SECURITY: Intel report warns of climate threats to U.S.
(06/25/2008) Lisa Friedman, ClimateWire reporter
A new U.S. national intelligence report out today warns that climate change has serious implications for U.S. national security.
The National Intelligence Council will warn Congress that climate change poses major challenges, from regional instability to water scarcity to new and growing immigration pressures, for America's military as well as its diplomatic and trade missions, according to several experts who have reviewed the first-ever U.S. government report linking climate and security.
"There's a lot at stake," said Kent Butts, a professor of political-military strategy at the U.S. Army War College.
Butts, who will testify today before a joint session of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and a House Intelligence subcommittee, called the intelligence assessment "broad."
But, he said, "It did what it needed to do. It signaled that climate change is indeed a serious issue, and it's affecting U.S. security interests globally."
The report, "National Intelligence Assessment on the National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030," comes on the heels of several international studies, mostly from Germany and the United Kingdom, warning that a failure to address climate change could destabilize nations and provoke serious threats.
Water scarcity, sea level rises, migration mean increasing instability
Indeed, members of Congress including Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) called for the intelligence report after a group of retired U.S. military leaders with the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) last year found climate change to be a serious threat to the country.
Sherri Goodman, former deputy undersecretary of defense and now general counsel of the Center for Naval Analyses, also reviwed the new intelligence report and called it consistent with the think tank's findings.
"It reflects many of the concerns that we found in terms of increased water scarcity, sea level rises, storm surges," Goodman said.
Security experts said the report details destabilizing threats in different regions of the world, focusing in particular on sub-Saharan Africa. The region is considered extraordinarily vulnerable both because of dire poverty and disease and because it will suffer higher temperatures and longer droughts, leading to water scarcity and decreased crop production.
It also points to a rise in immigration pressures, particularly from the Caribbean, as a challenge headed America's way as sea levels rise and storm surges increase. It describes the United States as largely well-equipped to deal with domestic challenges, but does note that wildfires will increase and several coastal military installations could be at risk of storm surges.
Butts said members of Congress specifically asked him to speak to security implications with China. He said he plans to tell the panels that climate change will lead to the United States and China competing for the same resources, particularly in Africa, a major source of oil for both countries. The answer, he argued, is for the countries to start working together now.
U.S. and China should cooperate in Africa
"To the degree we have destabilizing climate change in Africa, it makes sense to see the U.S. and China cooperate and help build the capacities of governments to adapt," he said, adding that the United States would be "well-served to be more proactive."
Monmouth University President and retired Adm. Paul Gaffney, a top contributor to the CNA report who reviewed an early version of the intelligence estimate, said he believes it underscores a need for detailed climate data.
In order for the U.S. government and military to respond to possible threats or step in before problems start to loom, Gaffney said scientists need to provide more localized information about weather disasters.
"When you're talking about security, you need to be more specific. Are we dealing with drought and famine? Are we dealing with floods and storms?" he said. "It makes a difference, because you might need more helicopters in one place, and in other places you might need more food drops."
Agreed Goodman, "Now we're getting a better handle on what are the right questions to ask."
Political risks heightened by food production risks
Mark Levy, deputy director of Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network, said the intelligence assessment uses a country risk-assessment the organization did recently as one basis for its findings. CEISIN ranked countries based on sea-level rise, increased water scarcity and an aggregate measure of vulnerability to higher temperatures compared to the country's ability to adapt.
"We can pinpoint areas of high projected climate change that are also in historically unstable regions. This suggests that climate change is likely to heighten political risks," Levy said.
Butts also noted that the United States will have to pay special attention to climate disasters that could destroy food production in parts of the Middle East to prevent new regions from becoming terrorist training grounds.
The intelligence assessment does not question the science of climate change, and relies on the fourth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, those who reviewed it said.
Butts said he hopes the study helps move Congress toward addressing the problems.
"I hope they will come together and move beyond the cause of climate change to focus on the security dimensions and look for common ground on a U.S. approach to dealing with this," he said.