone. And with that, have a good day.
4:48 P.M. EDT