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Secretary Austin Remarks at Climate Change Summit

Opening Remarks

Good afternoon, and thank you all for joining. I am honored to represent President Biden in hosting today’s conversation as we celebrate Earth Day and the fifth anniversary of the signing ceremony of the Paris Agreement. 

I’m particularly grateful to my international colleagues for joining us this afternoon. 

Today, no nation can find lasting security without addressing the climate crisis. We face all kinds of threats in our line of work, but few of them truly deserve to be called existential. The climate crisis does. As NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg has said: Our core task is to keep our people safe. Climate change is making the world more unsafe and we need to act.

The climate crisis is a profoundly destabilizing force for our world. As the Arctic melts, competition for resources and influence in the region increases. Closer to the equator, rising temperatures and more frequent and intense extreme weather events in Africa and Central America threaten millions with drought, hunger, and displacement. 

As families risk their lives in search of safety and security, mass migration leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and radicalization, all of which undermine stability. And in the far reaches of the Pacific, rising sea levels and more frequent and intense storms put individuals, families, and whole communities at risk – while pushing the limits of our collective capacity to respond. 

The U.S. Department of Defense has been impacted directly in just the past few years by extreme weather caused by climate change.

Hurricane Michael inflicted billions of dollars of damage at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. 
Severe flooding of the Missouri River in the American Midwest damaged Offutt Air Force Base, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

Wildfires in California have threatened other military installations, forcing repeated evacuations. 
Typhoons in Guam most commonly occur from June to December, but in February 2019, Typhoon Wutip forced us to pause exercises with our Australian and Japanese allies. 

Moreover, the Department has been called repeatedly to support communities throughout the United States and abroad, as they attempt to recover from severe weather events. 

From coast to coast and across the world, the climate crisis has caused substantial damage and put people in danger, making it more difficult for us to carry out our mission of defending the United States and our allies.  

That’s why President Biden has tasked the United States’ 18 intelligence agencies with producing a National Intelligence Estimate on the security implications of climate change.

We in the Department of Defense are committed to doing our part, from increasing the energy efficiency of our platforms and installations, to deploying clean distributed generation and energy storage, to electrifying our own vehicle fleets. 

And we’re not alone. The Climate Change and Sustainability Strategic Approach recently issued by our allies in the U.K. raises the bar on how militaries can adapt to an operational environment that considers the effects of climate change while advancing military capabilities and resilience.

The benefits of action extend well beyond the climate, and include opportunities to improve our own operations. For example, when we operate more sustainably, we become more logistically agile and ready to respond to crises. 

We also have a once in a generation opportunity to build an entire economic sector and the global infrastructure for clean energy.  The truth is that our shared commitment will allow us to create a safer, more resilient, secure, and sustainable future. 

Again, none of us can tackle this problem alone. We share this planet, and shared threats demand shared solutions. I look forward to working with all of you on this vital mission.

Thank you again for joining us.

Now I’d like to take a minute to introduce my U.S. colleagues and our distinguished panelists: 
-    Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines
-    US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield
-    NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg
-    United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace 
-    Japanese Minister of Defense, Kishi Nobuo
-    Kenyan Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Monica Juma 
-    The Philippines Secretary of Finance, Carlos Dominguez III 
-    Iraq Minister of Defense, Juma Inad 
-    Spanish Minister of Defense Margarita Robles-Fernández

Before we get into the panel itself, we’ll hear from DNI Haines and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. DNI Haines over to you.


Closing Remarks

Friends and colleagues, let me very briefly thank you all again for joining us at today’s extraordinary summit. This critical conversation is only the first among many that we intend to have over the coming months and years. 

Working together, I am confident that we can tackle the climate emergency. I’m deeply grateful for your insights and your partnership.

Together, we can build a safer, more secure, and more sustainable future—and make all our children proud. I’m excited to get to work.   

Thank you all.