DNI Haines remarks at the 2021 Leaders Summit on Climate

DNI Haines remarks at the 2021 Leaders Summit on Climate

Friday, 23 April 2021 14:22


Remarks as prepared for delivery by

Avril Haines

Director of National Intelligence

2021 Leaders Summit on Climate

Thursday, April 22, 2021


Thank you, Secretary Austin, for that lovely introduction and for the privilege of being with you and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield at this historic summit, along with such an esteemed group of leaders from around the world who I have already learned so much from today.


I want to relay to you in a few short minutes why we in the Intelligence Community view climate change as an urgent national security priority and why we think leaders should be thinking about the role that their intelligence communities can and should play in addressing the global problem we face.


For the Intelligence Community, climate change is both a near-term and a long-term critical threat that will define the next generation and it is one that the intelligence community has long recognized as important to our national security, though we have not always made it a key priority.


In fact, it may surprise you to know that the intelligence community has been looking at this issue for decades. Back in the 1990s, the CIA opened an environmental center, cleared scientists to access classified information, and began re-examining thousands of archived satellite images of Russia, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Arctic with the goal of better understanding how the global environment had changed over the prior decades. Ever since, our services have been raising increasing alarms about the impact that climate change has across every aspect of our work as geophysical features of the earth are being reshaped whether through the changing boundary lines of the tropics or the shrinking sea ice in the Arctic.


We conducted this work under a series of Administrations, both Democratic and Republican, and for some time, we have regularly included climate change in our worldwide threat assessments to the Congress, as we did this year, often reflecting on the urgent challenge climate change presents to global stability, human development, and prosperity.


To address climate change properly, however, it must be at the center of our country’s foreign policy and national security and as such, it needs to be fully integrated into every aspect of our analysis, in order to allow us to not only monitor the threat but also, critically, to ensure that policymakers understand the implications of climate change on seemingly unrelated policies and in identifying opportunities to mitigate the challenge we face.


To do so, however, it is necessary to inject climate science and analysis across our functional and regional work, deepen and strengthen our partnerships on these questions, and learn to incorporate the long-term trends produced by rising temperatures into our daily analysis in an effort to promote strategic foresight and a deeper understanding of the wide range of interrelated threats we face, which are fundamentally affected by climate change.


For example, in a recent report we issued on global trends, we highlight the fact that the physical effects of climate change are likely to intensify during the next two decades, especially in the 2030s,

  • with more extreme storms, droughts, and floods;
  • melting glaciers and ice caps;
  • and rising sea levels that accompany rising temperatures.

We also note that the impact will not be evenly distributed -- disproportionately falling on poor and vulnerable populations, intersecting with environmental degradation to create new vulnerabilities and exacerbating existing risks to economic prosperity, political stability, military readiness, food, water, health, and energy security.


Yet intelligence services have to translate these broader trends into analysis for policymakers that helps them understand the impact of climate change on the range of issues they are focused on today. Explaining how, for example, warmer temperatures could push tens of millions of people in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America to migrate in the coming decades. How the flooding of U.S. bases in certain locations, such as the Marshall Islands will continue to increase, potentially creating challenges for military readiness. How increasingly disruptive extreme weather events driven in part by climate change can trigger crop failures, wildfires, energy blackouts, or infectious disease outbreaks with enormous economic and political impacts that are capable of changing a country’s long-term trajectory. How droughts can lead to scarce resources that trigger conflicts and exacerbate violent extremism. How shifting coastlines will effect sovereign borders and how resources might need to be reallocated in light of the exacerbating impact that climate change is having on biodiversity and biothreats.


Moreover, we can also help the world understand the impact that climate change is having on our lives to catalyze ambition and perhaps most of all, to identify opportunities to promote adaptation and mitigation. Not simply in the context of climate negotiations but in every aspect of foreign policy and national security – highlighting global developments, trends, and governance choices that magnify or mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change, while also pointing out ways in which we should reduce the contributing causes of climate change, to make choices that reduce the threat for all.


Climate change knows no boundaries, respects no national borders, and cannot be addressed by any one nation on its own. We must work together on the challenge before us. Under the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris, working with my colleagues across every department and agency in the United States, including state, local and tribal authorities, we intend to make this a whole-of-government effort – working not just to protect American national security but to protect human security around the world.


Thank you, I will now turn it over the wonderful Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield.