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National security law expert urges resilience in the face of climate threats

Kristen Eichensehr delivers the keynote on “Resilience in a World of Multifaceted Threats.”

Kristen Eichensehr delivers the keynote on “Resilience in a World of Multifaceted Threats.”

June 14, 2023 — Kristen Eichensehr, Director of the National Security Law Center at the University of Virginia Law School, said that preparation is key to mitigating the threats of climate change, during the 7th Annual North American Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Conference this spring. She was the keynote speaker.

“Climate change has been forecast for decades, and it really seems to be playing out in the form of a sort of slow-moving disaster, but each manifestation from extreme heat causes rolling blackouts in California to winter storms in Texas to stronger, more frequent, hurricanes come from a manifestation that is seen as sort of a surprise,” Eichensehr said. “However, none of them should be a surprise, or at least as surprising, as they are.”

The conference’s theme was, “Increasing Risk to Energy Security: Taking on political, climatic and criminal risks to North American Energy Supply.” Providing a platform for 20+ speakers, it sparked engagement through discussions about the interweaving of climate and energy systems and what can be done to address the consistent worsening of the production and distribution of energy sources relative to climate changes.

Importance of Resilience

Eichensehr, who is also the Martha Lubin Karsh and Bruce A. Karsh Bicentennial Professor of Law at the University of Virginia Law School, discussed geopolitical tensions, cyber operations, and threats. She stated that major incidents are often met with expressions of shock instead of prevention.

Eichensehr discussed the multifaceted threats faced worldwide, critically breaking them apart and presenting resilience as an important outline for strategic responses. By highlighting the extent to which the public bears the brunt of the dismay to the international system, she specifically noted spark escalations and risks from supply chain disruptions. She presented different strategies to prevent geopolitical developments and cyber operations, the standard approach being that the adversary is at a disadvantage if it attacks because the cost is too high.

“This is probably the most classic conception of deterrence when you think about mutually assured destruction in the Cold War,” Eichensehr said. “It's the threat to hit back and impose costs on an adversary if they strike at you, and costs can take various forms; it can be retaliatory actions in kind.”

Incorporating the ability to withstand and recover from adverse events into individual business planning and governmental planning is important. Such resilience is key to minimizing disruption, but unintended consequences are common and must be anticipated.

“This is the concern if you have interdependent networks, whether they're cyber networks or economic networks,” Eichensehr said. “The concern and the restraining effect come from the fact that the interdependence will cause the attacker not to do something that will cause them to pull back against themselves. If you have interdependent networks, whether economic, cyber or energy — that fosters deterrence.”

Impacts of Climate Change

Susan Bickley, Blank Rome, and Victor B. Flatt, UHLC EENR Center welcome participants to the Annual North American Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Conference.

Susan Bickley, Blank Rome, and Victor B. Flatt, UHLC EENR Center welcome participants to the Annual North American Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Conference.

Focused on energy efficiency in North America, panel conversations highlighted the significant impact of climate change on electricity and other energy supplies.

Hannah Wiseman, Professor of Law at Penn State University and Distinguished UHLC Visitor, spoke about energy conflicts in the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) 2022 Annual Report in the second panel, “Impacts of the changing climate on electricity and other energy supplies.”

On the panel with Wisemen were Pablo Pinto, Hobby School of Public Affairs, Victor Flatt, Dwight Olds Chair in Law and Co-Director of the EENR Center; and moderator Tracy Hester, Instructional Associate Professor of Law and Co-Director of EENR Center.

Wisemen presented the Electric Reliability Organization Enterprise’s collective mission and plan of the North American bulk power system during a time of massive restructuring.

“A priority risk mentioned in the NERC report is that of critical infrastructure interdependency, which those of you in Texas are more than familiar with based on 2021 events in which the connected network, ranging from the natural gas wells to the pipelines to the power plants and even to the cell towers that were essential for those during Covid to use in order to fix the infrastructural problems,” Wiseman said. “Those were all influenced by, in this case, extreme weather that contributed to reliability issues.”

Industrial carbon emissions, vehicular productivity and more frequent extreme weather events are all affecting the availability and reliability of energy sources like natural gas, coal and hydropower while contributing to climate change. We need to transition away from traditional fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy. These sources are not only more sustainable but also less vulnerable to weather-related disruptions.

The Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center (EENR), UH Law Center’s Initiative on Global Law and Policy for the Americas, UH Energy, UH Hobby School of Public Policy, Gutierrez Energy Management Institute (GEMI) at the UH Bauer College of Business, Coleman P. Burke Center for Environmental Law at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Blank Rome LLP and the University of Calgary Faculty of Law co-sponsored the event.

For more about the 7th Annual North American Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Conference, click here.

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