Office of the Spokesperson
MODERATOR: Hi. Good afternoon, everyone, and thanks for joining us. We want to take this opportunity to discuss the security implications of the climate crisis in advance of Secretary Blinken’s participation in tomorrow’s UN Security Council open debate on climate and security.
A reminder: We’ll do this call on background. You can attribute what you hear today to a senior State Department official. And just for your own knowledge, with us today is . She will have some opening remarks, and then we’ll be able to take your questions. A reminder: The contents of this call are embargoed until we conclude.
So with that, I’ll turn it over to my colleague.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you. Good evening and thanks, everyone, for joining. As mentioned, you may have seen tomorrow morning Secretary Blinken will be participating in a UN Security Council open debate on climate and security, which the Irish are hosting as part of their Security Council presidency.
By now it should be clear that President Biden considers the climate crisis to be a top priority from a foreign policy and national security perspective. And in advance of Secretary Blinken’s remarks, we just wanted to give you a bit of background on the climate security nexus, some context for tomorrow’s session.
As the science has made increasingly clear, including last month in the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, the climate crisis is just that: It’s a crisis. If you’re concerned about global security, you have to be concerned about the implications of a warming world. Obviously there are the direct impacts of global warming on our populations and our communities – the increasing frequency of severe storms, and the implications for physical safety and critical infrastructure; the rising seas that a pose literally existential threat to some countries; even the increasingly deadly heat itself.
But what should be equally concerning from a security perspective are the indirect consequences of climate change, the way its impacts alter or often exacerbate existing threats. When resources such as water and fertile land, when they grow increasingly scarce, when agriculture fails, when fisheries collapse and biodiversity is undermined or in some cases extinguished, when people can’t make a living the way they once could and they become increasingly desperate, all of that inflames underlying tensions and it intensifies preexisting risks. It can also drive conflict, and we’ve even seen reports of extremist groups exploiting these desperate situations to recruit members and collaborators.
And it’s a fact that many of the most fragile states in the world are the very states that are most vulnerable to the dangerous impacts of climate change. There’s a disproportionate impact on less-developed countries. There’s a disproportionate impact on women, on poor communities, on marginalized communities. And the estimates vary, but it’s safe to say that tens if not hundreds of millions of people will be forced to make the very tough decision to leave their homes in the coming decades.
This is a humanitarian crisis in the making, and potentially deeply concerning from a regional security perspective. The bottom line is none of these impacts will help advance stability or security; quite the opposite. This is why President Biden has elevated the issue of climate change in the national security and foreign policy sphere as never before. That includes taking the unprecedented step of asking a former secretary of state, John Kerry, to serve as his special presidential envoy for climate, leading the critical diplomacy to ensure that the entire world, including certainly the U.S., is taking the steps to dramatically reduce emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and to prepare for the impacts that we know are already heading our way.
But it can’t just be about elevating the focus on climate change. It also has to be about integrating it. Climate considerations have to factor into our broader foreign policy and security thinking, our planning, and our decision-making. And this is something that Secretary Blinken underscored in the detailed climate policy guidance cable that he sent out earlier today to all of our posts around the world. This has to be the work of the entire department, not one office or bureau. It should be on the agenda in all of our bilateral relationships and in our multilateral engagement, including at the UN Security Council, which has paid far too little attention to the crisis to date.
A little history on that. Climate change has come up sporadically over the last 15 years or so at a handful of open debates at the Security Council and within a few Africa-focused resolutions, noting the ways it has complicated peace missions. There was also a reference to climate change’s potential to, quote, “aggravate existing threats to international peace and security.” That reference was in a Security Council presidential statement back in 2011.
But to date there has not been a broader effort to incorporate climate-related security risks into the business of the council, and in our view, it has to be part of that conversation. That’s one of the reasons why, when the U.S. had the UN Security Council presidency back in March, President Biden announced that we would join the group of friends on climate and security, and why we’ve been working with likeminded nations in the time since to ensure that the council and other UN bodies are treating the climate crisis like the security threat it is.
Before we open up for questions, I just want to mention some of the other actions the administration has undertaken to better prepare for the climate security risks. There have been several, but two I want to make sure are on your radar. President Biden requested a National Intelligence Estimate, which is the most significant intelligence product we have to explore the myriad security implications of the climate crisis. So that’s underway. And the President has also tasked the interagency with developing a comprehensive report on the impacts of climate change on migration and displacement. As I mentioned, we know this is a growing challenge, and this report is nearly finalized. A and once it is, we expect to release it in full to the public.
The administration understands that the world is changing rapidly, and even as we do all that we can to slow that process down, we also have a responsibility to ensure we understand these changes, that we’re preparing for these changes, and that we’re making informed national security decisions that benefit from all of the analysis we can accumulate. We have to take our cues from the science, and we have to ensure that the right information is making its way not just to Secretary Kerry and those conducting climate-focused diplomacy, but to Secretary Blinken and to everyone making high-level national security and foreign policy decisions on behalf of the United States.
So with that, I’m happy to take some questions.
MODERATOR: Sure. Great. With that, we’ll be happy to take your questions. And Operator, if you want to repeat the instructions for asking a question, please.
OPERATOR: Sure. If you would like to ask a question on today’s call, please do so by pressing 1 then 0.
MODERATOR: Great. And let’s go to the line of Mark Goldberg with UN Dispatch, please.
OPERATOR: Mark Goldberg, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks so much for taking the call. I’m curious to know if it’s ultimately your goal or your intention to get a Security Council resolution on this issue, and if so, what elements you’d like to see included in a resolution.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So without getting ahead of ourselves, I do think that we are – our main goal is ensuring that it’s something that is on the Security Council’s radar, that we’re looking at the crises that the Security Council engages on through a climate lens, and that we’re taking into consideration the full weight of the climate crisis. So there are a number of countries that have been hard at work on this for years, and we’re happy to join them in pushing, in whatever form that takes, for an increased focus on the climate security nexus because frankly, we don’t think that you can have a full understanding or comprehensive solutions to a lot of the challenges the council takes up without incorporating those climate considerations at every step.
MODERATOR: And next let’s go to the line of Josh Lederman from NBC News.
QUESTION: Hey, thanks a lot for doing this. I was curious if you could talk at all about some of the lessons that the U.S. has already learned from the situations that we’ve experienced with various extreme weather events and also the effects in other places, including the folks that we’re seeing show up from Haiti not long after the earthquake there and whether you consider them to be environmental refugees, and sort of what the U.S. might be telling to other countries in this engagement as far as what lessons they need to learn about some of the refugee issues that will be triggered by more extreme – frequent extreme weather events. Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Thanks, Josh. That’s a great question, and it really is the guiding force behind some of the products that I mentioned that the President has directed the administration to pull together. And the climate migration report – I’ll just speak to that for a second since you mentioned it, those challenges – really, I think before we get ahead to some of the policy recommendations, the President wanted to make sure that we have a good understanding and a comprehensive understanding of this challenge. It is going to be so massive, and we understand that, and we want to make sure that we see the ramifications, the consequences, the risks, and also what kinds of policy options exist today that are working well. There are some regional arrangements that exist that, of course, the UN has also taken on, some effort to wrap its arms around this challenge of climate-related migration.
So I don’t have anything for you today on U.S. policy steps forward. But we certainly believe it is tied to so many of the challenges that we’re facing, including the migration challenges in Central America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere.
MODERATOR: And next let’s go to the line of Hyeongjoo Park from VOA.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for this. Actually, I’m afraid that my question will not be far distant from what you are talking about, but since there is no daily briefing from the State Department, I have to ask. My question about South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal that he mentioned yesterday regarding – I mean, he repeated a call for the declaration to formally end the Korean War. And today the Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby said during the – his press briefing that – I quote, U.S. “open to…the possibility of end of war declaration.” So my question is: What is the State Department stance on this? And additionally, we know there will be a trilateral meeting between Secretary Blinken and with his counterpart of South Korea and Japan coming soon. So do they – do they discuss this issue as well? Thank you.
MODERATOR: And thanks so much for joining us today, but I think that question is beyond the scope of what our briefing is focused on today. So would refer you to our State Department press office.
And for the next question, we’ll go to the line of Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg News.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks very much. , can you give your assessment and former Secretary Kerry’s assessment of the commitments that Xi Jinping made in his speech yesterday about coal plants and saying that China would no longer continue building coal-fired power plants abroad? There’s some confusion about whether that means China will stop all involvement with such plants and – including financing. So I just wanted to get your take on how serious and impactful you think that commitment was. Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, I would refer you to the PRC for more on the details of their commitment. I think, for our part, we’ve consistently said that climate change is one of the areas where our interests align. And we regularly raise with the PRC the importance of taking bold actions to address this crisis, including most recently when President Biden spoke to President Xi. And in that context, of course, we welcome this announcement, but we also recognize that more needs to be done. The commitment to halt overseas investment in the high-emitting coal is a welcome contribution to this effort. It is consistent with what the U.S. has done and with what we committed to at the G7 leaders’ meeting in July. And it also underscores the fact that new renewables are cheaper than new coal globally, including in the PRC.
But we do hope that the PRC will do more and we look forward to hearing more about the additional steps that they can take in this decisive decade to further reduce their national emissions and to help put the world more closely on a trajectory that will hold temperatures from rising to well above 1.5 degrees.
And I would just add: At present on the current path, the world is projected to exceed that target, and the PRC is a critical player. They account for more than a quarter of global emissions, and so if we’re going to find a solution to this crisis, they’re a critical part of that effort.
MODERATOR: For our next question, we’ll go to the line of Ibtisam Azem from Alaraby newspaper.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
MODERATOR: We can.
QUESTION: Okay. Hi, thank you. Ibtisam Azem from the daily Arabic Alaraby newspaper. So I want to follow up on the issue of the Security Council resolution. I know you said it’s maybe (inaudible) this time, but I want to see if you are actually in favor of having such a resolution about security and climate.
And then about the meeting tomorrow, there is no presidential statement or press element or press statement. The question is why and whether the U.S. asked to – for such a statement, whether you were in favor, and if you didn’t ask, why not? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I think just on the question of a resolution, again, our goal is pretty clear. We want the Security Council to prioritize climate security, to take the issue into consideration in a much more robust way. And I – we’ll work constructively with the other council members, and I won’t get ahead of whatever form that takes. Our goal is clear.
On the question of a presidential statement, I would refer you there to the Irish presidency. We’re looking forward to and welcome any opportunity to have this on the agenda at the council, and we’re grateful that the Irish have decided to put it on that agenda. And Secretary Blinken will have more in his remarks tomorrow about our goals for the council.
MODERATOR: Great. And that concludes this evening’s call. The embargo is now lifted. As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to senior State Department officials. Thank you very much.
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