On The Record

Under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, senior U.S. military, national security and foreign policy leaders have recognized the security risks of climate change, and urged a response that is commensurate to the threat. In this context, here is a compilation of key statements on the issue from current and past military, national security and foreign policy leaders. This is not a complete list, but it is a good reminder that climate change is far more than just an environmental concern.

Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, USMC (Ret) (March, 2017)

“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today. It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”

“Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”

“As I noted above, climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects.”

“I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”

Secretary of Defense, Dr. Ashton Carter (2016, 2015)

Jan 2017: “The Department published a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, focused on acknowledging and managing the risks inherent in climate change — both its nature as an instability accelerant in many parts of the world and the danger it poses to our own enterprise such as sea-level rise and flooding at coastal bases or drought in the southwest. As described in the President’s memorandum on Climate Change and National Security, the impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities. Our actions to increase energy and water security, including investments in energy efficiency, new technologies, and renewable energy sources, will increase the resiliency of our installations and help mitigate these effects. Already, the Department has reduced energy usage at contingency bases by 30 percent, is on track to meet its commitment of 3 gigawatts of renewable energy purchases at our bases by 2025, and has executed more than $1.8 billion in Energy Savings Performance Contracts.”

June 2016: “Through a principled security network, we can all meet the challenges we’re facing together – whether it’s Russia’s worrying actions, North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations, the threat posed by extremists groups, or the growing strategic impact of climate change.  These challenges and others are real for all of us who live in the Asia-Pacific.  But so are the opportunities: for nations, for militaries, and for the people of the Asia-Pacific.”

March 2016: “[Question on what DoD is doing to address climate change] It’s a good question. It’s a good question and it’s a serious concern. I think if the question is what is the Department of Defense doing per se, we are a carbon emitter but not a driver of that. We are doing things both in the name of efficiency, as well as carbon footprint like everybody else is. More efficient buildings, more efficient fuel engines, more efficient jet engines which also have a greater thrust weight and other things that are important to us from a military point of view. But climate change does have strategic implications for us. So another question in addition to the question asked is “What are you doing to adapt and how is that affecting us?” We don’t have a whole lot of effect on it, but it does have an effect on us. I mean, one thing it is doing is opening up the Arctic, which is already causing people to jockey and position. And I was talking about freedom of navigation and I mentioned the South China Sea, which happens to be a place everybody’s focused on today. But don’t forget that the reason to stick up for freedom of navigation is it’s everywhere. Straits of Hormuz, Arctic Ocean, Strait of Malacca, South China Sea, all of that is an important part of the human future. And we’re seeing change, climate change in the Arctic, and it’s having a strategic effect on us. It also has an effect on sea levels which, well, particularly for Pacific islanders and everything has a material effect on them. Patterns of climate affect human security because they cause people to move and famines to occur and things like that have security implications. What happens around the world does change the general environment for security so it does have implications for us very much. We watch all that very closely and try to make adaptations where we can.”

May 2015: “As the challenge of climate change looms larger, natural disasters not only threaten lives, but also upset trade and economic growth. And at the same time, terrorism, foreign fighters, cyber attacks and trafficking in both people and narcotics plague this region like any other.”

Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper (2016, 2015, 2014, 2013)

Oct 2016: “It certainly is [climate change is a national security issue]. We’re seeing this already, the effects of climate on national security issues with things like availability of water, or food, or energy. And this increasingly, I believe, is going to play a big part in our national security landscape in the future.”

Sept 2016: “In the coming decades, an underlying meta-driver of unpredictable instability will be, I believe, climate change. Major population centers will compete for ever-diminishing food and water resources and governments will have an increasingly difficult time controlling their territories. And so because of all of these factors, after ISIL’s gone, we can expect some other terrorist entity to arise and a cycle of extremism which will continue to control us for the foreseeable future. And by the way, our more traditional adversaries like Russia and China and Iran and North Korea will continue to challenge us.”

“I do think climate change is going to be an underpinning for a lot of national security issues. The effect on climate, which drives so many things ‐‐ availability of basics like water and food, and other resources, which are increasingly going to become matters of conflict, and already are, between and among countries. And so this is going to give rise to national security insight that we’ll need to understand this and hopefully help anticipate it. So I think climate change over time is going to have a (inaudible) effect on our national security picture.”

Feb 2016: “Unpredictable instability has become the “new normal,” and this trend will continue for the foreseeable future…Extreme weather, climate change, environmental degradation, rising demand for food and water, poor policy decisions and inadequate infrastructure will magnify this instability.”

Feb 2015: “Extreme weather, climate change, and public policies that affect food and water supplies will probably create or exacerbate humanitarian crises and instability risks. Globally averaged surface temperature rose approximately 0.8 degrees Celsius (about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) from 1951 to 2014; 2014 was warmest on earth since recordkeeping began. This rise in temperature has probably caused an increase in the intensity and frequency of both heavy precipitation and prolonged heat waves and has changed the spread of certain diseases. This trend will probably continue. Demographic and development trends that concentrate people in cities—often along coasts—will compound and amplify the impact of extreme weather and climate change on populations. Countries whose key systems—food, water, energy, shelter, transportation, and medical—are resilient will be better able to avoid significant economic and human losses from extreme weather.”

“Infectious diseases are among the foremost health security threats. A more crowded and interconnected world is increasing the opportunities for human and animal diseases to emerge and spread globally. This has been demonstrated by the emergence of Ebola in West Africa on an unprecedented scale. In addition, military conflicts and displacement of populations with loss of basic infrastructure can lead to spread of disease. Climate change can also lead to changes in the distribution of vectors for diseases (emphasis added).”

Jan, 2014: “Risks to freshwater supplies due to shortages, poor quality, floods, and climate change are growing. These forces will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and generate energy, potentially undermining global food markets and hobbling economic growth. As a result of demographic and economic development pressures, North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia particularly will particularly face difficulty coping with water problems. Lack of adequate water is a destabilizing factor in developing count ries that do not have the management mechanisms, financial resources, or technical ability to solve their internal water problems.”

March, 2013: “Terrorists, militants and international crime groups are certain to use declining local food security to gain legitimacy and undermine government authority. Intentional introduction of a livestock or plant disease could be a greater threat to the United States and the global food system than a direct attack on food supplies intended to kill humans. So there will almost assuredly be security concerns with respect to health and pandemics, energy and climate change. Environmental stresses are not just humanitarian issues. They legitimately threaten regional stability.”

Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel (2014, 2013)

October 2014: “We see an Arctic that is melting, meaning that most likely a new sea lane will emerging…We know that there are significant minerals and natural deposits of oil and natural gas there. That means that nations will compete for those natural resources.”

May 2014: “Just today, the nation¹s top scientists released a National Climate Assessment that warns in very stark terms that the effects of climate change are already becoming quite apparent. One area where we see this is in the Arctic. The melting of gigantic ice caps presents possibilities for the opening of new sea lanes and the exploration for natural resources, energy, and commerce, and also the dangerous potential for conflict in the Arctic.”

April 2014: “…the United States military will continue to build new types of partnerships that tackle non-traditional security challenges more effectively. The military presence we maintain in the Pacific – including approximately 330,000 personnel, 180 ships, 2,000 aircraft, the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and five Army brigades – provides unparalleled capabilities. But the kind of non-traditional security challenges that pose a growing threat to stability in the region, such as climate change, natural disasters and pandemic disease, cannot be resolved through military efforts alone. They require strong partnerships across military and civilian agencies, and with the private sector and non-governmental organizations. That’s why I am pleased that USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah will lead one of our sessions in Hawaii.”

Nov 2013: “But the challenge of global climate change, while not new to history, is new to the modern world. Climate change does not directly cause conflict, but it can significantly add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. Food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, more severe natural disasters – all place additional burdens on economies, societies, and institutions around the world. Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is a reminder of humanitarian disaster brought on by nature. And climatologists warn us of the increased probability of more destructive storms to come.”

“Planning for climate change and smarter energy investments not only make us a stronger military, they have many additional benefits – saving us money, reducing demand, and helping protect the environment.”

“Climate change is shifting the landscape in the Arctic more rapidly than anywhere else in the world…Over the long-term, as global warming accelerates, Arctic ice melt will lead to a sea level rise that will likely threaten coastal populations around the world.”

National Security Advisor, Susan Rice (April, 2014)

“Climate change is now well understood to be a major national security issue and a source of stress on a number of the underlying causes of conflict. Drought, floods, food shortages, water scarcity, all of these drive increased human insecurity, poverty and can contribute to conflict…we all know that where there is drought, where there is insecurity, when there is poverty, hunger, poor governance, repressive policies, it may make the tinder in the box more readily ignitable.”

Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear (2013)

Nov 2015: (Retired) “As we seek to rebalance and reinvigorate our historic alliances, build new strategic and economic partnerships, and effectively posture our military in the Asia-Pacific for the 21st century, we must address the potentially catastrophic security implications of climate change in the Asia-Pacific and their likely impact on U.S. interests in the region.”

April 2013: (Senate testimony): “In the Indo-Asia Pacific region, as we go from about—projections are we’re going to go from about 7 billion people in the world to about 9 or 10 by the century, and about 70 percent of them are going to live in this part of the world…About 80 percent of them today live within about 200 miles of the coast, and that trend is increasing as people move towards the economic centers which are near the ports and facilities that support globalization. So we’re seeing that trend of people moving into littoral areas….We are also seeing—if you go to USAID and you ask the numbers for my PACOM AOR how many people died due to natural disasters from 2008 to 2012, it was about 280,000 people died. Now, they weren’t all climate change or weather-related, but a lot of them were due to that. About 800,000 people were displaced and there was about $500 billion of lost productivity. So when I look and I think about our planning and I think about what I have to do with allies and partners and I look long-term, it’s important that the countries in this region build the capabilities into their infrastructure to be able to deal with the types of things that—”

March 2013 (Interview regarding climate change in the Asia-Pacific): Significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about…People are surprised sometimes…You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17…The ice is melting and sea is getting higher…I’m into the consequence management side of it. I’m not a scientist, but the island of Tarawa in Kiribati, they’re contemplating moving their entire population to another country because [it] is not going to exist anymore…We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue – even with China and India – the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations…If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.’’

March 2013: “While the Indo-Asia Pacific today is relatively at peace, I am concerned by a number of security challenges that have the possibility to impact the security environment…Examples include, climate change, where increasingly severe weather patterns and rising sea levels, along with inevitable earthquakes and tsunamis’ and super-typhoons, and massive flooding threaten today and will continue to threaten populations in the future in this region.”

Secretary of State, John Kerry (2015, 2014, 2013)

Nov 2015: “The reason I made climate change a priority is not simply because climate change is bad for the environment. It’s because by fueling extreme weather events undermining our military readiness, exacerbating conflicts around the world, climate change is a threat to the security of the United States and, indeed, to the security and civility of countries everywhere.”

Feb 2014: “When I think about the array of global climate – of global threats – think about this: terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – all challenges that know no borders – the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them.”

May 2013: “And at the top of that list of shared challenges which does not get enough attention…a principal challenge to all of us of life and death proportions is the challenge of climate change…So it’s not just an environmental issue and it’s not just an economic issue. It is a security issue, a fundamental security issue that affects life as we know it on the planet itself, and it demands urgent attention from all of us.”

National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon (April, 2013)

“The national security impacts of climate change stem from the increasingly severe environmental impacts it is having on countries and people around the world…The fact that the environmental impacts of climate change present a national security challenge has been clear to this Administration from the outset.”

Former Secretary of State, George Shultz (March, 2013)

“There are huge changes that are in the works if we don’t moderate what’s going on. Changes in heat levels. Some places can get very, very hot, and we’ve already experienced some of that. Even Vladimir Putin got out of Moscow a couple summers ago. So you’ve got that problem…I’m a marine, and during World War II I flew over the Pacific, and we flew over those islands, and they’re just little islands out there in the ocean…So you can create conditions that lead people to want to fight about things. If I suddenly find that I am losing all my land, I want to get somebody else’s.”

Former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, Tom Ridge (R-PA) (February, 2013)

“The U.S. national security community, including leaders from the military, homeland security, and intelligence, understand that climate change is a national security threat… They’re not talking about whether or not it is occurring – it is… They’re talking about addressing the problem and protecting the American people. It’s time Washington does the same.”

Secretary of Homeland Security (2013, 2012)

Aug 2013: “And you will face new challenges that we have begun to address but that need further attention…You also will have to prepare for the increasing likelihood of more weather-related events of a more severe nature as a result of climate change, and continue to build the capacity to respond to potential disasters in far flung regions of the country that could occur at the same time.”

July 2012: “You have to look at climate change over a period of years, not just one summer…You could always have one abnormal summer. But when you see one after another after another then you can see, yeah, there’s a pattern here.”

Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta (May, 2012)

“Our mission at the Department is to secure this nation against threats to our homeland and to our people.  In the 21st Century, the reality is that there are environmental threats which constitute threats to our national security.  For example, the area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security:  rising sea levels, to severe droughts, to the melting of the polar caps, to more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

Commander of U.S. European Command, Admiral James G. Stavridis, USN (ret) (March, 2012)

“Climate change in the Arctic makes it one of the world’s most rapidly changing environments. As the volume of Arctic sea ice decreases, access continues to increase permitting maritime traffic into areas previously impassable without specialized vessels. This new access is creating opportunities for transit, development, and natural resource extraction. While some see these changes as a potential breeding ground for conflict, we see the risk of armed conflict as low, and continue to approach the Arctic as an area of cooperation among Arctic nations.”

Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Robert F. Willard, USN (ret) (February, 2012)

“The U.S. alliance with Australia anchors USPACOM’s strategy in Oceania. Australia, with additional contributions from New Zealand, invests extensively in security and assistance efforts in this sub-region. The Australian continent notwithstanding, most of Oceania is comprised of Pacific Island nations spread across the vast expanse of the South Pacific Ocean. Security challenges associated with natural resources in this sub-region tend to predominate. In particular, illegal fishing, resource damage attributed to climate change and global warming, and the susceptibility of low lying island nations to typhoons and tsunamis define USPACOM and U.S. Coast Guard approaches to engagement in Oceania, often in concert with Australian and New Zealand actions.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice (July, 2011)

“In this Council we have discussed many emerging security issues and addressed them, from the links between development and security to HIV-AIDS. Yet this week, we have been unable to reach consensus on even a simple Presidential Statement that climate change has the potential to impact peace and security in the face of the manifest evidence that it does. We have dozens of countries in this body and in this very room whose very existence is threatened. They’ve asked this Council to demonstrate our understanding that their security is profoundly threatened. Instead, because of the refusal of a few to accept our responsibility, this Council is saying, by its silence, in effect, “Tough luck.” This is more than disappointing. It’s pathetic. It’s shortsighted, and frankly it’s a dereliction of duty.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, USN (ret) (October, 2010)

“The scarcity of and potential competition for resources like water, food and space, compounded by an influx of refugees if coastal lands are lost, does not only create a humanitarian crisis but creates conditions of hopelessness that could lead to failed states and make populations vulnerable to radicalization. These challenges highlight the systemic implications and multiple-order effects inherent in energy security and climate change.”

Former Commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command under President George W. Bush, Admiral John Nathman, USN (ret) (October, 2009)

“There are serious risks to doing nothing about climate change. We can pay now or we’re going to pay a whole lot later. The U.S. has a unique opportunity to become energy independent, protect our national security and boost our economy while reducing our carbon footprint. We’ve been a model of success for the rest of the world in the past and now we must lead the way on climate change.”

Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates (July, 2008)

“We also know that over the next 20 years and more, certain pressures—population, resource, energy, climate, economic, and environmental—could combine with rapid cultural, social, and technological change to produce new sources of deprivation, rage, and instability…But, overall, looking ahead, I believe the most persistent and potentially dangerous threats will come less from ambitious states, than failing ones that cannot meet the basic needs—much less the aspirations—of their people.”

Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Thomas Fingar (June, 2008)

“We judge global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for US national security interests over the next 20 years … We judge that the most significant impact for the United States will be indirect and result from climate-driven effects on many other countries and their potential to seriously affect US national security interests.”

Former CIA Director, James Woolsey (June, 2008)

“The combination of 9/11, concern about climate change, and $4 a gallon gasoline has brought a lot of people together. I call it the coalition of the tree-huggers, the do-gooders, the cheap hawks, the evangelicals, and the mom and pop drivers. All of those groups have good reasons to be interested in moving away from oil dependence.”

Commander of the United States Army Materiel Command under President George W. Bush, General Paul Kern, USA (ret) (April, 2007)

“Military planning should view climate change as a threat to the balance of energy access, water supplies, and a healthy environment, and it should require a response.”

Former Army Chief of Staff, General Gordon Sullivan, USA (ret) (April, 2007)

“Climate change is a national security issue. We found that climate instability will lead to instability in geopolitics and impact American military operations around the world.”

Former NASA administrator Vice Admiral Richard Truly, USN (ret) (April, 2007)

“The stresses that climate change will put on our national security will be different than any we’ve dealt with in the past.”

Former Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Central Command, General Anthony Zinni, USMC (ret) (April, 2007)

“You may also have a population that is traumatized by an event or a change in condi- tions triggered by climate change,” Gen. Zinni said. “If the government there is not able to cope with the effects, and if other institutions are unable to cope, then you can be faced with a collapsing state. And these end up as breed- ing grounds for instability, for insurgencies, for warlords. You start to see real extremism. These places act like Petri dishes for extremism and for terrorist networks.”

Former Secretary of Defense, then-Senator Chuck Hagel (March, 2007)

According to Andrew Holland at the American Security Project: “Hagel was an original cosponsor of S.1018 in the 110th Congress, which required the Director of National intelligence to submit to Congress a National Intelligence Estimate on the anticipated geopolitical effects of global climate change and the implications of such effects on the national security. This legislation found that “The consequences of global climate change represent a clear and present danger to the security and economy of the United States.” The legislation was included as an amendment to the Committee-passed FY08 Intelligence Authorization, but was removed before passage on the Senate floor due to opposition in the Senate.”