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Pandemic Highlights Serious Vulnerabilities to Transnational Security Threats In a Climate-Changed World

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Kate Guy, Chair of the Center for Climate and Security’s National Security, Military and Intelligence Panel (NSMIP), presents findings of the “Security Threat Assessment of Global Climate Change” report on Capitol Hill – Feb 26, 2020

Recent events surrounding the global coronavirus pandemic have forced us to take a hard look at the vulnerability of our modern societies. Institutions and infrastructure, from public health facilities to first responders, are facing new strains from transnational threats that most are under-prepared to deal with. These possibilities were not unprecedented, and in fact the U.S. intelligence community has been warning about the risks of global pandemics for years, including in the last three Worldwide Threat Assessments. In this context, what more can be done to prepare our societies and governments against transnational threats to come, including climate change and its attendant security consequences?

On February 24, the ‘National Security, Military, and Intelligence Panel on Climate Change’ (NSMIP) of the Center for Climate and Security released a new report assessing the security implications of projected future human-induced global warming throughout the 21st Century. Titled “A Security Threat Assessment of Global Climate Change: How Likely Warming Scenarios Indicate a Catastrophic Security Future,” the report uses two scenarios of future warming to analyze the resulting threats posed by climate change to every region of the world, as well as overall global security.

Released in a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, the report authors presented their overall findings that climate change could pose ‘High-to-Catastrophic threats to security’ at all levels, and even low warming scenarios harshly impact all regions of the world. The authors of the report also call for “net zero global emissions as soon as possible” in order to avoid that security future, as well as major investments in climate-proofing society for inevitable climatic changes. The briefing was held in partnership with the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), and the video can be watched in full here and below.

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The report outlines many ways in which climate change will exacerbate global insecurity and pose new challenges – from sea level rise threatening heavily populated coastal cities, to resource strains fraying governance in vulnerable areas. It’s findings also point to future climate changed-fueled public health crises, as warmer climates make the spread of vector-borne diseases wider and longer.

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Introducing the panel, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation’s Craig Gannet highlighted the extraordinary recommendation from a group of sober-minded national security, military and intelligence experts: “Net-zero global emissions as quickly as possible” in order to avoid a severe and catastrophic security future.
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Speaking on the panel, Center for Climate and Security Director John Conger forcefully summarized the report findings, stating “catastrophic climate impact will cause catastrophic security implications.” He invited policymakers to listen to the warnings of the security experts by finding a way to avoid such untenable, climate-induced security implications.

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Principal Investigator and NSMIP Chair Kate Guy, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security, presented those recommendations, the first of which calls on the world phase-out of all greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, in a way that is “ambitious, safe, equitable, and well-governed.” The authors also recommend ‘climate-proofing’ all security environments, institutions, and infrastructure, while prioritizing climate threats in all security-planning.

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Dr. Rod Schoonover (Advisory Board Member, the Center for Climate and Security; CEO, Ecological Futures Group; Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service; Former Director of Environment and Natural Resources, National Intelligence Council) gave the perspective of the U.S. intelligence community who is tasked with assessing risks to national security interests. He discussed how the impacts of climate climate changes could lead to increased political instability, social in-cohesion, and widening ungoverned spaces across the world, long-term effects which are discussed throughout the report.

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Hon. Sherri Goodman (Chair of the Board, the Council on Strategic Risks; Senior Strategist, the Center for Climate and Security; Secretary General, the International Military Council on Climate and Security; Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security) gave an overview of how the U.S. security community has used reports like the Threat Assessment in the past to better understand and plan for climate risks, including through the introduction of new policy and legislation.

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Amb. Rich Kauzlarich (Co-Director, Center for Energy Science and Policy, George Mason University; Former National Intelligence Officer for Europe; Former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, & Bosnia and Herzegovina) called on the need for stronger international partnerships to confront the security challenges posed by climate change, and the need for the deployment of diplomatic resources alongside the security community.
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Finally, General Gordon Sullivan (US Army, Ret.) emphasized the need for climate threats to be fully integrated into national security strategies. ““My question is, ‘Is the U.S. going to lead or are we going to stand around and watch?’” he concluded.

Since its launch, the report has received wide attention from national and international press. The full press release is available here. The Threat Assessment’s findings were published in the articles below, and further communicated by a wide array of security leaders, lawmakers, experts and academics, international organizations, journalists, and political candidates. 

Press: A Security Threat Assessment of Global Climate Change

USA Today | Climate change could be a ‘catastrophic’ national security threat, report warns

The Hill | Report warns climate change could become ‘catastrophic’ global, national security threat

Reuters | Climate change could pose ‘catastrophic’ security threat, experts warn

Forbes | Six Unfolding Climate Scenarios That Keep Security Experts Up At Night (Including Pandemics)

Scientific American (E&E News) | National Security Experts Call for Eliminating Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Yahoo News | Climate change could lead to global catastrophe, new report warns

Mic | Climate change could be “catastrophic” to national security, according to new report

International Business Times | Climate Change Becoming ‘Catastrophic’ Threat To National Security, Report Warns

International Business Times | Climate Change News: Report Warns Of Catastrophe If Global Warming Unchecked

The Weather Channel | Climate Change Poses ‘Catastrophic’ Threat to National Security, Report Says

Washington Examiner | Daily on Energy: National Security Risk of Climate Change is Inevitable

Nasdaq.com | ETFs to Combat Climate Change

EP Online | First-Ever Climate Report by a Non-Partisan, Security Body Relates Climate Change to Global Instability

New Europe | Heat wave melts 20% of Antarctica’s snow: New US report warns climate change could be a catastrophic national security threat

Manila Times | Climate change to lead to war, unrest

BreakingNews.fr | Des experts de la sécurité nationale réclament l’élimination des émissions de gaz à effet de serre

Der Standard | Erderwärmung stellt die Welt vor katastrophale, irreversible Sicherheitsprobleme

Tagesspiegel | Climate change is undermining Europe’s security

Press TV | Climate change could become a ‘catastrophic’ threat to global security: US security experts

Homeland Security Today | Security Experts Warn of ‘High to Catastrophic’ Threats from Climate Change

Homeland Security Digital Library | Global Security Depends on Climate Change Mitigation

ZME Science | Need another reason to fight climate change? It’s a “catastrophic” security threat

Down to Earth | Climate change will pose greater threat to global security by 2030: Military experts

Planetary Security Initiative | Irreversible security threats of global climate change

IISD Knowledge Hub | Report Warns of Climate Change Induced Global Security Risks

EcoWatch | Water Conflicts Will Intensify. Can We Predict the Worst Problems Before Conditions Boil Over?


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