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US needs better climate forecasting, wargaming, report finds

Joe Biden. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

The Biden administration should invest in better climate forecasting technology and ensure climate change is factored into military planning and wargaming, according to a scorecard released Thursday.

President Joe Biden has generally done a good job in designating climate change as a national security priority, but further success will depend on backing up those words with dollars and action, according to an evaluation of the Biden administration’s climate security progress that was organized by the non-partisan Climate and Security Advisory Group. The progress report and new recommendations—the first from the group—was endorsed by more than 70 former officials, including eight retired four-star officers, as well as former CIA director William Webster, former NATO deputy secretary general Rose Gottemoeller and former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy.

“We hope to see the U.S. security establishment move more aggressively and comprehensively from words to deeds and from plans to execution,” the report says. “The U.S. government has made important progress, but it has considerable work left to do.”

The former officials made several recommendations for the Biden administration, including improving the technology to more accurately predict climate disasters, including climate considerations in tabletop exercises or wargames at the Defense Department, and adding talk about the importance of climate adaptation and resilience to international military partnerships.

The group’s scorecard arrives weeks after the United Nations released its sixth and direst climate report, which found that “if human-caused global warming isn’t limited to just another couple tenths of a degree, an Earth now struck regularly by deadly heat, fires, floods, and drought in future decades will degrade in 127 ways with some being ‘potentially irreversible’,” AP reported.

The scorecard also evaluates progress made since its 2019 Climate Security Plan for America. It finds that Biden has done a good job prioritizing climate security at the Pentagon, but more is needed at other agencies, including the departments of State, Homeland Security, and Energy.

“They’re checking a lot of the boxes and doing great on the first pillar of demonstrating leadership,” said Erin Sikorsky, director of the Center for Climate and Security, who edited the report. “That’s where the focus needs to be going forward, to not rest on their laurels but to follow through, particularly on the integration piece of bringing that climate lens to strategies and planning at combatant commands, at the regional assistant secretaries at State, and in our relationships with allies and partners.”

The Biden administration has also not made enough progress on promoting climate security abroad, though that’s not entirely the fault of the United States, according to the report. The government has not made progress on the goal of establishing a Climate Security Crisis Watch Center at the United Nations. Despite the U.S. voting for a resolution in December that would have boosted international data sharing and ordered a study on climate risk, the proposal failed because of a Russian veto.

The Pentagon has also not made enough strides towards working with allied militaries on their own climate resilience plans. There have been some individual agreements to share tools with Japan and South Korea, but “significant progress” is still needed on more widespread international engagement.

“We have to help them build their own climate resilience and manage that risk, so when we need them for other things that have capacity to join in,” Sikorsky said.

The group intends to continue to note where the government has made progress and where it is falling behind, but does not plan annual updates to the scorecard, Sikorsky said.


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