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Charlie Rose and Director Clapper on Climate and National Security


Pres. Obama & VP Biden meet with James Clapper (Photo by Pete Souza)

On October 25, 2016 Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sat down with PBS’s Charlie Rose to look back on his career and six years as director of national intelligence. The conversation, hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, touched on some of the most pressing issues of the day including cybersecurity, Russia-US relations, Syria, and North Korea. Unlike in the US presidential debates, Charlie Rose managed to include a question on climate change into a broader discussion on national security and intelligence. 

ROSE: I haven’t asked you—and there’s one last question about climate. Is climate a national security issue?

CLAPPER: It certainly is. We’re seeing this already, the effects of climate on national security issues with things like availability of water, or food, or energy. And this increasingly, I believe, is going to play a big part in our national security landscape in the future.

ROSE: Director Clapper, thank you so much for joining us. (Applause.)

It is great to see questions like these being asked. That said, it’s time to move on from asking whether or not climate is a national security issue. As Clapper and a whole host of other national security and foreign policy experts across administrations and nations have noted, there are very real risks to security associated with climate change. Clapper himself last month said that in the coming decades, climate change will be “an underlying meta-driver of unpredictable instability.”

In this context, we’d like to reiterate the importance of asking better questions in order to get good answers. If we don’t get good answers, we run the risk of failing to put policies in place that address climate risks for what they are.

In this vein, here are a list of other questions Charlie Rose could have asked Director Clapper (originally listed here):

What will a rapidly melting Arctic mean for U.S.- Russia relations?  Will increased water scarcity in North Korea or Iran have implications for higher-order security issues? Will competition over migrating fish stocks increase interstate tensions in a warming South China Sea? In other words, the question is not; “Do we deal with climate change, or deal with Russia, ISIS, and Iran?” because they can’t be so easily delinked. The better questions are: “How does climate change affect our relations with Russia? How does it exacerbate instability in the Middle East? How might it help create stressed environments that non-state actors can more easily exploit?

In short, as our recent Climate Security Consensus statement makes clear, the national security community generally agrees that climate change presents a strategically-significant risk. Now it’s time to ask: “How is the national security community responding?”

For more on what some of those responses could look like, see our CSAG Briefing Book.

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