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Director of National Intelligence: Climate Change in the Worldwide Threat Assessment

James_R._Clapper_official_portraitJames R. Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI), delivered remarks yesterday to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding the recently-released “Worldwide Threat Assessment” of the U.S. Intelligence Community. In it, Clapper identifies climate change as a threat to national security under the assessment’s “natural resources” basket. He begins with a description of why the threat assessment includes natural resource issues:

This year we include natural resources as a factor affecting national security, because shifts in human geography, climate, disease, and competition for natural resources have national security implications.

He continues on climate change in the context of food security, and the stability of fragile regions:

Terrorists, militants and international crime groups are certain to use declining local food security to gain legitimacy and undermine government authority. Intentional introduction of a livestock or plant disease could be a greater threat to the United States and the global food system than a direct attack on food supplies intended to kill humans. So there will almost assuredly be security concerns with respect to health and pandemics, energy and climate change. Environmental stresses are not just humanitarian issues. They legitimately threaten regional stability.

The “Statement for the Record” on the Worldwide Threat Assessment by Director Clapper outlines eight “global threats,” including the aforementioned section on natural resources, with “climate change and demographics” as a subsection. That subsection reads:

Food security has been aggravated partly because the world’s land masses are being affected by weather conditions outside of historical norms, including more frequent and extreme floods, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, coastal high water, and heat waves. Rising temperature, for example, although enhanced in the Arctic, is not solely a high-latitude phenomenon. Recent scientific work shows that temperature anomalies during growing seasons and persistent droughts have hampered agricultural productivity and extended wildfire seasons. Persistent droughts during the past decade have also diminished flows in the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Niger, Amazon, and Mekong river basins.
Demographic trends will also aggravate the medium- to long-term outlooks for resources and energy. Through roughly 2030, the global population is expected to rise from 7.1 billion to about 8.3 billion; the size of the world’s population in the middle class will expand from the current 1 billion to more than 2 billion; and the proportion of the world’s population in urban areas will grow from 50 percent to about 60 percent—all putting intense pressure on food, water, minerals, and energy.
The subsection on “water” also addresses climate change as a stressor, stating: “Risks to freshwater supplies—due to shortages, poor quality, floods, and climate change—are growing.” The section continues by highlighting the impacts of climate-exacerbated water shortages on economic performance and power generation:

Water shortages and pollution will also harm the economic performance of important US trading
partners. Economic output will suffer if countries do not have sufficient clean water to generate electrical power or to maintain and expand manufacturing and resource extraction. In some countries, water shortages are already having an impact on power generation, and frequent droughts are undermining long-term plans to increase hydropower capacity. With climate change, these conditions will continue to deteriorate.

For further analysis of the document, see Andrew Holland and Danielle Parillo’s blog at the American Security Project.


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