MEMORIAL DAY STUDY: THE MILITARY SEES CLIMATE CHANGE AS A ‘CATALYST FOR CONFLICT’
National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change
May 2014 (Center for Naval Analysis Military Advisory Board)
CNA’s Military Advisory Board (MAB) first addressed the national security implications of climate change in our 2007 report—National Security and the Threat of Climate Change. We gather again as a group of 16 retired Generals and Admirals from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps to re-examine climate change in the context of a more informed, but more complex and integrated world, and to provide an update to our 2007 findings.
We are compelled to conduct this update now because of nearly seven years of developments in scientific climate projections; observed climate changes, particularly y in the Arctic; the toll of observed extreme weather events both at home and abroad; and changes in the global security environment. Although we have seen some movement in mitigation and other areas where climate adaptation and resilience are starting to be included in planning documents, we gather again because of our growing concern over the lack of comprehensive action by both the United States and the international community to address the full spectrum of projected climate change issues.
The specific questions addressed in this update are:
1. Have new threats or opportunities associated with projected climate change or its effects emerged since our last report? What will be the impacts on our military?
2. The 2014 National Climate Assessment indicates that climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present. What additional responses should the national security community take to reduce the risks posed to our nation and to the elements of our National Power (Political, Military, Social, Infrastructure, and Information systems (PMESII))?
Actions by the United States and the international community have been insufficient to adapt to the challenges associated with projected climate change. Strengthening resilience to climate impacts already locked into the system is critical, but this will reduce long-term risk only if improvements in resilience are accompanied by actionable agreements s on ways to stabilize climate change.
Scientists around the globe are increasing their confidence, narrowing their projections, and reaffirming the likely causes of climate change. As described in Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment: “Heat-trapping gases already in the atmosphere have committed us to a hotter future with more climate-related impacts over the next few decades. The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally, now and in the future.”1 Some in the political realm continue to debate the cause of a warming planet and demand more data. Yet MAB member General Gordon Sullivan, United States Army, Retired, has noted: “Speaking as a soldier, we never have 100 percent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”
Climate mitigation and adaptation efforts are emerging in various places around the world, but the extent of these efforts to mitigate and adapt to the projections are insufficient to avoid significant potential water, food, and energy insecurity; political instability; extreme weather events; and other manifestations of climate change. Coordinated, wide-scale, and well-executed actions to limit heat-trapping gases and increase resilience to help prevent and protect against the worst projected climate change impacts are required—now.
The potential security ramifications of global climate change should be serving as catalysts for cooperation and change. Instead, climate change impacts are already accelerating instability in vulnerable areas of the world and are serving as catalysts for conflict.
As we identified in our 2007 report—and as the Department of Defense’s (DOD) 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) echoed—the projected effects of climate change “... are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions —conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”2 We remain steadfast in our concern over the connection between climate change and national security.
In many areas, the projected impacts of climate change will be more than threat multipliers; they will serve as catalysts for instability and conflict. In Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, we are already seeing how the impacts of extreme weather, such as prolonged drought and flooding—and resulting food shortages, desertification, population dislocation and mass migration, and sea level rise—are posing security challenges to these regions’ governments. We see these trends growing and accelerating. To protect our national security interests both at home and abroad, the United States must be more assertive and expand cooperation with our international allies to bring about change and build resilience. The rapidly changing Arctic region is a clear example where such international cooperation and change is imperative.
Rapid population growth, especially in coastal and urban areas, and complex changes in the global security environment have made understanding the strategic security risks of projected climate changes more challenging. When it comes to thinking about the impacts of climate change, we must guard against a failure of imagination.
The world has added more than half a billion people since we began the research for our 2007 report. During this period, hundreds of millions of people have settled in urban areas and coastal regions—areas that are at increased risk to climate change effects. At the same time, geopolitical power is becoming more dispersed. Nonstate actors, such as globalized financial institutions and corporations, and even Internet- empowered individuals—or the causes they represent —are having increasing impacts on the political landscape. The world has also become more politically complex and economically and financially interdependent. We believe it is no longer adequate to think of the projected climate impacts to any one region of the world in isolation. Climate change impacts transcend international borders and geographic areas of responsibility.
When it comes to thinking about how the world will respond to projected changes in the climate, we believe it is important to guard against a failure of imagination.
For example, in the summer of 2001, it was, at least partly, stovepipes in the intelligence community and a failure of imagination by security analysts that made it possible for terrorists to use box cutters to hijack commercial planes and turn them into weapons targeting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Regarding these threats, the 9/11 Commission found “The most important failure was one of imagination. We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat. The … danger … was not a major topic for policy debate among the public, the media, or in the Congress….”3 Failure to think about how climate change might impact globally interrelated systems could be stovepipe thinking, while failure to consider how climate change might impact all elements of U.S. National Power and security is a failure of imagination.
Accelerated melting of “old ice” in the Arctic is making the region more accessible to a wide variety of human activities, including shipping, resource extraction, fisheries, tourism, and other commerce. This activity level will accelerate in the coming decades. The United States and the international community are not prepared for the pace of change in the Arctic.
In 2012, the level of ice coverage in the Arctic was lower than the historic average by more than one million square miles. While annual figures vary, the overall trend is clearly toward less ice coverage. The Arctic is rich in resources, and less ice will mean that valuable resources and shorter transit routes will be increasingly accessible. Nations, corporations, and even individuals will be anxious to exploit the opening Arctic region, even if they have to accept higher levels of risk than in other areas of the world. While the United States and the international community prepare for more Arctic activities in the future, the increased activity today brings high levels of risk to that fragile area. The U.S. military’s current construct of dividing the Arctic area of responsibility (AOR) between two Combatant Commands (CCMDs) under DOD’s Unified Command Plan likely will slow the Defense Department’s ability to generate requirements and respond. Although the United States is a member of the Arctic Council—an intergovernmental consultative group—its refusal to sign the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea will make U.S. participation in the resolution of international disputes in the Arctic more challenging.
As the world’s population and living standards continue to grow, the projected climate impacts on the nexus of water, food, and energy security become more profound. Fresh water, food, and energy are inextricably linked, and the choices made over how these finite resources will be produced, distributed, and used will have increasing security implications.
From today’s baseline of 7.1 billion people, the world’s population is expected to grow to more than 8 billion by 2025. The U.S. National Intelligence Council assesses that by 2030, population growth and a burgeoning global middle class will result in a worldwide demand for 35 percent more food and 50 percent more energy.4 Rising temperatures across the middle latitudes of the world will increase the demand for water and energy. These growing demands will stress resources, constrain development, and increase competition among agriculture, energy production, and human sustenance. In light of projected climate change, stresses on the water-food-energy nexus are a mounting security concern across a growing segment of the world.
Projected climate change impacts inside the borders of the United States will challenge key elements of our National Power and encumber our homeland security. Of particular concern are climate impacts to our military, infrastructure, economic, and social support systems.
The projected impacts of climate change—heat waves, intense rainfall, floods and droughts, rising sea levels, more acidic oceans, and melting glaciers and arctic sea ice—not only affect local communities but also, in the aggregate, challenge key elements of our National Power. Key elements of National Power include political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, and information systems.
Military. The projected impacts of climate change could be detrimental to military readiness, strain base resilience both at home and abroad, and may limit our ability to respond to future demands.
The projected impacts of climate change will strain our military forces in the coming decades. More forces will be called on to respond in the wake of extreme weather events at home and abroad, limiting their ability to respond to other contingencies. Projected climate change will make training more difficult, while at the same time, putting at greater risk critical military logistics, transportation systems, and infrastructure, both on and off base.
Infrastructure. The impacts of projected climate change can be detrimental to the physical components of our national critical infrastructure, while also limiting their capacities.
The nation depends on critical infrastructure for economic prosperity, safety, and the essentials of everyday life. Projected climate change will impact all 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified in Homeland Security planning directives. We are already seeing how extreme heat is damaging the national transportation infrastructure such as roads, rail lines, and airport runways. We also note that much of the nation’s energy infrastructure— including oil and gas refineries, storage tanks, power plants, and electricity transmission lines—are located in coastal floodplains, where they are increasingly threatened by more intense storms, extreme flooding, and rising sea levels. Projected increased temperatures and drought across much of the nation will strain energy systems with more demand for cooling, possibly dislocate and reduce food production, and result in water scarcity. Since much of the critical infrastructure is owned or operated by the private sector, government solutions alone will not address the full range of climate-related issues.
Economic. The projected impacts of climate change will threaten major sections of the U.S. economy.
According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, “The observed warming and other climatic changes are triggering wide-ranging impacts in every region of our country and throughout our economy….”5 Most of the U.S. economic sectors, including international trade, will be affected by projected climate change.
Social. The projected impacts of climate change will affect major sections of our society and stress social support systems such as first responders.
As coastal regions become increasingly populated and developed, more frequent or severe storms will threaten vulnerable populations in these areas and increase the requirements for emergency responders in terms of frequency and severity of storms. Simultaneous or widespread extreme weather events and/ or wildfires, accompanied by mass evacuations, and degraded critical infrastructure could outstrip local and federal government resources, and require the increased use of military and private sector support.
1. To lower our national security risks, the United States should take a global leadership role in preparing for the projected impacts of climate change.
This leadership role includes working with other nations, as well as with emerging nongovernmental and intergovernmental stakeholders—such as the Group of Seven (G-7), the World Trade Organization (WTO), private foundations, and so forth—to build resilience for the projected impacts of climate change. At the same time, the U.S. should lead global efforts to develop sustainable and more efficient energy solutions to help slow climate change.
2. Supported by National Intelligence Estimates, the U.S. military’s Combatant Commanders (CCDRs) should factor in the impacts of projected climate change across their full spectrum of planning and operations.
With partner nations, CCDRs should focus on building capacity and sustained resilience. Across their areas of responsibility, they should work with nations and emerging nongovernmental and intergovernmental stakeholders to lower risk in those areas where the impacts of climate change likely will serve as a catalyst for conflict.
3. The United States should accelerate and consolidate its efforts to prepare for increased access and military operations in the Arctic.
DOD and other U.S. government agencies should build on and accelerate plans recently put forward in Arctic strategic planning documents. The Arctic is already becoming viable for commercial shipping and increased resource exploitation. The time to act is now. To expedite crisis response and requirements generation, the Arctic region should be assigned to one CCMD. To provide the United States with better standing in resolving future disputes in the Arctic, the U.S. should become a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
4. Climate adaptation planning should consider the water-food-energy nexus to ensure comprehensive decision making.
Rapidly growing population and urbanization, combined with changes in weather patterns, will stress resource production and distribution, particularly water, food, and energy. These vital resources are linked, and adaptation planning must earnestly consider their interrelationships.
5. The projected impacts of climate change should be integrated fully into the National Infrastructure Protection Plan and the Strategic National Risk Assessment.
As military leaders, we know that we cannot wait for certainty. The failure to include a range of probabilities because it is not precise is unacceptable. The Strategic National Risk Assessment must include projected impacts of climate change over the coming decades so that resilience needs and requirements associated with these projections can be better defined in the National Infrastructure Protection Plan.
6. In addition to DOD’s conducting comprehensive assessments of the impacts of climate change on mission and operational resilience, the Department should develop, fund, and implement plans to adapt, including developing metrics for measuring climate impacts and resilience. The Department should place a greater emphasis on the projected impacts of climate change on both DOD facilities and associated community infrastructures.
This recommendation includes decisions to be made through any future processes, including base realignment and closure (BRAC), as well as expanding climate projections in planning and design factors for new bases, training facilities, or other infrastructure. In new or even existing bases, DOD should explore innovative solutions such as public-private partnerships to build climate change–resilient infrastructure, both on and off base. Climate change impacts should be considered in all vulnerability assessments, now and going forward.