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National Intelligence Strategy: Climate change is a “pressure point”

national intelligence strategy 2019By John Conger

On January 22, Dan Coates, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released the 2019 National Intelligence Strategy, outlining priorities and objectives for the intelligence community over the coming years.

In the Strategic Environment section, the DNI addresses changes that are defining the increasingly complex global environment.  After discussing traditional adversaries and evolving threats in new domains such as space and cyber, he talks about the strains that governments are feeling and how they may incite violence.  He specifically cites climate changes as a key pressure point that will challenge the capacities of governments around the world.

Here is the full paragraph:

Increasing migration and urbanization of populations are also further straining the capacities of governments around the world and are likely to result in further fracturing of societies, potentially creating breeding grounds for radicalization. Pressure points include growing influxes of migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons fleeing conflict zones; areas of intense economic or other resource scarcity; and areas threatened by climate changes, infectious disease outbreaks, or transnational criminal organizations.

These strategies are only released every 4-5 years, with the last two issued in 2014 and 2009. So how does this compare to past national intelligence strategies?

Well, it just so happens that we wrote about the other two as well. Here (and below) is the Center for Climate and Security’s review of the 2014 and 2009 National Intelligence Strategy. See if you can spot the differences.


September 19, 2014
By Caitlin Werrell and Francesco Femia

The 2014 National Intelligence Strategy (NIS) was released this week. This is the third NIS, a strategy document developed approximately every four years. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, notes in the forward that “we are facing the most diverse set of threats I’ve seen in my 50 years in the intelligence business…We face significant changes in the domestic and global environment and must be ready to meet 21st century challenges and to recognize emerging opportunities.” Indeed, climate change is a unique “threat multiplier” that is likely to disrupt the security environment in complex ways, both predictably and otherwise.

The 2014 NIS mentions climate change specifically in the “Global Environment” section of the “Strategic Environment” portion of the strategy, stating:

Many governments will face challenges to meet even the basic needs of their people as they confront demographic change, resource constraints, effects of climate change, and risks of global infectious disease outbreaks. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions—conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence. The risk of conflict and mass atrocities may increase.

The NIS also has a section devoted to “Natural Resources” under the “Strategic Environment” section, wherein resource stresses that will be exacerbated by climate change are mentioned:

Competition for scarce resources, such as food, water, or energy, will likely increase tensions within and between states and could lead to more localized or regional conflicts, or exacerbate government instability.

For comparison, climate change was also included in two sections of the 2009 National Intelligence Strategy. Under the section “Strategic Environment” and “transnational forces and trends:”

Climate change and energy competition may produce second-order effects for national security as states anticipate the effects of global warming (e.g., by contesting water resources in regions with limited potable sources) and seek to secure new energy sources, transport routes, and territorial claims…

And under the “Mission Objective” section “MO 3: Provide Strategic Intelligence and Warming.”

The issues and trends that will shape the future security environment—economic instability, state failure, the ebb and flow of democratization, emergence of regional powers, changing demographics and social forces, climate change, access to space, pandemic disease, and the spread of disruptive technologies, to name just a few—will test the Intelligence Community’s ability to provide strategic warning and avoid surprise.

Click here for a list of other unclassified U.S. intelligence documents that address the security implications of climate change.


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