Climate Change and National Security

On April 17, the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security’s Strategic Foresight Initiative hosted a workshop on “Climate Change and National Security” as part of our ongoing partnership with the Government of Sweden. Given the clear national security dimensions of climate change and the politically contentious nature of the climate debate, this workshop served as an opportunity to learn about how the American national security community is dealing with climate change, and how national security issues connect to broader political debates on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The workshop began with a panel discussion on climate change and defense. This panel proved to be very constructive in illuminating the history of the American military and security communities’ engagement with environmental issues, and how climate change is informing present day security and military policies. Much emphasis was placed on the need for long term climate conscious planning and climate resilient infrastructure, given the cost projections, material and human, we have seen regarding unprecedentedly severe climate events.

This was followed by a second panel discussion on the state of the climate conversation in Washington. This discussion proved equally useful, exploring not only the struggles involved with navigating the politically divisive issue of climate change, but potential strategies and topics that have proven effective in achieving positive policy outcomes. While emphasizing the national security component of this issue was highlighted as an effective means of moving the climate debate forward, participants agreed that this tactic’s potential was ultimately limited. Stating the impact of severe weather events and climatic shifts on individuals and communities was more likely to shift the opinions of policy makers and voters in the long run.