In Coast Guard commencement address, Obama buoys climate change

Meeting on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, at the Gulfport Coast Guard Station in Mississippi on June 14, 2010.
Washington CNN  — 

President Barack Obama used his commencement speech to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut on Wednesday, to focus on a topic he called an immediate national security threat: climate change.

“Climate change will impact every country on the planet. No nation is immune,” the President told the 218 graduating cadets. “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. And so we need to act — and we need to act now.”

President Obama stressed the effects of climate change and its role in natural disasters and humanitarian crises, citing potential increases in refugee flows, a lack of food and water and threatening the readiness of U.S. military forces.

“Many of our military installations are on the coast, including, of course, our Coast Guard stations. Around Norfolk, high tides and storms increasingly flood parts of our Navy base and an air base. In Alaska, thawing permafrost is damaging military facilities. Out West, deeper droughts and longer wildfires could threaten training areas our troops depend on.”

Earlier this month, the Obama administration, citing “rigorous safety standards” and a long review process, granted conditional approval to energy giant Shell to begin oil drilling in the Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska.

The move has upset environmental activists who are concerned the drilling will have detrimental effects.

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The Interior Department wrote in a statement that Shell could begin drilling in the Chukchi Sea once several environmental conditions are met, including a sign-off from agencies assessing the impact on endangered species. State agencies must also approve the plan.

The Department of Defense is looking into climate change’s effects on the military’s more than 7,000 bases and the need for the National Guard as extreme weather events continue.

“You are part of the first generation of officers to begin your service in a world where the effects of climate change are so clearly upon us. Climate change will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip, and protect their infrastructure, today and for the long-term,” Obama said.

As the administration has struggled this week to a cohesive plan to combat ISIS following the fall of Ramadi, many were not pleased with his choice to focus on climate change during Wednesday’s speech, instead of other pressing issues such as terrorism. Before the President took the stage late morning, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) tweeted, “In his speech today, President Obama must address the national security threat of ISIS- not climate change.”

Following his commencement speech, the President posed with the new USCG ensigns while presenting their commissions. He was then given a commemorative mug as a thank you gift for speaking by the class of 2015.

This is not the first time Obama has focused on the negative impacts of climate change. Recently the President dedicated his weekly radio address to the topic before travelling to Florida on Earth Day to address the issue from the Everglades National Park.

The Obama administration has ramped up actions meant to curb the effects of climate change, including the announcement of a plan earlier this year to cut green house gas emissions in the United States by up to 28 percent over the next 10 years.

The executive actions – taken after legislative moves appeared all but impossible – could form a major part of Obama’s environmental legacy.

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CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.