Icons in the foreground, including a leaf symbol for sustainability with a person in the background reaching out to touch it

Over the past few months, the U.S. national security establishment has produced several documents outlining the mounting risks from global climate change and environmental degradation.

  • The Department of Homeland Security published its Climate Action Plan (CAP) and a strategic framework for addressing climate change relevant to homeland security.
  • The Department of Defense (DoD) released its CAP and a climate risk analysis of geostrategic risks to the nation’s security and defense.
  • The National Intelligence Council (NIC) issued a new National Intelligence Estimate evaluating climate change risks in the international arena and challenges to national security over the next 20 years.

Known Knowns

These documents define the challenges that the U.S. government, relevant agencies, and departments face with respect to climate change and its risks and impacts. They acknowledge the evolving landscape of national security as well as the mounting consequences of inaction. But these warnings are not new. They amount to “known knowns,” as popularized by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The U.S. national security establishment has long known climate change is a threat to the security of the nation, as evidenced by the NIC’s quadrennial Global Trends reports going back to the mid-1990s, the most recent of which was released in March 2021. These reports assess major global trends and their drivers and set the stage for U.S. strategic thinking over the coming decades. Warnings on environmental and climate risks regularly appear in the Director of National Intelligence’s annual briefing to Congress on threats to U.S. national security.

Even as the threats become more acute, and the consequences of past inaction manifest, the government has not brought the best data and tools to the task.

The Pieces to the Puzzle

Acknowledging these risks is nothing new. The U.S. government has convened scientists and funded research programs to understand and model global warming and climate change. Many agencies produce valuable data sets and tools targeted to specific climate problems and their societal impacts. State and local governments, as well as the private sector, use these data and tools to assess, mitigate, and adapt to climate risks. However, these valuable efforts are fractured. At the federal level, they have yet to be fully leveraged to benefit the nation. Even as the threats become more acute, and the consequences of past inaction manifest, the government has not brought the best data and tools to the task. We know the risks; the potential consequences and impacts are yet to be known.

The latest reports’ urgency and tone mark a change in the paradigm and reflect executive orders 14008, 14013, 14017, and 14030, amounting to an all-of-government approach to climate change. The CAPs define the specific actions each agency intends to take. For DoD, these efforts are significant and substantial, given the broad scope of the defense enterprise and its central role in the nation’s security. But informed, scientifically grounded, data-driven decision-making must propel these actions.

Completing the Picture

It is time to gather the data, codify the knowledge, and implement a climate risk framework and data platform to address the diversity of climate challenges facing our nation, domestically and abroad. LMI’s ClimateIQ™ capability, in partnership with The Climate Service (TCS), offers the model for such a system: a potent collection of underlying data, with powerful analytics, to answer complex climate questions consistently. The model applies well in the commercial world as evidenced by TCS’s Climanomics™ tool for quantifying risks to corporate assets and operations. The latest science around climate hazards, risk models, and impact functions drives Climanomics™, evaluating not only risks and vulnerabilities but quantifying their effects. LMI supplies the same capability to the federal government through ClimateIQ™; however, we are only scratching the surface of its potential.

If the federal government intends for a whole-of-government approach to address climate change, it requires a system capable of the task. Every agency needs to operate from a common, rigorously verified understanding of climate change. This unity is the only way to truly know the primary challenges, where to best apply resources, and how to measure effectiveness. The interplay between climate change and national security can be demystified through a solid foundation of data. The impacts of climate change on national security do not need to be “unknown unknowns.”

Erwin Villiger

Erwin Villiger

Principal, Sustainability Meet Erwin

Erwin Villiger

Principal, Sustainability

Erwin is a senior subject matter expert with more than 25 years of experience at the nexus of national security and the environment.

Jeannie McKinney

Jeannie McKinney

Program Manager 1 Meet Jeannie

Jeannie McKinney

Program Manager 1

Jeannie helps LMI's clients devise and implement strategies to minimize the environmental impact of operations and strengthen mission resilience to climate change.