This week, a full-page advertisement titled “Republicans and Democrats Agree: U.S. Security Demands Global Climate Action” ran in the Wall Street Journal. The statement was undersigned by 48 national security and foreign policy leaders, as well as diplomats and former members of Congress from both parties. It urged U.S. government officials and businesses to focus on this growing problem and tackle it before it’s too late.
“This issue is critically important to the world’s most experienced security planners. The impacts are real, and the costs of inaction are unacceptable,” the experts write in the statement. They make it particularly clear that, when looked at as a security issue, climate change can no longer be politicized or debated. The statement also points out the importance of immediate international collaborative action, especially now that countries like China, Brazil, and Mexico are making “earnest commitments” to act on climate change.
“This moment in diplomatic history is too important to sacrifice to partisanship,” former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a signatory on the statement, said in a press release. “We have an opportunity for a real breakthrough on US/China climate policy that has important implications for the broader relationship.”
Also represented on the statement were Secretaries of Defense Chuck Hagel, William Cohen and Leon Panetta, Secretary of State George Shultz, and many other high-level government and ex-military officials.
These political leaders are not alone in their stance. President Barack Obama has called climate change a national security threat on multiple occasions. In May, Obama said climate change “constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.” He also referenced climate change’s threat to national security during his State of the Union address earlier this year.
The statement released Thursday directly references a a 2014 Pentagon report released by the U.S. Department of Defense calling climate change a “threat multiplier.” The Partnership for a Secure America, which published the ad, said that the DoD is concerned that the effects of climate change could “prevent access to their workforce, degrade the security of installations, impede training and readiness, and impair force capacity.
Security threats associated with climate change are already being observed in a number of areas of the world. Climate change is considered a contributing factor to the wars in Syria, and climate-related crop failures and droughts in the Middle East and African Sahel are contributing to migration pressures.
Even back in 2013, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, answered the question about what the greatest security threat the region faces with two familiar words: climate change.
Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders gave the same response when asked the same question at the first Democratic debate last week.
“The scientific community is telling us if we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, the planet that we’re going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be habitable,” Sanders said at the debate.
Fellow Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley also spoke of climate change during the debate, saying that it “makes cascading threats even worse.”
With fewer than 30 days until the Paris climate summit, the statement made by these former U.S. governmental leaders and national security experts comes at a critical time for global climate action. As of October, 156 critical nations have already submitted pledges to the UN determining how far they intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and setting the stage for the international meeting.