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White House, intelligence agencies, Pentagon warn…”Climate Change threatens global security”

As the United States and nations around the world struggle to blunt the effects of rising temperatures and extreme weather, sweeping assessments released Thursday by the White House, the U.S. intelligence community and the Pentagon conclude that climate change will exacerbate long-standing threats to global security.

Together, the reports show a deepening concern within the U.S. security establishment that the shifts unleashed by climate change can reshape U.S. strategic interests, offer new opportunities to rivals such as China, and increase instability in nuclear states such as North Korea and Pakistan. The reports emerge as world leaders prepare to gather in Glasgow next month for crucial U.N. climate talks.

And they suggest that the Biden administration is preparing to take on the national security consequences of global warming after four years of inaction under former president Donald Trump. During his presidency, climate-related security assessments were routinely suppressed because they did not match his administration’s skeptical stance toward climate science.

Shortly after President Biden came to office, he ordered that climate change play a far more prominent role in U.S. security strategy.

Climate Security ThreatNow U.S. climate strategists are roaring to the forefront. The Pentagon report in particular marks a change in how the U.S. military establishment is incorporating climate issues into its security strategy, analysts said. Until now, when the Defense Department has considered climate change, it has tended to focus on how floods and extreme heat can affect military readiness rather than the broader geopolitical consequences of a warming world. Now it is worried climate change could lead to state failure.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin came right to the point:

“Climate Change is altering the strategic landscape and shaping the security environment, posing complex threats to the United States and nations around the world.”

“To deter war and protect our country, the [Defense] Department must understand the ways climate change affects missions, plans, and capabilities.”

The new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on climate, a first-of-its kind document by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, builds on other grim warnings from national security officials about how a changing climate could upend societies and topple governments.

“We assess that climate change will increasingly exacerbate risks to U.S. national security interests as the physical impacts increase and geopolitical tensions mount about how to respond to the challenge,” the document states. It also concludes that while momentum to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases is growing, “current policies and pledges are insufficient” to meet the goals that countries laid out in the landmark Paris climate accord.

“This NIE warning represents a valuable iteration on findings from past intelligence assessments,” said Rod Schoonover, who was the director of environment and natural resources at the National Intelligence Council in the Obama and Trump administrations.  “However, the report lacks a singular top-line statement that adequately conveys the seriousness and immediacy of the multifactorial risks associated with ongoing climate-linked stresses, and humanity’s tendency to increase its own vulnerability to these stresses.”

The Prospects for a Global Accord addressing Climate Change threats

The NIE offers a dim assessment of the prospects for unified international action as countries argue over who should act sooner, compete for control and economic advantage in attempts to come together in a global clean energy transition. Most countries face difficult economic choices and count on technological breakthroughs to rapidly reduce their net emissions at some future date while continuing with business-as-usual.

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