Obama ranks climate among top national security threats 

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, February 9, 2015

The dangers posed by climate change rank among the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction, infectious disease outbreaks and catastrophic attacks on the United States, according to a new White House assessment of the most pressing global risks.

President Obama today released his 2015 national security strategy, laying out his administration’s plans to tackle the “top strategic risks” to national interests. Among the most pressing threats listed are climate change and major energy market disruptions.”Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water,” the White House document says.

“The present day effects of climate change are being felt from the Arctic to the Midwest. Increased sea levels and storm surges threaten coastal regions, infrastructure, and property. In turn, the global economy suffers, compounding the growing costs of preparing and restoring infrastructure.”

The strategy issued is just the second from the Obama administration, although the White House is required to send a new strategy to Congress each year.

Obama’s first security plan — issued in May 2010 — also stressed the importance of urgent action on climate change, calling for “comprehensive legislation and its effective implementation.” But the political climate has changed dramatically since then, with both chambers of Congress now under GOP control, and prospects for climate legislation have diminished.

This year’s renewed forceful comments come as the administration is making a strong push to use executive authority to tackle climate change in the face of staunch opposition on Capitol Hill.

Obama similarly called for urgent action to confront climate change in his State of the Union address last month. “No challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” he said, citing reports that 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record (E&E Daily, Jan. 21).

Heather Zichal, a former top Obama energy and climate aide, said today she’s proud of the work that went into the renewed strategy. “While the Republican leadership wants to ignore the threat, I think the vast majority of Americans are clear-eyed about its growing threat to peace and the need to act.”

The president used his national security outline to tout his administration’s work on the issue, including regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

“Working with U.S. states and private utilities, we will set the first-ever standards to cut the amount of carbon pollution our power plants emit into the air. We are also working to strengthen resilience and address vulnerabilities to climate impacts.”

The national security document also points to the recent deal with China, where the world’s two largest emitters agreed to curb their greenhouse gases, noting that the administration is working “toward an ambitious new global climate change agreement to shape standards for prevention, preparedness, and response over the next decade.”

Energy security

The White House boasts of surging domestic oil and gas production in its strategy but warns about global threats to energy security and calls for more energy diversification.

“The challenges faced by Ukrainian and European dependence on Russian energy supplies puts a spotlight on the need for an expanded view of energy security that recognizes the collective needs of the United States, our allies, and trading partners as well as the importance of competitive energy markets,” the strategy says.

“[W]e must promote diversification of energy fuels, sources, and routes, as well as encourage indigenous sources of energy supply. … We will continue to develop American fossil resources while becoming a more efficient country that develops cleaner, alternative fuels and vehicles. We are demonstrating that America can and will lead the global economy while reducing our emissions.”

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz today praised the White House’s energy security plans.

“The vision that President Obama laid out in the latest National Security Strategy positions the United States to be a continued global leader in promoting a safe and secure world while mitigating the risks of climate change,” Moniz said in a statement.

“Now more than ever, it is critical for us to focus our efforts to cooperate on security issues that are increasingly critical to the stability of global markets and underscore the risk of relying on one source of energy. At the same time, collective action on security also presents an opportunity to diversify our low-carbon energy options, combat climate change, and strengthen our economies.