Commander of U.S. Forces Pacific: Climate change is top threat

According to Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the Commander of U.S. Forces Pacific:  Significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.” Admiral Locklear focuses on risk management and preparedness: “While resilience in the security environment is traditionally understood as the ability to recover from a crisis, using the term in the context of national security expands its meaning to include crisis prevention.”







The following is re-posted, with our appreciation, from A Siegel’s excellent blog Get Energy Smart! NOW!:

Climate Change is Top Threat according to the Commander of US Forces Pacific

March 9, 2013

According to the Commander of U.S. Forces Pacific (PACOM),

significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’

Admiral Samuel Locklear had a meeting the other day with national security experts at Tufts and Harvard.  After this session, he met with a reporter who asked him asked what the top security threat was in the Pacific Ocean.  Rather than highlighting Chinese ballistic missiles, the new Chinese Navy aircraft carrier, North Korean nuclear weapons, or other traditional military threats, Admiral Locklear looked to a larger definition of national security.

Locklear commented that “People are surprised sometimes” that he highlights climate change — despite an ability to discuss a wide-range of threats, from cyber-war to the North Koreans.  However, it is the risks — from natural disasters to long-term sea-level rise threats to Pacific nations that has his deepest attention.

“You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”

Climate Change merits national security — military — attention for very pragmatic reasons.

The ice is melting and sea is getting higher,” Locklear said, noting that 80 percent of the world’s population lives within 200 miles of the coast. “I’m into the consequence management side of it. I’m not a scientist, but the island of Tarawa in Kiribati, they’re contemplating moving their entire population to another country because [it] is not going to exist anymore.”

And, Admiral Locklear is now — almost certainly with Joint Chiefs of Staff and Office of Secretary of Defense knowledge and support — taking this up seriously with other nations.

“We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue – even with China and India – the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations,” he said. “If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.’’

The Pacific region has seen some of the largest multi-national disaster relief operations.  Operation Sea Angel in 1991, following a devastating typhoon on Bangladesh, involved numerous military forces — including the Chinese Navy. Similarly, many nations used military forces to respond across the Indian Ocean to the disastrous December 2004 Aceh Tsunami.  Admiral Locklear is looking to the reality of mounting seas, more damaging severe weather, and looking to other climate impacts — and is working to set the stage for the region’s military forces to work together more effectively in responding to climate disruption driven disasters.

This interview is not an isolated comment by Admiral Locklear but an indication of increasing concern about and focus on climate change.  In December 2012, he raised climate change in a speech to the Asia Society. From this speech highlighting the importance and complexity of the Pacific region.  His first example of a non-region specific complicating issue:

this complexity is magnified by a wide, diverse group of challenges…challenges that can significantly stress the security environment….

– Climate change – where increasingly severe weather patterns and rising sea levels will threaten our peoples and even threaten the loss of entire nations…and of course the inevitable earthquakes and tsunamis will continue to challenge all of us in a very unpredictable way as our planet ages. Just as today our friends and partners in the Philippines are dealing with the challenges of the most recent super typhoon.

Admiral Locklear spoke a month ago to the U.S. Indonesia Society. In the speech, he linked climate change to the military, the need for resiliency and the ability for coping with mounting disaster relief requirements.

As Indonesia’s capabilities grow, the Indonesian military should also build on its tradition of contributing forces to U.N. peacekeeping operations…yet another area where the Indonesian and American militaries  can collaborate more closely to increase the level of interoperability between our forces.

While resilience in the security environment is traditionally understood as the ability to recover from a crisis, using the term in the context of national security expands its meaning to include crisis prevention.

With large populations vulnerable to the effects of climate change and natural disasters, both our nations have a significant interest in improving our ability to quickly respond and mitigate the ongoing risk these threats bring.

We learned how local communities prepare themselves for the inevitable disruptions are critical to the region’s efforts to maintain peace, security and prosperity.

This means working on disaster response alone is no longer the answer for the types of scenarios that we face.

Disaster risk reduction through mitigation, planning, and recovery that starts at the community level is required if we are to create more resilient societies.

Private businesses and communities must look within and beyond their current capabilities to ensure that they are prepared to handle what may occur as a result of some catastrophe.

Admiral Locklear as a strong voice on climate change issues might surprise some.  Consider, for example, the range of Combatant Commander formal statements to Congress as to the discussion of climate change.  Writ large, not much there — and Admiral Locklear is no exception in that list.  Admiral Locklear has mentioned climate change before, such as commenting that it would be a stress factor in Europe (where he commanded Operation Odyssey Dawn, the attack on Qaddafi’s Libya during the Arab Spring).  That Admiral Locklear is putting climate change on the top of the long-term security challenge seems to be new — to be news.

That a four-star flag officer is publicly stating that climate change dominates the long-term strategic discussions in his command matters.

It matters for the substance of discussion with other nations and for what this might portend for the highest levels of the U.S. military. (Sadly, there are reasons to expect the (older) uniformed military to be strongly climate denial — having a 4-star speak different can impact this.) It perhaps is most important because the military is a path toward serious cultural change as to a broader acceptance of the basic reality of climate change.  Who ‘listens’ when someone in uniform speaks?  For me, the military is one of the key institutions for changing Americans perspectives on clean energy and climate change.

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6 Responses to Commander of U.S. Forces Pacific: Climate change is top threat

  1. Sierra Voss says:

    Climate change can be hard to envision sometimes. Check out CHASING ICE! at to see amazing pictures and facts about glacier melting around the world.

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  3. Abigail Aderonmu says:

    I’m taking a class on global climate change and we recently discussed in class how one of the adaptive strategies to tackling rising sea levels is to relocate/retreat from risk areas. So it is interesting to note from this post that the people of Tarawa in Kiribati are thinking of relocating the whole population to another country.The challenges of climate change are real and scientists, environmentalists should not be the only people concerned about it.It is a good step in the right direction to have a military personnel draw attention to the impact of climate change on the world.

  4. While the squabble over the reality of climate change and major threats to human stability and civilization appears to be robust, Admiral Locklear has the vision and the awareness to recognize the signs of great change on the horizon. The question of “where to live” is relevant to the millions of people who are at risk to be environmental refugees, whether due to rising sea level, drought, food shortage or political corruption. Who will care for so many displaced people, and what nations, families and individuals will have the capacity to make preparations so as to be able to contribute ethically and meaningfully in a destabilized world? There is enough import here to keep every person on Earth occupied with meaningful contribution. Marshall Vian Summers is giving away his free e-book, The Great Waves of Change, which teaches how to prepare in practical ways and at the level of inner-knowing. I have read the book several times and have found it indispensable. I recommend it to anyone who can feel and sense change and who feels they must contribute to the world. Website is above. Download is easy.

  5. Olga says:

    Rising sea levels and more frequent hurricanes lead to misplacing of nations, increase of food shortages, would lead to worsening of already unstable world economy. Growing population, decreasing resources and living area will intensify political situation leading to civil unrest and wars.
    And also the spread of diseases caused by a global climate change…
    How are such densely populated countries along Southeast Asia adopting to all of that, since they are below sea level, and their main source of food is rice?

  6. courtney says:

    It is very encouraging to read that someone from the military and not from a scientific background is actually taking up the cause of addressing the issue of climate change impacts, specifically sea level rise and increased weather patterns on coastlines, considering that the majority of the global population resides there. Even more encouraging is the fact that he is ‘taking this up seriously with other nations’ and engaging multiple nations to hopefully initiate or continue developmental plans of mitigation and adaptation strategies to combat, better yet to avert these potential disasters. Hopefully this will spark something with governmental agencies to begin to take climate change seriously and pay attention to the words and actions of Admiral Locklear who appears to have the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Office of Secretary of Defense. Kudos to you sir!

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