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Tuesday, December 7, 2021
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DHS Releases First Ever Strategic Framework for Addressing Climate Change

In addition to extreme weather events, DHS warns that revisionist nations will seek to exploit climate change induced instability to erode the rules-based order that is central to the security and prosperity of the United States and its allies.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its first Strategic Framework for Addressing Climate Change to govern the Department’s efforts to combat the climate crisis.   

“From extreme weather events to record heat, the DHS workforce is on the front lines of the climate emergency every day,” said Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas.  “With the release of our new climate framework, we are building on our commitment to combat climate change by strategically leveraging relevant resources, authorities, and expertise to maximize sustainability and resilience.”

Rising temperatures cause devastating effects such as shrinking sea ice, rising sea levels, heatwaves, droughts, and ocean acidification that impact DHS missions. These trends are already resulting in record rain events and wildfires, as well as increases in the number of coastal storms and inland flooding. Even with timely action on climate change mitigation, the U.S. will continue to experience these impacts for decades to come. 

Climate change poses a direct threat to the U.S. in the form of increasingly severe and unpredictable natural disasters. Since 1980, there have been 298 “billion-dollar natural disasters,” such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, and wildfires in the United States, inflicting at least $1.97 trillion in damages. These severe weather and climate disasters have claimed 14,492 lives in the last four decades. The annual average for billion-dollar (adjusted for inflation) disasters from 1980 to 2020 was 7.1 events. The annual average between 2016 and 2020 was 16.2 events with more than a quarter of all “billion-dollar” disasters occurring in the last five years. 

In addition to extreme weather events, DHS warns that revisionist nations will seek to exploit climate change induced instability to erode the rules-based order that is central to the security and prosperity of the United States and its allies. More specifically, an influx of climate-related migration through the U.S.-Mexico border and climate-induced existential threats to Arctic communities and Alaska Native culture will accelerate and require proactive actions from the U.S. to manage future border crises and potential relocation of internally-displaced populations. 

The Strategic Framework builds on the DHS Climate Action Plan, which was released on October 7, 2021 and outlines several steps the Department is taking to combat the climate crisis, including bolstering DHS’s ability to adapt to climate change, further increasing national resilience, undertaking mitigation measures, and addressing key vulnerabilities. Together, these documents reflect the urgency with which the Department is tackling climate change, which poses an existential threat to the United States and the world. 

The Strategic Framework will guide DHS’s implementation of President Biden’s Executive Order on addressing the impacts of climate change at home and abroad, and includes five lines of effort:

  1. Empowering individuals and communities to develop climate resilience. The Department will leverage grantmaking and regulatory tools to incentivize choices that build resilience, foster equity and environmental justice, and mitigate climate change.
  2. Building readiness to respond to increases in climate-driven emergencies. DHS and its Components will assess their readiness to respond to increased climate-driven disasters. The Department must take immediate action to mitigate the risks associated with capability and capacity gaps, such as reforming deployable and surge staffing models and increasing the robustness of its continuity planning and federal mission resilience efforts. DHS will also develop and implement longer-term solutions to address persistent readiness gaps by continuing to lead the broader homeland security enterprise as the nation prepares for the “new normal” of climate change-driven emergencies.
  3. Incorporating climate science into strategy, policy, programs, and budgets. DHS will develop a science-based understanding of the climate and the future operating environment. This understanding will be incorporated into the development of strategies and requirements across DHS. In addition to integrating this understanding into departmental investments and strategies, DHS will work closely with stakeholders ranging from private infrastructure owners to local governments to empower them to do the same. The Department will also prioritize academic engagements and research and development that deepens understanding of the risks and opportunities that climate change creates and pursues solutions that either mitigate climate change or protect the U.S. from its impacts.
  4. Investing in a sustainable and resilient DHS; The Department will look to make “marketshaping investments” into energy efficient buildings and electric government vehicles. DHS will work closely with other partners to ensure these investments are made in a way that advances unity of effort and drives equitable growth. 
  5. Ensuring the DHS workforce is informed on climate change. In line with this effort, DHS will consider exploring the creation of new hiring authorities and retention programs to recruit and retain climate change talent through both Department and Congressional action. 

The Strategic Framework was developed through the first-ever DHS Climate Change Action Group (CCAG), which was established by Secretary Mayorkas.  The CCAG is comprised of senior officials from across the Department and focuses on promoting resilience and addressing multiple climate change-related risks, including flooding, extreme heat, drought, and wildfires. 

On an annual basis, the CCAG will deliver a comprehensive written report to the Secretary on the Department’s progress on climate change actions, which will serve as the foundation of the Secretary’s annual report to the White House.

Read the Strategic Framework for Addressing Climate Change at DHS

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Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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