New Obama memo targets climate-related national security concerns

An action plan identifying specific steps is required within 90 days

BOSTON (State House News Service) – A presidential memorandum issued Wednesday lays out the federal government’s first comprehensive framework to address the impacts of climate change on national security, according to White House officials.

During a conference call prior to the memorandum’s release, officials said rising ocean and air temperatures, and changing weather patterns are leading to increases in heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods and coastal erosion.

Dr. John Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology, said climate change is affecting the availability of food, water and energy around the world and putting at risk “marine food webs” that 2 billion people depend upon for protein-rich foods.

“There’s every reason for the next administration to follow this blueprint,” Holdren said when asked by a reporter whether Obama’s successor will be bound by the effort.

The stresses associated with climate change are fueling political instability, with droughts, floods and extreme heat exacerbating conditions in areas of the world already marked by conflict, said Alice Hill, special assistant to the president and senior director for resilience policy at the National Security Council. And sea level rise is also a threat to the readiness of the U.S. military, she said.

“These threats are already here. They’re anticipated to grow,” she said, making the case for cooperation across 20 federal agencies to prioritize and address national security concerns related to climate change.

A National Intelligence Council report released Wednesday outlines the potential, in the most dramatic cases, for a state’s authority to collapse due to climate change-related events, Holdren said.

In a section of the report titled “Threats to the Stability of Countries,” council officials wrote, “When climate-related effects overwhelm a state’s capacity to respond or recover, its authority can be so undermined as to lead to large-scale political instability. Countries with weak political institutions, poor economic conditions, or where other risk factors for political strife are already present will be the most vulnerable to climate-linked instability. In the most dramatic cases, state authority may collapse partially or entirely.”

Decreasing water and disputes over arable land access will increase the risk of conflicts between people who share river basins and aquifers, Holdren said, and contribute to population migrations and affect the ability of the U.S. to respond to disasters and humanitarian crises.

Yemen in 2015 was hit by two tropical cyclones in 10 days, including the first-hurricane-strength storm to hit county in its recorded history, Holdren said.

According to the presidential memorandum, a Climate and National Security Working Group will be formed “to coordinate the development of a strategic approach to identify, assess, and share information on current and projected climate-related impacts on national security interests and to inform the development of national security doctrine, policies, and plans.”

An action plan identifying specific steps is required within 90 days.

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