106 Lawmakers Urge Trump: Restore Climate Change in National Security Strategy

The bipartisan letter says that as global temperatures become more volatile and sea levels rise, military installations and communities are increasingly at risk.

Much of Naval Station Norfolk and surrounding community is near sea level, and tidal flooding has become a problem. Credit: U.S. Navy
Climate change is creating new risks for the military, internationally and for its bases. Much of Naval Station Norfolk, the nation's largest naval base, is just above sea level and frequently sees flooding. Credit: MC2 Ridge Leoni/U.S. Navy/AFP/Getty Images

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A bipartisan group of more than 100 members of Congress is urging President Donald Trump to recognize climate change as a national security threat.

U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) wrote a letter to the president signed by 106 members of Congress on Thursday in response to the administration’s failure to mention the risks of climate change in its National Security Strategy, released last month. Eleven Republicans signed the letter, including members of the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees.

“We have heard from scientists, military leaders and civilian personnel who believe that climate change is indeed a direct threat to America’s national security and to the stability of the world at large,” the lawmakers wrote. “As global temperatures become more volatile, sea levels rise, and landscapes change, our military installations and our communities are increasingly at risk of devastation. It is imperative that the United States addresses this growing geopolitical threat.”

The lawmakers urged the president to “reconsider this omission” in the National Security Strategy.

The previous National Security Strategy, produced in 2015 by the Obama administration, listed climate change among the top strategic risks.

Omitting climate change from the National Security Strategy won’t prohibit the Department of Defense from continuing to act on climate change—the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by Congress and signed by Trump in December, explicitly recognizes climate change as a national security threat. But the lawmakers’ response to the administration’s strategy stands out, climate and national security experts say.

“The center has moved in Congress,” said John Conger, a senior policy advisor at the Center for Climate and Security, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., and former Department of Defense official in the Obama administration. Congress “is sending a message to the administration that, on a bipartisan basis, they think that the national security apparatus must take climate change into account.”

In recent years, the military has discussed climate change as a threat multiplier, with rising temperatures, extreme weather and sea level rise undermining base security, contributing to the risk of global instability and creating new access in the Arctic. A recent Congressional report, however, warned that the military is failing to adequately plan for the risks that climate change poses to hundreds of overseas facilities.

David Titley, a retired rear admiral who is director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State, said “facts on the ground” including the recent fires in California and the devastating Atlantic hurricane season are moving the needle in Congress, which he sees as a key driver for addressing climate change.

“Really, the long game is what Congress thinks,” Titley said. “Administrations come and go, but Congress passes laws and has a checkbook.”