U.K. climate official presses security concerns in meeting with Biden

The United Kingdom’s climate envoy met with Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday to discuss the potential national security threats posed by climate change.

Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, the United Kingdom’s Climate and Energy Security envoy, said the conversation was part of an ongoing dialogue between the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries about the military challenges global warming poses, an effort that could lead to greater cooperation on potential solutions.

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Morisetti was in Washington in the fall and plans to meet with Senate and House staff this trip in addition to the meeting with Biden before heading home.

The United Kingdom approved a broad climate bill in 2008 that calls for a 30 percent reduction in emissions relative to 1990 levels by 2020, a more aggressive target than bills contemplated by Congress. As part of that effort, the country’s military is expected to cut its own emissions by 1 percent each year.

The “challenge” is finding fixes that don’t reduce capability, Morisetti said. It is, after all, more important that a tank be lethal than fuel efficient.

But Morisetti said reducing fossil fuel use has benefits beyond lowering the threat to the climate. Half of the fuel the United Kingdom uses in its operations in Afghanistan is eaten up by the bases supporting the troops. Using more renewable energy or improving the efficiency of its equipment and facilities translates into less exposure for troops that transport fuels to military outposts, he said.

A key piece of the dialogue is how militaries can mitigate the threats that are likely to arise from climate change already happening or likely to happen regardless of efforts to reduce emissions.

Morisetti said Biden was “very much supportive” of the idea of the military reducing its own carbon footprint and beginning to map out exactly what global hotspots may be further strained by changes in the climate. He said no specifics were discussed.

The security threat of rising sea levels, diminishing fresh water resources and more severe weather patterns like drought, hurricanes and heat waves that some scientists say is a consequence of rising carbon dioxide levels is often discussed less than the environmental or economic impacts of climate change.

But the security issue has increased in prominence since a report from the Center for Naval Analysis in 2007 that labeled climate change as a threat to the security of the United States.

Rising sea levels in Bangladesh are already adding to that country’s misery and raising the potential for even more displacement and stress in the region, Morisetti said.

“There is a greater understanding that the national security piece is a key element,” Morisetti told The Hill.