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Climate change presents an "immediate risk" to national security, President Barack Obama said Wednesday during a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.
“I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country,” Obama said. “And so we need to act, and we need to act now.”
Obama highlighted risks to U.S. military bases located in coastal areas, which are susceptible to storm surges and flooding from rising sea levels. The White House cited thawing permafrost that has damaged military facilities in Alaska and heavy rains that caused $64 million in damages to an Army installation in the Southwest.
Those same forces could also damage civilian infrastructure, he said.
"Along our coasts, thousands of miles of highways, roads, railways and energy facilities are all vulnerable," he said. "It's estimated that a further increase in sea level of just one foot by the end of this century could cost our nation $200 billion."
The speech added an urgent tone to the White House's ambitious climate change strategy. In March, Obama announced a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The next month, Obama pitched his plan as a job creator that would train 75,000 solar workers.
During his speech on Wednesday, Obama also warned about the need for increased military awareness in the Arctic. Melting glaciers have opened waterways for fishing and oil exploration, which could cause conflict as Russia, Norway, Canada, the U.S. and other countries enter newly accessible territory.
Climate change could also stress U.S. energy infrastructure, the White House said, as electricity use goes up during hot summer weather and extreme weather events damage distribution chains.
On a global scale, water scarcity and increased food costs could create unrest in countries with few resources and weak governments, he said, citing scarce resources as one of the reasons that Boko Haram rose in Nigeria.
Obama's climate change plan faces resistance from Republicans in Congress. The President took time to address those critics.
"I know there are still some folks back in Washington who refuse to believe that climate change as real," he said. "We cannot and must not ignore a peril that can affect generations."