U.S. Loses Seat at the Table with Climate Accord Withdrawal

Francesco Femia
Co-Founder and President, Center for Climate and Security

The current Administration’s top leadership on defense, diplomacy and intelligence – the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and Director of National Intelligence – all agree that climate change is happening and presents risks to the United States that must be addressed.

For example, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in his answers to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s “Questions for the Record,” made very robust statements about current – not future – impacts of climate change on the U.S. military’s mission. His statements were some of the most forward-leaning public sentiments on the issue expressed by a sitting Secretary of Defense: “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today. It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning…Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.” 

In his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made clear the need for the United States to remain engaged in the international effort to address the climate change threat, stating:  “I think it’s important that the United States maintain it’s seat at the table on the conversations around, how to address threats of climate change, which do require a global response. No one country is going to solve this alone.”

Finally, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, in his written statement for the National Intelligence Council’s Worldwide Threat Assessment, sounded a practical, science-driven note: “The trend toward a warming climate is forecast to continue in 2017. The UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is warning that 2017 is likely to be among the hottest years on record — although slightly less warm than 2016 as the strong El Nino conditions that influenced that year have abated. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported that 2016 was the hottest year since modern measurements began in 1880. This warming is projected to fuel more intense and frequent extreme weather events that will be distributed unequally in time and geography.”

One thing is clear. These three Administration officials are not playing politics with climate change and are certainly not your stereotypical “green” advocates. The first is a distinguished retired 4-star general of the United States Marine Corps, the second was previously the long-time CEO of one of the world’s largest oil companies, and the third was a distinguished Republican Senator from Indiana, who also served in the George W. Bush Administration.

Despite this, the White House announced on Thursday that it is withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, a move that takes away the U.S. seat at the table of the highest-level negotiating forum devoted to reducing, and adapting to, climate change risks to international security.

In context of the very real concerns expressed by the President’s defense, diplomacy, and intelligence leadership, it is clear that such a decision is a political one without any tangible benefit for the nation. Given a strong, bipartisan consensus on the security risks of climate change and the need for a commensurate U.S. response – a consensus that includes the bulk of the President’s national security team – this is a very risky political game to play without even a clear political reward.

As Secretary Mattis noted in his exchange with the Senate Armed Services Committee: “…climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response.”

The White House’s current approach to the issue flagrantly ignores that advice to the detriment of our national security.

The Author is Francesco Femia

Francesco Femia, along with Caitlin Werrell, is Co-Founder and President of the Center for Climate and Security, a DC-based think tank with an Advisory Board of senior retired military and national security leaders.

Learn more about The Cipher's Network here