Trump drops climate warming as threat in security plan

Source: Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 19, 2017

President Trump unveil his first National Security Strategy in a speech yesterday, but don’t expect the changing climate to come up much in the seminal document.

Climate change was a major feature of the periodical statement of policy during the Obama administration. But the Trump administration did not list the two-word term as a security threat in its first version of the NSS.

Instead, the document focuses mainly on the economic and security importance of developing the U.S. energy sector, while at the same time making note of how climate is shaping global energy policy.

“Climate policies will continue to shape the global energy system,” the strategy says. “U.S. leadership is indispensable to countering an anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to U.S. economic and energy security interests.

“Given future global energy demand, much of the developing world will require fossil fuels, as well as other forms of energy, to power their economies and lift their people out of poverty.”

That marks a stark change from the last administration, which made global warming’s effects on defense a focal point of its national security policy. In President Obama’s last NSS, released in 2015, “climate change” was mentioned 13 times, including on the opening page.

The omission has some in the security community worried climate change could fall out of focus at the Department of Defense, with leadership in the administration taking their cues from the White House.

“I do not believe we can have a national security strategy that does not address the threat multiplier of climate change,” said Alice Hill, who served as senior director for resilience policy for the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “People working within the agency look to these documents to guide their decisionmaking.”

The Sierra Club was eager to chime in, as well, saying that leaving out specific discussion of climate change as a threat is another instance of the administration bowing to corporate interests.

“Trump is not just ignoring science and public opinion about the dangers of the climate crisis, he’s ignoring American generals and the Pentagon about what it takes to keep our military and our country safe,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.

“Trump should take military advice from the military, not fossil fuel executives who are pushing to deny climate science and boost their profits at any cost,” he added.

In some ways, though, the administration’s first NSS is part of a pattern of mixed messaging on climate in the defense world.

So far, the Pentagon has stayed the course on climate under the Trump administration. Department of Defense officials say they plan to continue efforts to address warming started during the last administration and fit them into Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ larger goals for the department (Greenwire, Nov. 16).

Even if Trump thinks climate change is a “hoax,” Mattis has said the warming atmosphere is “a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of-government response” (E&E News PM, March 14).

And Trump last week signed the annual defense authorization act, which describes climate change as “a direct threat to the national security of the United States.”

All of that indicates climate change will likely remain in DOD’s most important planning documents, said Andrew Holland, senior fellow for energy and climate at the American Security Project.

“The National Security Strategy is a political document, so it’s a decision by the administration in what they want to focus on in national security,” Holland said. The planning documents developed at the Pentagon, on the other hand, have to “prepare for all eventualities.”

“If there was some sort of presidential statement saying climate change is not a threat to national security, then that would be worrying. But the omission of it does not bother me,” Holland added.

But because the NSS is often a signal of U.S. strategy for other nations, Hill said not pegging climate change as a threat could hurt international diplomacy and send the wrong signals at the Pentagon.

“I think that hinders our ability to plan with others, to better prepare ourselves and ensure that our nation is resilient to these security risks,” said Hill, who is now on the advisory board at the Center for Climate and Security.

“At some point, we have to question how much we can put our nation at risk for the sake of avoiding the term ‘climate change,'” Hill said.