It’s been less than a year since Donald Trump announced the U.S.’ intent to withdraw from the Paris climate deal, and last week, 50 world leaders gathered in Paris for an invitation-only climate change summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron. President Trump was not invited.
“We are not taking this issue nearly seriously enough either in preparing for the consequences or reducing emissions to make it less damaging,” said Joshua Busby, an associate professor of public affairs at the LBJ School and a Distinguished Scholar at the Strauss Center.
Busby, who began studying climate and security in 2004, is the lead researcher on a three-year, $1.9 million Department of Defense (DoD) funded project called “Complex Emergencies and Political Stability in Asia” (CEPSA). Busby has just concluded the third and final year of CEPSA, which explores the causes and dynamics of complex emergencies in Asia and options for building government capacity to prevent and respond to such situations. This project follows a similar five-year, $7.6 million DoD-funded project in Africa called “Climate Change and African Political Stability” (CCAPS), on which Busby was a lead researcher.
In November 2017, Busby attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP23, in Bonn, Germany. In a blog post published in “The Washington Post” Busby said this year’s event was to be an interim technical meeting to elaborate the “Paris rule book”; however, after President Trump’s announcement in June that the U.S. would withdraw from the agreement, COP23 took on added political significance.
Busby explained that while other parties, including China, India and the European Union, reaffirmed their commitments, it was up to a host of U.S. governors, mayors and non-state actors to demonstrate U.S. commitments.
“Subnational and non-state efforts to reduce emissions will help but are an imperfect substitute for national level action,” Busby said. “Loss of momentum at the federal level will undermine our ability to keep our commitments to reduce emissions. We are also walking away from our commitments to poor countries to support them financially. While private sector investment in renewables is likely to fill the gap, financial support for adaptation by poor countries is likely to suffer.”
Busby hosted a side event during COP23, called “Leadership in the Climate Regime without the U.S. Federal Government,” in collaboration with the India-based Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). The event explored a myriad of perspectives on the role of different actors in the climate regime, including sub-national and non-state actors, in lieu of the leadership the U.S. sought to display during the Obama administration.
“By leadership, I mean the ability to set the agenda and mobilize others through the power of example, through capacity to convene, and through market power and material resources,” Busby wrote.
At the conclusion of the event, Busby said, “In sum, the loss of leadership by the United States federal government is a problem in the short-run, but the rest of the world, including subnational actors, can make strategic interventions that blunt the full force of the U.S. departure by maintaining and even increasing their own ambitions and ensuring that the Paris architecture is as strong as it can be.”
While climate change is often perceived as a partisan issue, national security experts are taking a closer look at its implications. In written testimony provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis asserted that climate change is a driver of instability. Former CIA director James Clapper also stated that climate change contributes to instability, and as population centers compete for dwindling resources, governments will find it increasingly difficult to maintain order.
“The security consequences of climate change include large-scale humanitarian emergencies that may require military mobilization to protect people from dying both at home and abroad, as we saw after Hurricane Katrina and more recently after Hurricane Maria,” Busby said. “We may also see climate change exacerbate social tensions and undermine political stability in conflict-prone countries around the world through its effects on rainfall and food production, economic growth, disasters and migration.”
“With the Paris agreement, we finally developed a global approach to climate change that had the best chance of success,” Busby continued. “What we need is for the rest of the world and state and local actors in the U.S. to hold the line in the hopes that we will once again have leadership at the national level in the United States that recognizes the severity of the problem.”