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Event Recap:  Beyond Our Borders: A Discussion on the International Cooperation Needed for Climate Change

Event Recap: Beyond Our Borders: A Discussion on the International Cooperation Needed for Climate Change

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On January 12th, the American Security Project (ASP) hosted an event on the international cooperation needed for climate change. Panelists included Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI); Norwegian Ambassador to the U.S. Ambassador Anniken Krutnes; Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, USN (Ret.); and ASP Director of Climate and Energy Security Alex Hackbarth. ASP COO Andrew Holland moderated the discussion. 

Rep. Langevin opened the conversation by explaining the multifaceted security challenges created by climate change, from forcing climate refugees to flee inhabitable homes to making military installations vulnerable. He praised President Biden’s commitment to climate policy as a national security priority, noting his appointment of ASP Board Member Secretary John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and his commitment to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. 

Though he contrasted President Biden’s climate focus with the Trump administration’s de-prioritization of the issue, Langevin also highlighted the growing bipartisan consensus around climate change. For example, 46 House Republicans signed onto a 2017 amendment Langevin spearheaded that identified climate change as a national security threat and required the Secretary of Defense to provide provisions for addressing climate threats. 

Amb. Krutnes emphasized the importance of multilateral forums like the Arctic Council and the United Nations to combat climate change. Hailing from an Arctic state, where the atmosphere is warming at twice the rate of global average, Krutnes has seen the effects of climate change firsthand. For example, significant sea ice melting has not only harmed species, but has also led to new interest and militarization in the region as new sea routes and energy and fishing resources become available. However, she stressed that countries have thus far played by the rules of international law when pursuing these resources. Krutnes said she looks forward to a renewal of U.S. leadership in global efforts to fight climate change, reduce emissions, and build more resilient societies. 

VADM Gunn concurred with his fellow panelists on the dire effects of climate change on communities around the world. For example, seemingly-modest sea level rise in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea has devastating effects not only on the citizens of surrounding countries, but also on international agricultural commerce and food security. Moreover, climate change poses specific threats to the U.S. military, ranging from damage to military infrastructure caused by sea level rise to decreased ability to conduct readiness training due to flooding and wildfires. Finally, humanitarian missions necessitated by national disasters at home and across the globe reduce resources available for military operation training. 

Alex Hackbarth offered four points U.S. policymakers should consider when reevaluating the U.S.’ climate policy. First, as the two largest global emitters the United States and China must find a way cooperate on climate issues, especially since neither country is immune to the effects of climate change. Second, it is no longer possible to separate climate change from geopolitical and geoeconomic interests. The U.S.-China relationship is illustrative of this point. Third, the United States’ retreat from climate leadership gave China the opportunity to expand its influence in areas of strategic interest to the U.S. Fourth, the United States should use its technological prowess as an instrument of powerhelping to bolster alliances and restore its leadership position in the world. Doing so serves three purposes: (1) helps make U.S. companies more competitive vis-à-vis Chinese competitors, strengthening the U.S.’ relative power, (2) it offers other countries an alternative to Chinese-developed technology, and (3) it reduces U.S. carbon emissions. Through the strategic investment in and export of clean energy technologies, the U.S. can create strong bonds with allies in areas of strategic interest, as well as demonstrate to climate-conscious countries that the U.S. is a climate leader. 

The panelists agreed that bridge-building is necessary to find common ground both domestically and internationally. For example, Krutnes expressed the importance of including industry and tech in climate conversations, and Langevin discussed the need to frame climate conversations in practical terms that appeal to Americans across the political spectrum. 

Gunn concluded with the observation that while the American government may have left the Paris Agreement in 2017, the American people certainly did not. He commended country-wide efforts by state legislators, mayors, and industry leaders that demonstrate that Americans care deeply about the impacts of climate change. He urged the Biden Administration to harness this energy in the first 100 days in office and launch a national movement toward climate resiliency.