Monica Medina, Assistant SecretaryBureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt
“Embracing Nature as the Foundation for Global Security”
Thank you, Richard, for that warm introduction. But more importantly, thank you to IISD and the Center for American Progress for hosting this event today.
Addressing the intersection of environmental threats, climate change, and international security is one of my top priorities as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State. And right now, the twin crises of climate change and nature loss threaten people and our planet as never before. From my time serving in our nation’s military, at the Department of Defense, and now leading on environmental security at the Department of State, I know how environmental challenges can quickly upend our safety and security at home and abroad. The Biden Administration is spurring action to address these challenges.
Growing Global Extremes
For a long time, many of us in this room have been calling for greater action to mitigate climate and environmental security threats. And we also know that nature offers solutions we need.
The impacts of climate change are all around us. In the last few months alone, we have seen record-breaking and life-threatening floods, droughts, heatwaves, and storms. These events take place against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has cost millions of lives. And amidst international aggression that has upended our global landscape. And within that context, environmental threats create deadly feedback loops. They drive compounded risks to our economies and food supplies. They deepen the vulnerabilities in our communities. They foster new grounds for geopolitical competition. And they threaten to destabilize institutions essential for maintaining global security.
In the face of this new reality, there are still too many leaders choosing to ignore the severe security impacts at the heart of the climate and nature loss crises. But ignoring these impacts will not defend against the harms they cause worldwide. And no country can afford to be blind to the threats that are increasingly defining the future of security.
The American author John Steinbeck wrote, “It’s one of the triumphs of the human that he can know a thing, and still not believe it.” Well, I’m here to tell you that we know the dangers of the climate crisis. It’s time for everyone to start believing. And not only believing in the impacts… but also in our ability as a global community to resolve the crisis.
Leaders across the U.S. government are increasingly considering environmental and climate threats and integrating them into U.S. security considerations. We are strengthening both domestic and global climate ambition. And we strive to better predict and prepare for the climate impacts we are already experiencing. That’s why President Biden launched the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE) last year. This Plan has the central goal of helping more than half a billion people adapt to and manage the impacts of climate change on lives and livelihoods. Better preparing for climate security threats by building resilience and investing in early warning systems in fragile regions is at the heart of PREPARE.
Environmental Security Threats
But these threats go well beyond even the complex impacts of climate change. With every part of the planet shifting under massive changes, we need to better think about the integration of these changes with national and global security. That is why we are elevating other environmental risks within U.S. foreign and security policy, like water security, maritime security, nature crimes, and others.
Earlier this year, we launched the first White House Action Plan on Global Water Security to address growing hotspots for water and conflict. We also rolled out a National Security Memorandum on tackling Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing, a threat to the health and security of our ocean worldwide. And we are raising ambition to end wildlife trafficking and other nature crimes through an interagency taskforce and a new Nature Crimes Alliance with countries worldwide. And we are committed to the conservation, protection and restoration of nature. Last April, President Biden signed an executive order to strengthen America’s forests and combat global deforestation — and to integrate all of these issues across U.S. diplomacy.
We are all in on conserving 30 percent of the global land and ocean by 2030. And I’ve heard first hand from our President Biden that advancing these issues is one of his Administration’s commitments. Addressing threats to nature by conserving natural ecosystems increases our ability to adapt and respond to the climate and nature crises. The challenges across these themes are, in many ways self-evident. I want to make clear that the United States is ready to work with our international partners to reverse the trends threatening our environmental security.
Priorities for Coordination
As we look to better coordinate and advance our work together on these threats, we must keep a few important considerations in mind.
First and foremost, we must focus on the needs of the most marginalized and vulnerable as we integrate environmental threats into political, economic, and food security planning. These are the people whose safety and health are most at risk due to rapid environmental change. They have often been the most vocal in calling for its protection. And they will take the lead on the steps needed to build and sustain resilience. I’m thinking here of heroic environmental defenders, of indigenous communities, of youth, of women, and of all those around the world who are used to being kept out of the room when the word “security” comes up. We cannot allow these threats, or our responses to them, to further marginalize these communities.
We must also place increased emphasis on leveraging data, research, and innovation to better understand and address environmental insecurities. While science contributes to dramatic leaps in our understanding of global changes and trends, our security communities often have too few resources to integrate this work into their own analyses. How will our countries, our communities, our people be able to withstand cascading environmental crises? How might bad actors take advantage of these threats to destabilize their neighbors? How can early warning systems be tailored to inquire about the needs of and effectively communicate risk to the most fragile communities? These are all questions that need better data, analysis, and research. This is part of the impetus for our whole-of-government effort to create natural capital accounting that will lead to replicable data that quantifies natural assets and ecosystem services. By tracking these over time, governments can better address related security threats.
Across the U.S. government, we are building partnerships to work collectively toward these objectives. We want to work better with the governments, researchers, and scientists in this room to do even more.
Raising Global Ambition
We must embrace nature as the foundation for global security. As we look ahead, the future of peace will look different. It may be even more fragile than we knew. Our work together must look different, too. We must be more interdisciplinary and more knowledgeable about how a stable climate and sustainable environment are the bedrock of our security. And as the threats we are facing reach new heights, so too must our action together. I believe in us. Thank you.