Perry Center Addresses Urgent Security Challenges of Climate Change
For the first time, military and civilian personnel from 21 partner nations of the Americas and Africa came together for the course “Climate Change and Implications for Defense and Security (CCIDS),” in Washington, D.C., May 8-19, 2023. The William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies organized the course.
“It’s an honor to preside over this historic event. For 26 years, the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies has sought to strengthen ties of cooperation among the countries of the Americas and to build a network of professionals who lead security, defense, decision-making across the hemisphere, professionals who devise and implement shared solutions to contemporary challenges,” Paul J. Angelo, director of the Perry Center, told the international students during his remarks. “Global climate change is not a future problem […]. Climate change is already and unequivocally fueling instability and insecurity in our shared neighborhood.”
The CCIDS course, designed by Dr. Patrick Paterson, focused on five themes: science, threats, solutions, the role of the security forces, and the human impact.
More than 40 students attended the two-week bilingual course, which had 30 speakers, including experienced scientists from the United States and the region who have worked directly on the United Nations Assessment Reports or other important climate and environmental research.
Joseph Bryan, senior Climate Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Defense said that “[in addition to] humanitarian crises, climate change can be a catalyst for competition between groups and even nations for scarce resources — things like water, healthy pasture, and farmland […]. And when competition devolves to conflict it is sometimes our militaries who are called upon to respond.”Defense and security toward climate change
For Jamaica Defense Force Lieutenant Dian Geneive Cover, the course was an eye opener to climate change. “I will never be the same after this course […]. If we sit complacent and do nothing about climate change, then what legacy are we going to leave for our children and our children’s children?”
Sergeant Seon Kyu Han, Meteorological Office supervisor at the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, said the course was a “wakeup call” about climate change, arousing his interest in applying the newly acquired knowledge for the benefits of its organization. “I do want to challenge myself and incentivize or create an environment for my subordinates and my community to make [the topic] more acceptable, approachable, and feasible as well,” she said.
Luis Alonso Amaya Durán, director of Civil Protection, Disaster Prevention, and Mitigation in El Salvador, highlighted the importance of the different themes addressed. “The variety of topics was very important and had a very holistic perspective. For example, climate change from the governmental, nongovernmental and business aspect, from fulfilling global strategic goals, etc.,” Amaya said.
The course, he added, which brought together people and ideas from different organizations, will help him to incorporate new concepts into the current proposal for El Salvador’s National Risk Reduction Plan.
For Raúl Iván Gutiérrez Haaz, director of Mexico’s National Water Commission, the CCIDS course is an active voice for climate change.
“I am excited about making climate change a part of our culture and little by little, start implementing it,” said Gutiérrez. “The course creates a responsibility to carry the message to the people around us and to our governments and countries, that we become part of the team that responds to climate change.”
After two weeks of intensive discussion with climate scientists and government officials, the course concluded with outstanding remarks. U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Plehn, president of the National Defense University, invited participants to work together toward climate change.
“Together, we must examine the role of security and defense in the context of changing future climatic conditions and their effects on security,” Lt. Gen. Plehn said.
As climate change is a “real and existential threat” for the region, Lt. Gen. Plehn added, the course plays an important role as a tool to “examine, understand, and evaluate the security implications of rising global temperatures and discuss solutions to address these issues in an academic setting.”
In her closing remarks, Dr. Hila Levy, assistant director for Ocean, Polar, and Natural Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, recalled U.S. government actions at the domestic and international level to address the threats of climate change. She called on participants to act as ambassadors upon returning to their respective countries to educate and empower their ministries, militaries, and citizens about the wide-ranging impacts of climate change.
“You are here from the Western Hemisphere nations as guardians of some of the most precious ecosystems and wildlife on earth, the Amazon, rich coral reefs, the Andes, the Antilles, and more. However, we find ourselves facing a grave challenge that jeopardizes the delicate balance of our ecosystems, threatens our food security and sustainability — environmental crime; wildlife trafficking; illegal logging; and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing,” Levy said. “I truly hope that together we can strengthen our collaboration and information sharing and build each other up for the collective security of our planet.”
Due to the high interest and number of requests from governments in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Perry Center will offer a second course in July.