Conservation is a National Security Imperative

Conservation is a National Security Imperative

Monica Medina, Assistant Secretary at the US’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Science Affairs, warned world leaders at COP27 last week that biodiversity loss -- from forests to mangroves and vegetation -- could soon upend global security.

“...environmental threats create deadly feedback loops,” Medina cautioned and added, “...they threaten to destabilize institutions essential for maintaining global security.”

Medina delivered her keynote remarks at an International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD) and Center for American Progress (CAP) hosted side event focused on the intersections between conservation and national security.

Now This: How Arctic Feedback Loops Impact Earth's Climate, October 28, 2021.

Mind & Life Institute: The Dalai Lama In Conversation with Greta Thunberg and Leading Scientists, January 11, 2021.

Bertelsmann Foundation: A Global Security Threat | Climate Change, February 28, 2022

WW0: Facebook Live conversation on national security, climate migration and the climate crisis, September 9, 2020.

Why This Matters

Around the world, conservation failure endangers local economies. In the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of north Africa, this summer’s water temperature was, on average, two to five degrees hotter than it had been during the years between 1985 and 2005. Unable to survive in such hot conditions, mollusks, fish, and sea sponges died en masse, leaving local fisherman in a lurch.

The problem extends beyond the Mediterranean. Earlier this year, at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, Secretary-General António Guterres declared an “ocean emergency,” calling on the 20 countries in attendance to take immediate action to protect ocean health. If global temperatures continue to rise, marine ecosystems will likely experience a mass extinction event “on par with past great extinctions.”

DW: Last 8 years set to be hottest on record as world leaders meet at COP27, November 6, 2022.

UN: John Kerry at UN Ocean Conference | "We can not separate the ocean from the climate crisis," June 28, 2022.

DW: Higher temperatures and plastic pollution threaten oceans, February 11, 2022.

But, the threat is yet to be taken seriously enough, Medina warned. “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.”

Fortunately, the US is taking steps to preserve 30% of land and ocean by 2030, in an effort dubbed 30x30. Secretary Medina and leaders from Palau, Costa Rica, France and the UK, affirmed their commitment to this target last week.

Center for Western Priorities: Why America must protect 30x30 (w/ Sen. Tom Udall, Dr. Enric Sala), June 18, 2020.

TED: The Ocean's Ingenious Climate Solutions | Susan Ruffo, March 13, 2022.

BBC: Wildlife in decline by almost 70% since 1970, says report, October 13, 2022.

WWF: Untangled: Biodiversity Loss, February 17, 2022.

NB: How Climate Change Is Posing A Mounting Threat To US National Security, October 2022, 2021.

ABC: Climate change and national security, October 25, 2021.

A Tidal Wave of Danger

With the sea level rising rapidly, many cities and coastal communities, from Amsterdam to San Diego, are at risk of ending up underwater. Alexandria is in particularly imminent danger -- the city sinks by over three millimeters a year. The UN predicted a third of the city will be rendered uninhabitable by 2050, and could displace 1.5 million of its six million people, worsening a looming climate refugee crisis. This would also affect the economy, as Alexandria has Egypt’s biggest port.

In response, the Biden Administration is taking additional steps to advance global conservation goals. These include:

“Whether we like it or not, this will be the ocean century,” declared Monica Medina in an op-ed for World War Zero's Front Lines.

PBS: Report shows devastating economic impact of rising sea levels along American coast, September 14, 2022.

ABC: NOAA report on US sea level rise a 'wake-up call’, August 3, 2022.

CNN: 'Mind boggling’ | See how rising sea levels will affect the coasts, February 17, 2022.

DW: Can we stop ice sheets from melting?, September 9, 2022.

FRANCE 24: Nigeria's worst floods in a decade kill 600, displace 1.3 million, October 17, 2022.

ABC: Hurricane Ian expected to cost Florida $258 billion, September 29, 2022.

The Hill: Kamala Harris WARNS wars will be fought over water, not oil, April 7, 2021.

VICE: Water Crisis | A Global Problem That's Getting Worse | Planet A, November 29, 2021.