Biden admin. 'officially recognizing' link between climate change, migration

Administration says migration is 'in some cases, an essential response to the climate threats to livelihood and well being'

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The Biden administration on Thursday is "officially recognizing and reporting" on the "linkage" between climate change and migration, after the U.S. saw the highest number of border detentions in a year since 1986.

Border Patrol arrests soared over 1.7 million during the 2021 fiscal year, which ended in September. 

Officials rolled out a number of government analyses aimed at tackling climate change, which President Biden has warned will be the "greatest threat" to America’s national security in the coming years.

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"It is definitely a security issue," an official said.

The analyses fulfill requirements of Biden’s Jan. 27 executive order on tackling climate change – as well as his Feb. 29 executive order to rebuild and enhance programs to resettle refugees and plan for the "impact of climate change on migration."

"These analyses will serve as a foundation for our critical work on climate and security moving forward," the officials said.

The Department of Homeland Security is set to roll out its "strategic framework" to tackle climate change, which would focus on "empowering individuals and communities to develop climate resilience;" "building readiness to respond to increases in climate-driven emergencies;" "incorporating climate science as a strategy for policy programs and budgets;" investing in a "sustainable and resilient" DHS; and "ensuring the DHS workforce is "informed by climate change."

Migrants crossing the Rio Grande near the International Bridge between Mexico and the U.S. on Sept. 22.

Migrants crossing the Rio Grande near the International Bridge between Mexico and the U.S. on Sept. 22. (REUTERS/Go Nakamura, File)

Officials said the DHS analysis and assessment marked "the first time the U.S. government is officially recognizing and reporting on the linkage between climate change and migration."

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"The report identifies migration as an important form of adaptation to the effects of climate change, and, in some cases, an essential response to the climate threats to livelihood and well being," an official said, adding that the administration described migration as a "purely negative coping mechanism."

The administration's goals have been "to ensure that migration, for any reason, is done in a safe, orderly and human pathway," an official said.

Officials said the DHS analysis called for the development of humanitarian assistance programs to "help address the underlying causes of forced migration" and "displacement in the face of insecurity." Officials said it will also address how "individual human security can decrease the likelihood of migration."

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Haitian migrants in the Rio Grande as seen from Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila state, Mexico, on Sept. 20.

Haitian migrants in the Rio Grande as seen from Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila state, Mexico, on Sept. 20. (PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images, File)

"It is critical to approach these efforts in a way that acknowledges that, in almost all cases, climate change is not the sole driver of migration," the official said. "The U.S. has a compelling national interest in strengthening global protections for individuals and groups displaced by the impacts of climate change." 

The official added that the administration is going to work to identify ways to apply "existing protection framework" in the context of "climate-related displacement" to identify "gaps" where the United States could forge "new legal pathways to protection" for migrants impacted by climate change.

The official said the National Security Council also is establishing a "standing" interagency working group on climate change and migration, and the director of national intelligence will oversee the development of the "first-ever" national intelligence estimate on climate change.

Vice President Harris in August.

Vice President Harris in August. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Vice President Kamala Harris was tasked with addressing the "root causes" of migration earlier this year. She released a strategy in June to tackle the issue; at the time, she did not officially link climate to migration, but did cite "extreme climate," "extensive storm damage," and the issue of "climate resiliency." Critics said Harris has failed to control the crisis amid new indications that border arrests have soared to their highest levels in decades, and noted that she didn't visit the border for months after taking on the task.

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"Climate change will increasingly exacerbate a number of risks to U.S. national security interests," the official said, noting that climate change can contribute to "increased geopolitical tension" as countries "compete in the ensuing energy transition."

The administration also is releasing an analysis from the Defense Department – the first from the Pentagon focusing on the strategic mission implications of climate change, which officials described as a "critical first step for incorporating climate change security implications" in mission strategy plans and capabilities.

"It will consider the effects of climate change on areas, such as, how to train, fight and win in an increasingly complex environment," an official said, adding that the Department of Finance also will "strive to prevent, mitigate, account for and respond to defensive security risks associated with climate change." 

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The official said the Pentagon analysis also will consider how climate change could "increase demand for defense missions and impact critical supply chain, infrastructure and readiness."

The rollout comes just weeks before President Biden and key Cabinet officials are expected to participate in the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 1 and 2.