Experts Explore the Implications of Climate Change

March 24, 2015 —

“Let me be clear: the changes to our environment are a matter of national security,” said senior White House adviser Alice Hill, speaking at Georgetown Law on March 20. It was, as Hill pointed out, something of a challenge to be speaking of global warming as the snow fell outside Gewirz Student Center on the first day of spring. But the trends she noted — Arctic sea ice melting at a significant rate, sea level rise around coastlines, devastating hurricanes and drought — indicate that climate change is real and being felt in the United States as well as around the globe. 

And the impacts threaten the security of every country on earth, including our own. As Hill noted at the event, “Threat Multiplier: Exploring the National Security Law and Policy Implications of Climate Change,” climate change trends aggravate stressors that can enable terrorist activity. Food and water security, infrastructure breakdowns, resource competition, pandemic disease, migration and the changing of land boundaries frequently follow environmental degradation. And as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy demonstrated, the United States is not immune from these kinds of disasters.

Hill, the senior adviser for preparedness and resilience at the National Security Council, outlined the initiatives the Obama Administration has taken to address the national security challenges surrounding climate — including the President’s Climate Action Plan, announced at Georgetown University in 2013. 

Assistant Dean Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, led a discussion on the national security risks the U.S. government should prioritize when thinking about climate change. Arroyo was joined by John Conger of the Department of Defense, Sherri Goodman of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, Zvika Krieger of the U.S. Department of State and Rear Admiral Jonathan W. White of the U.S. Navy. 

Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, the National Security Law Society and the Environmental Law Society sponsored the event. Student leaders Michael Smith (L’15) and Claire Schachter (L’15) opened the discussion.  

“Viewing climate change through a national security lens offers valuable insight into a global challenge, one that demands innovative policy responses and legal approaches,” Schachter said. “[Georgetown Law], by its commitment to interdisciplinary study and public service, is well positioned to foster discussion and analysis of the climate and security nexus.”

A webcast may be viewed here.

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