Another Own Goal: Trump “Withdraws” from Paris

WASHINGTON, D.C. Nov. 4, 2019 – President Trump has committed another own-goal by formally submitting his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which he could make good on just hours after the 2020 election. Trump’s assault on the Paris Agreement and his long-running climate denialism do nothing but damage our security, prosperity, and international standing. Indeed, burying America’s head in the sand leaves us weak and isolated as the rest of the world pushes forward on this generational threat.

The climate crisis poses a grave national security threat, touching all aspects of our security — from threatening the homeland and our military readiness, to multiplying threats to our security abroad as climate change increases conflict, pandemics, and mass migrations. All the while, the climate crisis will hamstring our economic development and jeopardize our energy security as other countries race ahead in green technologies.

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But withdrawing from Paris only makes matters worse. To avoid the climate crisis’ worst effects, global emissions must steeply fall in the coming years. Paris provided a global coordination mechanism to do that, and the U.S. led the charge. But now, Trump claims that other major emitters — principally China and India — got a better deal, and that he could negotiate a better one. Nothing could be further from the truth. Thanks to Paris, China and India made ambitious commitments to curb their emissions and are investing heavily in green energy, as America falls behind.

Trump’s determination to withdraw from Paris is the latest betrayal in his long-running climate denialism. The broad and deep consensus among our government, military, intelligence community, scientists and the American people themselves is overwhelming: the climate crisis is real and must be a top national priority. Nevertheless, Trump has left America humiliated and alone on the world stage — going so far as to literally leave an empty seat as world leaders met at the G-7 to discuss the climate crisis. At home, Trump peddles lies about climate change, suppresses climate intelligence and research, and has rolled back dozens of environmental regulations.

We need a new path forward to confront the climate crisis – one that revitalizes American global leadership and our ability to galvanize collective action. The world looks to the United States to lead on precisely these types of collective challenges. Our national security will be on the ballot next year in many forms, including a different approach to confronting this very real and very pressing climate crisis.
Appendix I: The Facts

Climate change is making our planet increasingly uninhabitable.

As a result of rising global temperatures, the world has witnessed an unprecedented increase in the frequency and severity of extreme climate and weather disasters. In the past decade, we have seen more intense storms, wildfires, droughts, heat waves, and floods. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that we have until 2030 to avert climate change’s irreversible and catastrophic impacts.

Climate change is threatening the safety of millions of Americans. 

Extreme climate disasters pose a direct threat to the U.S. homeland, resulting in thousands of American lives lost and thousands fleeing their homes each year – with this number expected to rise into the  millions by 2100. Nearly 40% of the U.S. population (over 120 million people) lives in coastal areas, and are vulnerable to annual severe flooding – with hundreds of communities impacted annually. In 2018, California experienced the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in its history – which destroyed over 6,000 homes and displaced nearly 35,000 people.

Climate change is costing our economy hundreds of billions of dollars.

Billion-dollar extreme climate disasters at home are on the rise, resulting in a total of over $1 trillion in damages since 1980. In 2017 alone, there were 16 billion-dollar disasters across the country with damages totalling at least $306 billion – making it the costliest year on record. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, produced in 2018 by experts across 13 federal agencies, forecasts hundreds of billions more in future costs including massive disruptions in trade and agriculture losses.

Climate change is destroying critical military infrastructure. 

The climate crisis is inflicting billions of dollars in damage to U.S. military facilities, degrading our capabilities. In 2019, in-land flooding engulfed Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska — the headquarters for our nuclear deterrent forces — putting one-third of the base underwater. In 2018, a record-breaking hurricane devastated Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida — home to nearly a third of the military’s F-22 raptor fleet. The Pentagon’s own 2019 assessment warns that two-thirds of its critical installations are vulnerable to extreme climate disasters in the next 20 years, undermining readiness.

Climate change is fueling international conflicts and drivers of instability.

According to the UN, the World Bank, leading academics, and the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment, climate change will fuel key drivers of international conflict and instability. These include life-threatening shortages of freshwater and arable land, as well as mass migration flows (with the UN estimating the effects of climate change could result in as many as one billion climate migrants by 2050).

Appendix II: National Security Validators

Former Secretary of Defense, James Mattis: “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today…. I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation.” [Written Testimony to Senate Armed Services Committee, 3/14/17]

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford: “When I look at climate change, it’s in the category of sources of conflict around the world and things we have to respond to. So it can be great devastation requiring humanitarian assistance/ disaster relief, which the U.S. military certainly conducts routinely. In fact, I can’t think of a year since I’ve been on active duty that we haven’t conducted at least one operation in the Pacific along those lines due to extreme weather in the Pacific. And then, when you look at source of conflict – shortages of water, and those kind of things – those are all sources of conflict. So, it is very much something that we take into account in our planning as we anticipate when, where and how we may be engaged in the future and what capabilities we should have.” [Remarks at Duke University, 11/5/18]

Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg: “…Climate change is also a security threat because it can really change…the conditions for where people live, create new migrant and refugee crises, and [result in] scarce resources, [like] water, [that] can fuel new conflicts. So climate change is also about preventing conflicts and creating more stability and prosperity, which is good for peace and stability.” [Interview with POLITICO Europe, 6/6/16]

Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Paul Selva: “The dynamics that are happening in our climate will drive uncertainty and will drive conflict…I could build that argument in a variety of countries around the world…If you extend that argument to the kinds of things that might happen if we see tidal rises, if we see increasing weather patterns of drought and flood and forest fires and other natural events that happen inside of our environment, then we’re gonna have to be prepared for what that means in terms of the potential for instability in regions of the country where those impacts happen. Particularly today where there’s massive food instability. The Sahel in Africa is a classic example, where a small drought over a limited period of time can decimate the crops and cause instability and make that an area fertile for recruitment of extremists because they see no other way. Similarly, you could look at the decimation of the fisheries off Somalia that contributed to piracy because the fishermen couldn’t make their livelihood by doing what they do best, which is fishing on the fishing grounds off of Somalia. So I think we need to be prepared for those. It will cause us to have to address questions like humanitarian disaster relief. It will also cause us to have to focus on places where climate instability might cause actual political instability in regions of the world we hadn’t previously had to pay attention to.” [SASC Hearing, 7/18/17]

Former Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coates: “The impacts of the long-term trends toward a warming climate, more air pollution, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity are likely to fuel economic and social discontent – and possibly upheaval…Extreme weather events in a warmer world have the potential for greater impacts and can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages.” [Submitted Written Testimony to Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 2/13/18]

NORTHCOM Commander, Air Force General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy: “(General O’Shaughnessy, I’m interested in the impact of climate change on NORTHCOM operations, the thawing of the Arctic, to put it most simply. How is it impacting our mission requirements?) Senator, it absolutely does. And certainly the Arctic, for example, just as you mention, the Northern Sea Route as an example, we see increased use and activity in the Arctic…as we look to the future, look at the strategic competition we’re in, look at Russia and China, and their activities there, that is clearly something that we need to also be focused on.” [SASC Hearing, 4/17/18]

Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Bill Moran: “(…do you believe that [the Department of the Navy and the Marine Corps] should adopt better installation resiliency planning and guidance as a result of weather threats?) Sir, there is no question…we are developing a plan for greater resiliency, especially in areas where we have shipyards and communities that share water space, share waterfront.  Those are really important areas for us for obvious reasons. We are largely a waterfront service, so climate change when there’s rising waters are going to be a problem for us if we don’t address them. So we are in the planning stages to look at how to reinforce those areas.” [SASC Hearing, 4/30/19]

Appendix III: Public Polling

National Security Action polling found climate change is salient to voters when framed as a national security issue. Fifty-six percent said they had concerns with Trump’s failure to heed warnings, including from our military and intelligence community, about the threat posed by climate change. And respondents trust Democrats by a 30-point margin over Republicans to work with other countries to address global threats like climate change. Below is a summary of other public opinion polling on climate change:

National Security Action polling found climate change is salient to voters when framed as a national security issue. Fifty-six percent said they had concerns with Trump’s failure to heed warnings, including from our military and intelligence community, about the threat posed by climate change. And respondents trust Democrats by a 30-point margin over Republicans to work with other countries to address global threats like climate change. Below is a summary of other public opinion polling on climate change:

Americans disapprove of Trump’s approach to climate change

  • 62 percent disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling climate change [ABC/Washington Post, 6/7/19]
  • Voters favor re-entering the Paris Agreement by a 22 point margin.[NPR/PBS/Marist, 7/22/19]
  • 64 percent say they think the United States is not doing enough to address climate change [Quinnipiac, 8/15/18].

A growing majority of Americans believe the science behind climate change 

  • 71 percent say climate change is happening, up from 65 percent in 2017. Nearly half of Americans (48 percent) find the science on climate change more persuasive it was five years ago. [AP-NORC, 1/23/19]
  • 62 percent believe global warming is primarily caused by human behavior, the highest level since 2008. [Yale-George Mason, 12/18]

Americans are worried about the damaging effects of climate change

  • Two-thirds of Americans think climate change is a threat to the economy. [Politico/Morning Consult, 4/28/19]
  • 57 percent of Americans believe the United States has already been harmed by climate change. [Economist/YouGov, 3/10/19]

Americans want their government to take active steps on climate change

  • 65 percent think climate change is a major problem the government should address [Fox News, 6/4/19]
  • Nearly half say dealing with global climate change should be a top foreign policy priority for the United States, ranking higher than other objectives like reducing the trade deficit or limiting the power & influence of Russia and China. Among Democrats, that number is even higher at 64 percent. [Pew Research Center, 11/29/18]
  • Over eight in ten Democratic voters say it is “very important” their candidate support “aggressive action” to combat climate change. [CNN, 4/30/19]

We are Americans – former senior officials and policy experts, academics and civil society leaders – who have seen first-hand how the United States is stronger, safer and more respected in the world when we stand strong with our allies, pursue principled diplomacy, and stay true to the values that have long defined America at home and abroad.  www.nationalsecurityaction.org