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DOD says China, climate change ‘equally important’ threats as US signs climate deal with China

China's President Xi Jinping. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)
November 10, 2021

During a Pentagon press conference on Wednesday, press secretary John Kirby said China and climate change are “equally important” threats to U.S. national security. Kirby provided that assessment on the same day the U.S. and China announced a new plan to work together on reducing greenhouse emissions.

The Daily Caller tweeted a clip of Kirby’s response to a reporter question of what presents a bigger threat to U.S. national security, climate change or China.

“We get paid to examine all of the threats to our national security and I don’t know that it does anybody good to put some sort of relative analysis, assessment on that,” Kirby said. “You’ve heard the secretary talk about the climate as a real and existential national security threat and it is. It’s not just to the United States but to countries all over the world.”

“And we consider China as the number one pacing challenge for the department,” Kirby added. “Both are equally important.”

Kirby’s comments came around the same time on Wednesday that the U.S. and China announced a plan to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement includes plans to cooperate on regulatory frameworks and environmental standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, maximizing the societal benefits of the clean energy transition, and policies to encourage decarbonization and move toward electrification of their energy systems, among other changes.

The agreement also laid out a goal for the U.S. to have “100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035” while China will “phase down coal consumption during the 15th Five Year Plan and make best efforts to accelerate this work.”

Following the announcement, the Washington Post reported John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s special envoy for climate issues, said the deal is “a step we can build on in order to help close the gap.”

“The United States and China have no shortage of differences,” Kerry added. “But on climate, cooperation is the only way to get this job done.”

China’s special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua also commented on the deal Wednesday.

“Both sides recognize there is a gap between the current efforts and the Paris agreement goals,” Xie said.

“We need to think big and be responsible,” Xie added. “We need to actively address climate change and through cooperation bring more benefit to our two peoples and to people around the world.”

The Guardian reported Kerry also compared the cooperation with China to the agreements between the U.S. and Russia to reduce nuclear weapon arsenals during the Cold War. “You have to look beyond differences sometimes to find a way forward.”

In January, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said it would prioritize climate change considerations in the national defense strategy. Last week, the Pentagon also announced it will appoint a climate policy czar who will reorganize the Pentagon’s policy office to elevate the mission of combating and responding to climate change.