Future Climate Change Presents High-to-Catastrophic Security Threat, Warn U.S. National Security, Military, Intelligence Experts

Washington, DC, February 24, 2020 – In a comprehensive report released today by the “National Security, Military and Intelligence Panel (NSMIP)” of the Center for Climate and Security, experts warn of High-to-Catastrophic threats to security from plausible climate change trajectories – the avoidance of which will require “quickly reducing and phasing out global greenhouse gas emissions.” The panel, made up of national security, military and intelligence experts, analyzed the globe through the lens of the U.S. Geographic Combatant Commands, and concluded that “Even at scenarios of low warming, each region of the world will face severe risks to national and global security in the next three decades. Higher levels of warming will pose catastrophic, and likely irreversible, global security risks over the course of the 21st century.”

The report will be officially launched this afternoon at 3:30pm EST in a briefing at the Rayburn House Office Building (Gold Room 2168) featuring distinguished members of the expert panel. The briefing will also be webcast live, and is hosted by the Center for Climate and Security (CCS), an institute of the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR),  in partnership with the Henry M. Jackson Foundation (HMJ) and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI).

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The report, titled “A Security Threat Assessment of Global Climate Change: How Likely Warming Scenarios Indicate a Catastrophic Security Future,” is a first of its kind, bringing together a panel of security professionals to analyze the security implications of two future warming scenarios (near term: 1-2°C and medium-long term: 2-4+°C). It identifies major threats, including heightened social and political instability, and risks to U.S. military missions and infrastructure, as well as security institutions, at both warming scenarios and across all regions of the world. Key findings and recommendations include:

Key findings

  1. A near-term scenario of climate change, in which the world warms 1-2°C/1.8-3.6°F over pre-industrial levels by mid-century, would pose ‘High’ to ‘Very High’ security threats. A medium-to-long term scenario in which the world warms as high as 2-4+°C/3.6-7.2°F would pose a ‘Very High’ to ‘Catastrophic’ threat to global and national security. The world has already warmed to slightly below 1°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures.
  2. At all levels of warming (1-4+°C/1.8-7.2+°F), climate change will pose significant and evolving threats to global security environments, infrastructure, and institutions.
  3. While at lower warming thresholds, the most fragile parts of the world are the most at risk, all regions of the world will face serious implications. High warming scenarios could bring about catastrophic security impacts across the globe.
  4. These threats could come about rapidly, destabilizing the regions and relationships on which U.S. and international security depend.
  5. Climate change will present significant threats to U.S. military missions across all of its geographic areas of responsibility (AORs), as well as to regional security institutions and infrastructure that are critical for maintaining global security.

Key recommendations

  1. Mitigating these risks requires quickly reducing and phasing out global greenhouse gas emissions. We call for the world to achieve net-zero global emissions as soon as possible in a manner that is ambitious, safe, equitable, and well-governed, in order to avoid severe and catastrophic security futures.
  2. The world must also “climate-proof” environments, infrastructure, institutions, and systems on which human security depends, and so we call for rapidly building resilience to current and expected impacts of climate change. With future-oriented investments in adaptation, disaster response, and peacebuilding
  3. In the United States, we call for renewed efforts to prioritize, communicate, and respond to climate security threats, and to integrate these considerations across all security planning.

Highlighting the key findings of the report, members of the National Security, Military and Intelligence Panel (NSMIP) stated:

It’s the job of the U.S. intelligence community to anticipate risks to national security, and provide strategic warning to appropriate policymakers. The science has long been clear, and the security community is adding compelling analysis of the threats climate change pose to people and nations. It’s long past time for vigorous action to address them.” – Dr. Rod Schoonover, Advisory Board Member, Center for Climate and Security; Founder and CEO, Ecological Futures Group; Former Senior Analyst and Senior Scientist, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Department of State and Former Director of Environment and Natural Resources at the National Intelligence Council (NIC)

“The assessment is clear – climate change is a pressing risk to national and global security, and will evolve to become a severe and systemic threat the more we allow global temperatures to rise. Our Panel’s analysis shows that no region of the world will be left unaffected, and climate impacts will interact in dangerous ways in even near-term, lower levels of warming.”  – Hon. Sherri Goodman, Senior Strategist and Advisory Board Member, Center for Climate and Security; Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security), U.S. Department of Defense

“The negative consequences of continued climate change across the next century will affect security institutions and infrastructure.  We must recognize the resulting dire implications for global stability. Without leadership and swift action to prepare for and prevent these scenarios, American interests are at risk.” – Ambassador Richard Kauzlarich, Distinguished Visiting Professor, George Mason University; Former National Intelligence Officer for Europe and former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan and Bosnia and Herzegovina

“During my time at the Department of Defense, I saw the U.S. military take the threats posed by climate change seriously, in both its planning and operations. But there is so much more to be done. If we don’t come together to mitigate this threat, soon, American interests and security are on the line.”  – John Conger, Director, Center for Climate and Security; Former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, (Comptroller), U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)

“We don’t always have the benefit of seeing clearly the security challenges that are coming our way. As this report shows, we know that the global risks of climate change will be serious—possibly catastrophic. We have a responsibility to act with urgency to address these threats.” – Christine Parthemore, CEO of the Council on Strategic Risks

It is our hope that this analysis can be used by security professionals and policymakers alike to better understand how climate change will impact U.S. security interests and objectives. But even more importantly, hopefully these assessments will convince all decision-makers that we must act swiftly to avoid the worst of these threats to global security.” – Kate Guy, Panel Chair and Principal Investigator, Center for Climate and Security

“Though we are facing unprecedented risks from climate change, as the report shows, we also possess unprecedented foresight about those risks. This underscores a responsibility to prepare for and prevent the security consequences of a changing climate. And you don’t have to take our word for it. Scientists and national security, military and intelligence professionals agree: the risks are potentially catastrophic, and there’s a narrowing window of opportunity to do something about it.” – Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, Co-Founders and Directors of Research, The Council on Strategic Risks/ The Center for Climate and Security

Through this report, the security community is calling out loud and clear for policymakers to take the threats posed by climate change seriously. The best way to prevent the most dangerous impacts of climate change is to reach global net-zero emissions as soon as possible. Any further denial and delay will only make the lives of our children and grandchildren even less secure.” – Craig Gannett, President, Henry M. Jackson Foundation

The climate security risks posed to each region of the world are assessed in the report through the lens of the U.S. Geographic Combatant Commands. Topline risks for each area of responsibility are summarized below.

  • AFRICOM
    • Under a near-term, 1-2°C/1.8-3.6°F warming scenario, this region will likely see rapid loss of rural livelihoods, disease, resource stress, and migration. In this scenario, violent extremist groups bolster their numbers, and security threats spiral into nearby fragile areas.
    • Under a medium-to-long term, 2-4+°C/3.6-7.2+°F warming scenario, this region would experience new and renewed interstate conflict over water resources, and severe humanitarian crises resulting from migrating populations, weather disasters, and economic shocks. Security institutions may not be able to preserve stability in the region.
  • CENTCOM
    • Under a near-term, 1-2°C/1.8-3.6°F warming scenario, this region will likely experience dangerous levels of temperature rise, drought, and dwindling water supplies that intensify already tense resource, political, and territorial competition. 
    • Under a medium-to-long term, 2-4+°C/3.6-7.2+°F warming scenario, this region would experience temperatures levels that render many areas of the region uninhabitable, competition over water resources, large-scale populations displacement, and social unrest leading to enduring conflicts and state failure.
  • EUCOM
    • Under a near-term, 1-2°C/1.8-3.6°F warming scenario, this region will likely experience severe weather that threatens destabilization of its key economic sectors, rising regional inequality, migration and ethno-nationalist responses, and negative impacts on civil and military infrastructure.
    • Under a medium-to-long term, 2-4+°C/3.6-7.2+°F warming scenario, this region would experience prolonged drought and rising seas, significant internal displacement, and an influx of migrants from neighboring areas. A breakdown in regional political, institutional, and security cohesion becomes more likely.
  • INDOPACOM
    • Under a near-term, 1-2°C/1.8-3.6°F warming scenario, this region will experience water scarcity in some areas and precipitation inundation in others, posing risks to security infrastructure, social stability, and tensions between regional powers. 
    • Under a medium-to-long term, 2-4+°C/3.6-7.2+°F warming scenario, this region would experience devastating sea level rise threatening its megacities, infrastructure, and populations, and the resulting displacement and securitization of state borders. 
  • NORTHCOM
    • Under a near-term, 1-2°C/1.8-3.6°F warming scenario, this region will experience more intense, extreme events like storms and wildfires, with significant impacts on life, property, security infrastructure, and democratic institutions.
    • Under a medium-to-long term, 2-4+°C/3.6-7.2+°F warming scenario, this region would experience extreme heat, sea level rise, and disaster events, with severe impact on critical and security infrastructure. The region would become increasingly divided, and potentially entangled in resource competitions.
  • SOUTHCOM
    • Under a near-term, 1-2°C/1.8-3.6°F warming scenario, this region will likely experience extreme heat and drought, forcing communities to migrate in search of new opportunities, with transnational criminal groups, and narcotics and human traffickers taking advantage of growing destabilization.
    • Under a medium-to-long term, 2-4+°C/3.6-7.2+°F warming scenario, this region would experience even more acute weather instability, crop collapse, and spreading disease. These issues, along with failing agriculture, will increase the likelihood of violent conflict, drive significant internal and cross-border migration, and increase political instability.

The report was produced by the National Security, Military and Intelligence Panel of the Center for Climate and Security, a group of fifteen former security leaders from across the U.S. government, as well as climate security experts, who have spent their careers assessing U.S. national and global security risks. 

Read the “Security Threat Assessment of Global Climate Change” report: Here

Live webcast (connection permitting) will be streamed at: www.eesi.org/livecast

More resources:

The Center for Climate and Security (CCS) is a non-partisan security policy institute of the Council on Strategic Risks, with a distinguished team and Advisory Board of military, national security, intelligence and foreign policy experts.