October 18, 2021

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Senior State Department Official On Security Implications of the Climate Crisis in Advance of Secretary Blinken’s Participation in the UN Security Council Open Debate on Climate and Security

23 min read

Office of the Spokesperson

Via Teleconference

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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  • Airborne Electronic Attack: Achieving Mission Objectives Depends on Overcoming Acquisition Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Defense’s (DOD) evolving strategy for meeting airborne electronic attack requirements centers on acquiring a family of systems, including traditional fixed wing aircraft, low observable aircraft, unmanned aerial systems, and related mission systems and weapons. DOD analyses dating back a decade have identified capability gaps and provided a basis for service investments, but budget realities and lessons learned from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have driven changes in strategic direction and program content. Most notably, DOD canceled some acquisitions, after which the services revised their operating concepts for airborne electronic attack. These decisions saved money, allowing DOD to fund other priorities, but reduced the planned level of synergy among systems during operations. As acquisition plans have evolved, capability limitations and sustainment challenges facing existing systems have grown, prompting the department to invest in system improvements to mitigate shortfalls. DOD is investing in new airborne electronic attack systems to address its growing mission demands and to counter anticipated future threats. However, progress acquiring these new capabilities has been impeded by developmental and production challenges that have slowed fielding of planned systems. Some programs, such as the Navy’s EA-18G Growler and the Air Force’s modernized EC-130H Compass Call, are in stable production and have completed significant amounts of testing. Other key programs, like the Navy’s Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile, have required additional time and funding to address technical challenges, yet continue to face execution risks. In addition, certain systems in development may offer capabilities that overlap with one another—a situation brought on in part by DOD’s fragmented urgent operational needs processes. Although services have shared technical data among these programs, they continue to pursue unique systems intended to counter similar threats. As military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan decrease, opportunities exist to consolidate current acquisition programs across services. However, this consolidation may be hampered by DOD’s acknowledged leadership deficiencies within its electronic warfare enterprise, including the lack of a designated, joint entity to coordinate activities. Furthermore, current and planned acquisitions will not fully address materiel-related capability gaps identified by DOD—including some that date back 10 years. Acquisition program shortfalls will exacerbate these gaps. To supplement its acquisition of new systems, DOD is undertaking other efforts to bridge existing airborne electronic attack capability gaps. In the near term, services are evolving tactics, techniques, and procedures for existing systems to enable them to take on additional mission tasks. These activities maximize the utility of existing systems and better position operators to complete missions with equipment currently available. Longer-term solutions, however, depend on DOD successfully capitalizing on its investments in science and technology. DOD has recently taken actions that begin to address long-standing coordination shortfalls in this area, including designating electronic warfare as a priority investment area and creating a steering council to link capability gaps to research initiatives. These steps do not preclude services from funding their own research priorities ahead of departmentwide priorities. DOD’s planned implementation roadmap for electronic warfare offers an opportunity to assess how closely component research investments are aligned with the departmentwide priority. Why GAO Did This Study Airborne electronic attack involves the use of aircraft to neutralize, destroy, or suppress enemy air defense and communications systems. Proliferation of sophisticated air defenses and advanced commercial electronic devices has contributed to the accelerated appearance of new weapons designed to counter U.S. airborne electronic attack capabilities. GAO was asked to assess (1) the Department of Defense’s (DOD) strategy for acquiring airborne electronic attack capabilities, (2) progress made in developing and fielding systems to meet airborne electronic attack mission requirements, and (3) additional actions taken to address capability gaps. To do this, GAO analyzed documents related to mission requirements, acquisition and budget needs, development plans, and performance, and interviewed DOD officials.
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  • Statement Regarding Federal Civil Rights Investigation Into Shooting of Jacob Blake
    In Crime News
    Eric S. Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and Matthew D. Krueger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin released the following statement related to the Aug. 23, 2020, shooting of Jacob Blake:
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  • Contract Security Guards: Army’s Guard Program Requires Greater Oversight and Reassessment of Acquisition Approach
    In U.S GAO News
    Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, increased security requirements and a significant number of active duty and reserve personnel sent overseas to support the war on terror left the Department of Defense (DOD) with fewer military personnel to rely on to protect domestic installations. To correct this shortage, Congress is temporarily allowing DOD to use contract security guards to fulfill roles previously performed by military employees. The U.S. Army has awarded contracts worth nearly $733 million to acquire contract guards at 57 Army installations, an investment far greater than those made by other DOD services so far. The requesters asked GAO to assess how the Army has been managing and overseeing its acquisition of security guard services, particularly with regard to the Army's (1) acquisition strategy, (2) employment screening, (3) training of contract guards, and (4) award fee process. This report also discusses DOD's mandated November 2005 report to Congress on the contract guard program.The Army's three-phased approach for acquiring contract security guards has relied heavily on sole-source contracts, despite the Army's recognition early on that it was paying considerably more for its sole-source contracts than for those awarded competitively. The Army has devoted twice as many contract dollars--nearly $495 million--to its sole-source contracts as to its competed contracts and has placed contract security guards at 46 out of 57 installations through sole-sourcing. These sole-source contracts were awarded to two Alaska Native corporation firms under the Small Business Administration's 8(a) Business Development Program. Congress has provided these firms with special advantages in the 8(a) program. During initial planning, the Army worked with a contractor who had not performed guard services before to refine the contract performance work statement. The Army's procedure for screening prospective contract guards is inadequate and puts the Army at risk of having ineligible guards protecting installation gates. The Army found that, at two separate installations, a total of 89 guards were put to work even though they had records relating to criminal offenses, including cases that involved assault and other felonies. Thorough background checks lag far behind the rate at which contract guards are put to work, and the initial screening process relies on prospective guards to be honest when filling out job application forms. In response to an earlier GAO report, DOD agreed to revise its antiterrorism standards to put into place a better mechanism for verifying the trustworthiness of contractors. The Army has given its contractors the responsibility to conduct most of the training of contract guards, and the Army cannot say with certainty whether training is actually taking place and whether it is being conducted according to approved criteria. GAO found that there is no requirement for the Army to certify that a contract guard has completed required training and that Army performance monitors do not conduct oversight of training as a matter of course. GAO also found missing or incomplete training records at several installations. At three installations, guards were certified by the contractor before training had been completed. An investigation discovered that at one installation, contractor personnel had falsified training records; the Army subsequently paid the contractor over $7,000 to re-qualify the guards. The Army has paid out more than $18 million in award fees, but the fees are based only on compliance with basic contractual requirements, not for above-and-beyond performance. Over the life of the contract guard program, the Army has paid out almost 98 percent of the available award fees. The practice of routinely paying contractors nearly the entire available award fee has created an environment in which the contractors expect to receive most of the available fee, regardless of acquisition outcomes. GAO found that many Army performance monitors were not conducting all of the required inspections of contractor activity in order to rate performance.
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  • Justice Department Files Housing Discrimination Lawsuit Against Staten Island, New York Rental Agent and Real Estate Agency
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against Village Realty of Staten Island Ltd. and Denis Donovan, a sales and former rental agent at Village Realty, alleging discrimination against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act when offering housing units for rent. The lawsuit is based on the results of testing conducted by the department’s Fair Housing Testing Program, in which individuals pose as renters to gather information about possible discriminatory practices. 
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