Oct 13, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Biden's national security strategy focuses on climate change

Photo illustration of President Biden with abstract shapes and image of smokestacks.

Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo:Drew Angerer, Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The long-awaited Biden administration national security strategy puts climate change at the center of policymaking toward China, the Arctic, and many other parts of the globe.

Why it matters: The strategy released Wednesday by the White House integrates global warming into national security policy to an unprecedented extent, making clear the administration views the issue as “the existential challenge of our time.”

Driving the news: The shrinking window to meet the Paris Agreement targets is one of several dynamics at play that will either point toward a more stable world or help usher in “[a]n age of conflict and discord,” per the White House.

Zoom in: Previous climate change and security assessments from the military, the intelligence community and think tanks have pointed to climate change as a threat multiplier.

  • For example, climate change can worsen extreme weather and climate events, from hurricanes to droughts, leading to politically destabilizing mass migrations that can entangle the U.S. military in humanitarian relief missions.
  • The new strategy designates climate change as being among the greatest of the world’s shared challenges, which lies “[a]t the very core of national and international security,” along with food insecurity, terrorism and inflation.
  • It states the U.S. is open to cooperating on shared challenges with rivals, pointing to climate talks with China.

Yes, but: It also takes a swipe at China’s climate policies, stating the Chinese government “[a]lso continues to endanger the world with inadequate action on climate change domestically, particularly regarding massive coal power use and build up.”

Between the lines: The document nods to the fraught nature of the energy transition and the need to reduce the country’s dependence on hostile regimes “that seek to weaponize energy for coercion,” citing Russia as an example.

Our thought bubble: The last time climate change played such a prominent role in a national security strategy was in the Obama administration’s 2015 strategy. It described the climate challenge in less dire terms: “Climate change is an urgent and growing threat.”

  • It also touted a climate agreement with China that helped pave the way for the Paris Agreement.
  • Now, climate change impacts are far more severe, and the window to cut emissions sufficiently to meet the Paris targets is rapidly closing. At the same time, the U.S. is locked in far more heated competition with China.
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