Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Tuesday he will integrate climate change analysis and its national security implications into all future foreign policy planning.
In a speech delivered at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, home to the world’s largest naval base and already experiencing flooding linked to climate change, Kerry called climate change a threat to national security.
“We have to prepare ourselves for the potential social and political consequences that stem from crop failures, water shortages, famine and outbreaks of epidemic disease,” he said. “And we have to heighten our national security readiness to deal with the possible destruction of vital infrastructure and the mass movement of refugees — particularly in parts of the world that already provide fertile ground for violent extremism and terror.
“Long story short, climate change isn’t just about Bambi. It’s about us.”
Kerry said he would convene a task force of senior government officials and outside experts to determine how to make climate change predictions a part of foreign policy planning.
“If we can better identify the red flags of risk around the world, we can better target our diplomacy and development assistance to enable those nations to become more resilient and more secure — and less likely to devolve into a full-fledged war and humanitarian crisis,” he said.
Embassies could use climate change analysis to help host countries find ways to deter disaster, Kerry said,“before it evolves into deep grievances that help fuel conflicts.”
Kerry noted that he was speaking in Hampton Roads, where the land the city is built on is sinking as sea levels are rising twice as fast as the world’s average. He said political opponents who doubt the science of climate change are posing a threat to everyone.
“The science tells us unequivocally, those who continue to make climate change a political fight put us all at risk,” he said. “And we cannot sit idly by and allow them to do that.”
Kerry called climate change more than a threat to the habitats of butterflies and polar bears. He said it has a direct impact on military readiness.
“If our military vehicles can’t go anywhere because they’re up to their axles in water and all the roads leading into and out of base are flooded, it affects our military readiness,” he said. “Similarly, if the high risk of wildfires prevents our troops from training with live ammunition, it affects our military readiness.”
Citing real life examples, Kerry said drought in Nigeria and the government’s inability to cope gave an opening to Boko Haram militants who kidnapped schoolgirls and killed teachers. He also said drought in Syria caused a mass migration from farms to cities, intensifying political unrest when the civil war started.
“I’m not suggesting that climate change was the primary reason for the crisis in Syria,” he said. “Obviously, it wasn’t. . . . But the drought that devastated communities across the country exacerbated the instability on the ground, and made a bad situation worse.”