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Security Implications of Biden’s Plan for Climate Change

Security Implications of Biden’s Plan for Climate Change

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On Saturday, former Vice President Joe Biden was elected the 46th president of the United States. On the campaign trail, Biden proposed a $2 trillion plan to tackle climate change, going further than any previous administration. Although he has received criticism for the plan’s cost, the President-Elect emphasized an investment in the environment could save the United States money in the long-term because worsening storms, sea-level rise, recurrent flooding, extreme heat and drought, and other climate risks will only intensify with time. 

Biden’s climate plan has received substantial media attention for provisions pertaining to electric cars, green buildings, and transportation infrastructure, but ASP takes interest in its recognition of climate change as a national security threat. Indeed, Biden’s investment plans would support long-term national security by promoting energy security, resilient military infrastructure, political stability in fragile states, and international cooperation on climate change.

Boosting the Clean Energy Industry

Clean energy use is expanding in the United States, but slowly. In 2018, solar and wind power accounted for less than 4% of all the energy used in the United States; “fossil fuels,” such as coal, oil, and natural gas, accounted for about 80%. 

On his first day, Biden has promised to sign a series of Executive Orders that will put the US on the path to a 100% clean energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050. Legislatively, Biden’s plan includes a $400 billion in clean energy research and development, over a period of ten years, which would make it the largest-ever government investment in clean energy.

Furthermore, improvements in clean energy technology would have implications for the military. For example, ASP has written on the US military’s exploration of investments in micro nuclear reactors and solar panels to improve energy resilience and free the military from the constraints of fossil fuels. As the nation’s largest consumer of energy, the Department of Defense’s (DoD) investments in research and development will reduce fossil fuel use and increase use of clean energy sources.

Protecting US Military Infrastructure

In 2019, the DoD estimated that 67% of US mission priority installations face threats from flooding, 54% from drought, and 46% from wildfires. As climate change continues, the DoD expects these risks to intensify.

Notably, Biden’s plan recognizes how climate change, specifically extreme weather events, threaten the resilience of US military bases and security infrastructure at home and abroad. The plan encourages collaboration between the DoD and the Department of Energy to determine the most urgent climate-related threats to the military and prioritize climate-resilience infrastructure spending to prevent further damage.

Plans for collaboration align with the DoD’s Report on Effects of Climate Change to the Department of Defense from 2019, which recognizes climate change as a national security issue, interfering with DoD missions, operational plans, and installations. For example, strategic military installations like Norfolk Naval Base and Tyndall Air Force Base face imminent threats of sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, and more frequent, stronger cyclones. 

ASP developed a website to assess the vulnerability of US military infrastructure to climate-induced disasters and has written on how the military services plan to address climate change.

Promoting International Political Stability

Biden’s plan recognizes that “climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ that magnifies existing geopolitical and weather-related risks.” Biden highlights the cost of climate-induced political instability, as US assets are deployed to facilitate humanitarian relief and manage counterterrorism efforts, and its allies are pressured to absorb refugees.

To remedy this, Biden’s plan would commission a National Intelligence Estimate on the national and economic security implications of climate change (e.g. risks of conflict, water scarcity, large-scale migration). Additionally, Biden’s plan invites the DoD, as well as the Departments of State and Homeland Security, to devise a comprehensive strategy to deal with the national security implications of climate change. 

ASP believes the US needs a systemic, dynamic, and deliberate approach for incorporating climate-induced changes into strategic assessments. When ASP learned in 2019 that President Trump’s National Security Council was directly targeting the national security assessments of the threats posed by climate change, we increased our public efforts to show why climate change was a threat to security. ASP joined with the Center for Climate Security to circulate and publish a letter, ultimately signed by 58 national security leaders, showing whey climate change must be considered in threat assessments.

Naming & Shaming Global Climate Outlaws

China’s leadership has expressed dissatisfaction with the US’ current administration’s handling of global climate change. This month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China published a fact sheet on the issue of American climate policy, arguing:

“It has not only backpedaled on its domestic environmental protection policies but also seriously undermined the fairness, efficiency and effectiveness of global environmental governance. It is widely viewed as a consensus-breaker and a troublemaker.”

Beijing recognizes that Biden is likely to place more emphasis on climate change and reassert US leadership on global governance; Biden’s climate plan makes that objective clear. 

Referring to China as the “largest emitter of carbon in the world,” Biden’s plan vows to stop China from subsidizing coal exports, outsourcing carbon pollution, and financing infrastructure projects involving fossil fuels through its Belt and Road Initiative. To do so, Biden’s plan proposes:

  • negotiating bilateral US-China agreements on carbon mitigation;
  • pursuing a G20 commitment to end export finance subsidies of high-carbon projects; and
  • publishing a Global Climate Change Report to name and shame countries failing to meet their Paris commitments, and other climate targets.

ASP has written extensively on the interactions between China and the US on the issue of climate change. Recent publications explore China’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions, competition over the development of electric vehicles, and activity in the Arctic.

Biden’s climate plan incorporates many of ASP’s positions on the intersection of climate change and national security. If implemented in full, the plan has the potential to improve military energy resilience, preserve installations, empower the intelligence community, and reinvigorate international cooperation on climate change.