NATO Countries Worry Trump Will Undo Climate Progress, Drafts Show

A series of reports released ahead of the NATO summit warn of national security risks created by climate change and raise concerns about the Trump administration.

May 23, 2017
Rex Tillerson speaks at a NATO ministers summit in March

Whether the U.S. will remain in the Paris climate agreement is still an open question, one that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been unable to answer. Credit: Virginia Mayo/AFP/Getty Images

NATO's member countries published a series of draft reports this week highlighting the economic and security risks posed by climate change, and encouraging nations to stand by their international climate commitments.

The reports, released ahead of a NATO summit on Thursday, also raise concerns that the Trump administration may undermine global efforts to tackle the issue.

"The United States played a leading role in pushing for the Paris Agreement, but there are now signs that it may reject its structures and even the science underlying it. This would represent a serious setback," said one of the draft reports, released by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. The assembly is not part of NATO but represents the legislative bodies of member nations; the reports were drafted by legislative members for assembly discussion.

"International action becomes very difficult without U.S. participation, and there needs to be a dialogue to keep the United States within the reigning political and scientific consensus," the draft report said.

President Donald Trump will attend his first meeting of the trans-Atlantic military alliance this week in Brussels, where leaders are expected to discuss tensions with Russia, terrorism and other issues. As a candidate, Trump called NATO "obsolete," but he has expressed support for the alliance since taking office.

The parliamentary assembly's draft reports address security risks in the Middle East and North Africa and the Arctic, as well as global economic risks from climate change.

One report says that increasing conflict in the Middle East and North Africa has coincided with regional drought and that climate change is expected to make the problems worse.

"Climate change exacerbates already existing natural climatic variability of precipitation," the report said, adding that food and water shortages contributed to unrest during the Arab Spring and the ongoing war in Syria. "This can be devastating in an arid or semi-arid region, especially in rural areas where people's livelihood directly depends on small scale rainfed agriculture."

"It is a moral imperative to reduce hunger and thirst in the world. But it is also a strategic imperative," Philippe Vitel, a French legislator, wrote in a release accompanying the draft reports. "If the Middle East and North Africa cannot achieve sustainable food and water security, we will see many more crises in the years to come."

The draft reports, which will be discussed by the assembly later this week with the goal of providing recommendations for NATO governments, directly address the risks of inaction by the Trump administration.

A report for the assembly's economics and security committee, signed by former Iceland Minister of Foreign Affairs Lilja Alfredsdottir, said that failing to act could harm fisheries and crop yields and cause increasingly expensive damage from storms. It also said the Trump administration has "made it very clear" that it will not fulfill the promises made by the Obama administration under the Paris climate agreement. In a seeming appeal, it noted the great potential for economic opportunity as well, pointing out the huge growth in jobs in the U.S. solar sector, for example.

"The cost of inaction increasingly seems prohibitive," the report said. "The problem is the gap between the evidence and the political will needed to act on that evidence—or even to accept the evidence."

Because the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is an independent group, its reports do not indicate that an issue will be taken up by NATO itself. Many of NATO's member countries have warned about the security risks posed by climate change, however, and some have called on the organization to give the issue greater priority.

Currently, there is no plan to include climate change in the formal agenda of this NATO meeting, said Shiloh Fetzek, a senior fellow at the Center for Climate and Security, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., which published its own report Monday calling on NATO to address the climate risks to its mission.

After the NATO summit, Trump heads to the G7 summit, where leaders have pushed for greater action on climate change in recent years. The Trump administration's success in watering down climate language in the Arctic Council declaration earlier this month may be an indication of the climate discussions to come.

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