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Worldwide Threat Assessment: Climate Magnifying Instability

James_R._Clapper_official_portraitThe U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held a hearing on Feb. 8, 2016 on the Worldwide Threat Assessment, which is released by the National Intelligence Council every year. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s opening statement included mention of a range of threats. With regards to climate change, he noted:

Unpredictable instability has become the “new normal,” and this trend will continue for the foreseeable future…Extreme weather, climate change, environmental degradation, rising demand for food and water, poor policy decisions and inadequate infrastructure will magnify this instability.

Director Clapper also noted the complexity of the risks the nation is facing and his hesitancy to try and rank these threats “at any moment they can jump up and bite you.” We agree.

As we noted last year, this is not the first time climate change has been included in the Worldwide Threat Assessment. Indeed, climate change has been a visible feature of the U.S. intelligence community’s concerns since at least 2008, with the release of the National Intelligence Assessment (NIA) on the National Security Implications of Climate Change to 2030 and the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World. Beyond these documents, the U.S. intelligence community’s concerns about climate change go back to the early 1990s, with the creation of the Medea program.

For more on climate change in previous Worldwide Threat Assessments, and additional documents from the U.S. intelligence community on climate change risks (including Worldwide Threat Assessments from previous years) see the intelligence section of our Climate Security Resource Hub.


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