(Just Security | Dec. 2, 2020) President-elect Joe Biden is 50 days away from assuming office as commander-in-chief. He has committed to taking bold, historic action on climate change and has named climate change one of the four crises facing the United States. He has also pledged to integrate climate change into national security decision-making. This stands in stark contrast to the Trump administration, which questioned the underlying climate science and deleted “climate change” from the National Security Strategy.
At the same time, Biden may ultimately face a GOP Senate, depending on the outcome of the runoff elections in Georgia. This would strike a blow to his boldest climate ambitions—and may undermine the passage of comprehensive climate legislation. If this comes to pass, executive branch action will take on heightened importance. Regardless of any legislative effort, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other administrative agencies will likely reinstitute and strengthen Obama-era regulations to address climate change under existing legal authorities such as the Clean Air Act. But what are the president’s authorities as commander-in-chief to “combat” the national security threats posed by the climate crisis?
In addition to regulatory action under the Clean Air Act and similar authorities, Biden possesses broad constitutional authorities independent of Congress to address the climate-security impacts. I highlight four below, to include:
- appointing key personnel that prioritize climate change as a security issue;
- reducing our carbon emissions across the federal government;
- safeguarding critical national security infrastructure; and
- responding to climate-exacerbated conflicts and natural disasters at home and abroad.
Appointing Climate-Security Expertise: Personnel as Policy
First, the Constitution grants Biden broad, Article II appointment powers. His recent appointments of key personnel to national security positions—many of which do not require Senate advice and consent—highlight the growing merger between climate change’s impacts and our national security interests. For example, Biden just announced that former Secretary of State John Kerry will serve as the nation’s first special presidential envoy for climate change (the so-called “climate czar”). Kerry has unique climate experience. As a senator, he played a leadership role in the Senate’s last attempt at climate legislation in 2009. As secretary of state, he played a leadership role in the successful Paris Climate negotiations. Kerry’s new position, which does not require Senate confirmation, will also have a seat on the National Security Council—a historic first. This reflects a mature acknowledgment that climate change serves as both a “threat multiplier” and “catalyst for conflict” that requires integration across national security planning …