Trump Removes Climate Change from U.S. Security Priorities

Today, the Trump administration took yet another step in abandoning America’s role as a global leader in tackling the mounting threat of climate change. The President and his team removed climate change from a list of national security threats identified in the National Security Strategy of the United States. This move damages America’s global leadership by signaling that we are retreating on the big challenges the world faces, and plan to go it alone in an increasingly complex world. Furthermore, this shortsighted move shirks the Trump administration’s responsibility to leave our children and grandchildren a more prosperous and secure homeland.

The National Security Strategy is a political document periodically prepared by the executive branch to lay out the country’s major national security concerns and how the administration plans to address them. “Confront Climate Change” was one of eight security priorities identified in the previous 2015 version of the National Security Strategy. The strategy released today only mentions climate change once under the Trumpian priority of “Embrace Energy Dominance,” saying that “climate policies will continue to shape the global energy system.”

In releasing the 2015 National Security Strategy, President Obama called climate change “urgent and growing threat to our national security.” However, this move shouldn't only be seen as a reversal of an Obama-era priority. Climate change was also viewed as a national security threat by the George W. Bush Administration, and has a history of bipartisan cooperation. The removal of climate change as a national security priority is also at complete odds with a bill that Trump signed only last week. Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law, which contains instructions for the Department of Defense to issue a report on the impacts of climate change on military bases. Clearly, Trump's own Department of Defense is taking climate change very seriously. It also puts the Trump administration at odds with the Pentagon, which has continued to highlight national security threats from a changing climate, including increasing refugee flows as a result of droughts and intensifying storms and the repercussions of rising seas.

The dismissal of the threats climate change poses to our nation’s security in this National Security Strategy also stands in stark contrast to the viewpoints of Trump’s own national security appointees. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has previously referred to climate change as a threat to national security, stating, “I agree that the effects of a changing climate...impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.” Like Secretary Mattis, other senior defense and security leaders in the current administration have acknowledged the security risks of climate change, including: Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Paul Selva, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, Chief of the National Guard Bureau General Joseph Lengyel, and the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

These are starkly contrasting reminders of how true security leaders are addressing the risks of climate change in policy and in practice. Yet, instead of listening to his own national security advisors, Trump and his administration have chosen to bury their heads in the sand and abdicate American leadership on one of the most pressing security challenges of our time. And America and the world will be less secure because of it.

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