Why national security agencies need to analyze climate risks
July marked the initial deadline for the Pentagon and other federal agencies to develop plans for potential climate risks, as part of a Executive Decree by President Biden. Such plans are an essential first step, but the biggest challenge for national security agencies is to continue to focus on the changing climatic conditions which pose a complex two-pronged threat: social and political instability abroad. and damage to US infrastructure.
Climate change is accelerating geopolitical tensions in many regions of major strategic interest to the United States. More and more destructive storms, rising seas and the arctic melting fuel global tensions, with nations bracing for massive migrations of displaced people and competing to take advantage of newly accessible natural resources. Climate change has become a catalyst for internal conflicts and international unrest, with severe droughts playing a role in paving the way for the syrian civil war and the drop in the level of the lakes of Lake Chad contributing to widespread violence across the four African nations of the lake basin.
Even in places where cclimate change has not directly triggered conflicts, it appears to be a threat multiplier, exacerbating competition for food and water and aggravating ethnic tensions. The Defense Department highlighted these risks earlier this year in its first climate and environmental security tabletop exercise, known as the Elliptical thunder. Set in East Africa and based on climate, economic and demographic forecasts, the multi-agency exercise highlighted how climate change can exacerbate natural disasters and trigger regional instability, opening the door to rivals strategic and extremist groups to gain power.
Closer to home, altered weather conditions and warming temperatures are hitting military installations across the country. From devastating effects Hurricane Michael at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida at thaw and erosion in Alaska, which is undermining the foundations of vital radar installations, climate change is costing billions of dollars while degrading the military readiness of the United States. More generally, coastal waves, floods, heat waves and forest fires weigh heavily on US transportation networks and energy systems, threatening supply disruptions and increasing the cost and complexity of potential defense operations. .
As climate change becomes a central goal for national security decision-makers, scientists are gaining new knowledge about the complex interconnections of The Earth’s climate system. By collaborating with a range of stakeholders, they also contribute to the development of actionable projections of climate impacts in specific regions.
In a notable breakthrough, for example, a research team drew on the complex interactions of the ocean and the atmosphere to demonstrate that changes in Arctic sea ice cover can be predicted over several years. in advance. This is critical to the security interests of the United States at a time when changing ocean circulation patterns and salinity affect how submarines maintain their stealth characteristics and track Russian and other activities in the world. Warming Arctic. Russia is taking advantage of global warming to rearm itself in the Arctic, conducting high-level military exercises in the region earlier this year and launching increasingly powerful icebreakers as President Vladimir Putin vows to strengthen the presence of his country in the region. Growing international tensions are also looming over the trillions of dollars in natural resources that are becoming more accessible due to the retreat of the sea ice.
Looking further into the future, scientists are studying how storms are likely to change later this century in ways that could lead to floods or forest fires caused by lightning in parts of North America and overseas regions. This type of research is essential for designing more resilient infrastructure and anticipating changes in weather conditions that can displace vulnerable populations.
To better understand how the climate is likely to change and to what extent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could reduce future impacts, the government needs to increase funding for science in a way that supports policymakers. The research and analytical community needs more powerful supercomputers, next-generation observational tools such as advanced satellites and improved models of regional climate conditions, as well as improvements in advanced techniques such as artificial intelligence.
Investments in climate research and analysis will pay off in producing increasingly detailed and reliable projections of the climate threats facing the United States at the regional scale at which decisions are made and conflicts arise. . It will also produce economic benefits, with private companies already generating jobs that provide climate risk services to many sectors of the economy, from real estate to banking.
The analysis of climate risks, properly deployed, will also strengthen the country’s resilience to extreme events, ranging from the type of icy epidemics that crippled electrical and water systems across Texas and neighboring states from last winter to summer extreme heat and drought which now threaten the West. Engineers, with detailed information on the increased risk of environmental factors such as sea level rise and increasingly severe flooding, will be better equipped to protect military bases from the impacts of climate change. Such impacts will be particularly costly if society fails to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: an estimate $ 100 billion The value of Navy facilities, for example, would be threatened by a sea level rise of one meter or more that could occur if warming continues unchecked.
The best climate research, however, will have limited national security value unless military leaders fully integrate climate risks into their planning. This represents a major challenge for institutions, such as the Defense Ministry and the intelligence community, which are just beginning to rebuild climate expertise after losing staff in recent years who had specialized in environmental and climate security. U.S. defense and foreign policy agencies must train a generation of climate-smart national security analysts skilled in both climate change and national security. Agencies are expected to recruit these next-gen talent now, as the momentum behind Biden’s climate ambition is high.
The good news is that national security agencies can now use climate risk analysis to help both make military bases more resilient and understand how changing weather conditions in various parts of the world fuel migration, terrorism. and even the gray zone war by China and Russia. The Pentagon and other agencies, however, must go beyond an examination of temperature and precipitation to build a multidimensional vision of how global warming can change the security landscape. This includes analyze the cascading political, economic, social and technological impacts of climate change. Officials need of remain alert to the potential for even subtle climatic variations, such as small changes in storm tracks and drought conditions, which can have far-reaching effects in areas of the world that are already potentially unstable.
A better understanding of climate change brings an added benefit: the ability of the United States to help other nations. This type of soft power can help counter China and other adversaries, who use their climate knowledge to develop relationships with countries particularly vulnerable to weather and climate disasters. For example, in recent years, Fiji and Kiribati have moved their diplomatic presence from Taiwan to Beijing as a sign of assent to China’s growing influence in the region. The United States must use its growing capacity for climate risk analysis and climate forecasting to help its Pacific island allies better prepare for the climate disasters they are already experiencing, from devastating typhoons to the loss of freshwater that forces Kiribati to plan its migration to Fiji. .
An essential part of Biden’s many climate-led climate plans Executive Decree will be sufficient funding to allow assessment and forecasting of climate risks on an ongoing basis. Some kind of funding is needed to provide climate risk analysts across America’s defense and intelligence communities. These analysts are a new generation of security-trained scientists, just as the country created a cyber defense force a decade ago to tackle cyber threats. The second type of funding will support cutting-edge research and development within the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, as well as other defense and intelligence accounts, to enable the application of the vast mine of defense and intelligence technologies to climate challenges. This effort is already underway and will need to be expanded in future federal budgets.
By placing more emphasis on the threat of climate change, the United States can look to NATO as an example. Recognizing the importance of climate change, the North Atlantic Alliance has developed in recent months a climate change and security program. It calls for annual assessments of the effect of climate change on NATO’s strategic environment and its assets, facilities, missions and operations while supporting research on the potential impacts of the climate on security. The agenda also calls on NATO to take action to adapt to climate change and reduce emissions from military activities and installations.
As the spread of the new coronavirus has shown, a seemingly minor development in a remote part of the globe can quickly affect the entire world. We have been encouraged by recent developments months in the Pentagon and other national security agencies that take the complex climate threat seriously. A forward-looking policy, while difficult to implement, is the country’s best strategy to counter the most dangerous impacts of climate change on national security that threaten both stability abroad and America’s infrastructure, thus contributing to preserve the future of the country.