The US Defence Secretary, General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, has warned that climate change is already destabilising parts of the world.
In written responses to questions put during his confirmation hearings, which were not published but were obtained by the ProPublica news website, the former Marine Corps officer indicated he had very different views to other leading members of the Trump administration.
While the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency recently denied that carbon dioxide is causing global warming – an idea scientists have compared to disputing gravity – General Mattis made clear climate change was a serious problem.
“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” he told senators.
“It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”
ProPublica said his responses had been given to them by “someone involved with coordinating efforts on climate change preparedness across more than a dozen government agencies”. The documents were confirmed as genuine by Senate staff, it added.
Asked by Senator Jeanne Shaheen if he believed “climate change is a security threat”, General Mattis replied: “Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defence must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”
Ms Shaheen then asked how the military should prepare “to address this threat”.
“As I noted above, climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response,” General Mattis replied.
“If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Defence plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects.”
He added: “I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation.
“I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”