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RELEASE: Landmark Report from Security Experts Identifies Ecological Disruption as the 21st Century’s Most Underappreciated Security Threat

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Washington DC, February 9, 2021 – The Converging Risks Lab of the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) released a landmark report today, The Security Threat That Binds Us, that identifies ecological disruption as a major and underappreciated security threat and calls on the United States to reboot its national security architecture and doctrine to better respond to this evolving threat landscape. Ongoing stresses to critical Earth systems, including to water, food, wildlife, forests and fisheries, heightens the risks of future pandemics, conflict, political instability, loss of social cohesion, economic harm, and other security outcomes.

Dr. Rod Schoonover, lead author of the report, Advisor at the Council on Strategic Risks, and former Director of Environment and Natural Resources at the National Intelligence Council, noted: “The past decade has seen a lot of deserved attention on the security implications of climate change, but the fraying of the ecological networks on which humanity depends, which is both interconnected with and distinct from climate change, poses a commensurate security threat. The U.S. and international security communities need to treat ecological disruption and climate change as conduits of serious security threats, rather than mere environmental concerns.”

The pathbreaking report, “The Security Threat That Binds Us: The Unraveling of Ecological and Natural Security and What the United States Can Do About It,” focuses on the security ramifications from large-scale destabilization and transformation of the biosphere, and ecosystems shifting to new baseline states. The report offers recommendations based on three fundamental precepts: heightened action from both the U.S. Congress and the Executive Branch to combat ecological and natural security disruptions; a greater infusion of science and scientific expertise into the national security communities; and a reboot of U.S. national security doctrine and architecture to tackle the modern threats presented by a changing planet and degradation of its embedded socio-ecological systems. Eight pillars of recommended actions by the United States include:

1. Promote International Mechanisms that Aim to Reverse and Reduce the Drivers of Ecological Disruption, which include:

Ratify the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the Law of the Sea; infuse ecological and natural security into climate change efforts; integrate sustainable agriculture and food supply into policy and science; and promote actions that combat overexploitation of natural resources

2. Promote Methods that Protect and Expand Critical Systems and Services, which include:

Counter harmful state actions towards critical resources; expand protected areas; better manage and protect protected areas; protect critical ecosystem services that span geographies

3. Build and Strengthen International Alliances, which include:

Assert global leadership on climate and ecological security; bring together ecological security communities; increase international communication on ecological risks; and develop, share, and collaborate on ecological defense frameworks

4. Treat Environmental Crimes as Serious Crimes, which include:

Prioritize anti-corruption efforts; target criminal markets as well as criminal groups; and move beyond seizures and promote effective prosecutions and deterrent penalties

5. Reduce Pandemic Risk at Point of Origin, which include:

Enhance monitoring, understanding of pathogen space, and pathogen early warning; increase assistance for One Health efforts; and address pandemic risk in the wildlife trade

6. Amplify Ecological and Natural Security Issues in the U.S Government, which include:

Create a Deputy Assistant to the President and an Office of Environmental Security within the National Security Council; infuse ecological and natural security into White House strategic planning; increase capacity for analyzing ecological and natural security issues within the intelligence community; elevate international water security issues (including their climate dimensions) within the foreign policy and national security enterprise, including at the State Department, Department of Defense and National Security Council; add more ecological and natural security issues to military-military and intelligence-intelligence engagements; and augment ecological and natural security in U.S. defense and intelligence academic curricula

7. Initiate an Ecological and Natural Security Research Agenda, which include:

Deepen understanding of linkages between ecological disruption and security; develop early warning indicators for dangerous ecological regime shifts; bring ecological forecasting to maturity; and foster more research on insect declines

8. Engage the Public on Ecological and Natural Security Issues, which include:

Deploy effective security advocates; convene high-level ecological and natural security conferences, with the participation of security, foreign policy and intelligence leaders; and expand the aperture of natural security to include the broader ecological security framework described in this report

Christine Cavallo, contributing author to the report and Fellow at the Council on Strategic Risks, stated:

“Natural security threats have evolved and strengthened within broader security landscapes. But certain drivers of ecological disruption remain as uncalculated or unconsidered risks, despite being fundamental challenges to regional and global stability. It is clear that by failing to recognize these threats, we allow critical regions to destabilize and move our planet closer to irreversible consequences in the near future.”

Isabella Caltabiano, also a contributing author and former Research and Policy Intern at the Center for Climate and Security, said:

“This report elucidates the multifaceted risks that arise from ecological disruption and shape the different dimensions of national security. Calling attention to how natural system destruction and disruption influences the United States’ interests and security is the first step in addressing this growing global issue.”

Direct inquiries to: Francesco Femia, ffemia at csrisks dot org

Read the full report: Here

Further testimonials on the report:

Dr. E. William Colglazier

“Global pandemics and climate change represent potentially catastrophic national security threats to the United States. This report makes abundantly clear that global ecological disruption must be added to that list.”

– Dr. E. William Colglazier, Editor-in-Chief of Science & Diplomacy and Senior Scholar in the Center for Science Diplomacy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Former Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, Executive Officer of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council.

The Honorable John Conger

“Since the emergence of COVID and the new focus that has been placed on non-nation-state security threats, few reports have made me think so deeply about the complex web of policy issues upon which our own national interests depend.  Climate change is a piece of this story, but the authors illustrate the broader ecological narrative in a way that is both compelling and illuminating.”

-The Honorable John Conger, Director of the Center for Climate and Security, Chair of the Climate and Security Advisory Group, Senior U.S. Advisor to the International Military Council on Climate and Security , former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) at the U.S. Department of Defense.

Francesco Femia

“As this report highlights, we are facing potentially catastrophic security threats not just from climate change, but from a broad range of ecological disruptions that are unprecedented in human history. However, as also evidenced by the analysis in the report, we have unprecedented foresign about these threats. We can see many of them coming with a degree of awareness and certainty that we could not have imagined in the past. This combination of unprecedented threat and unprecedented foresight underlines a responsibility to prepare for and prevent these disruptions, to the best of our ability. But there’s not a lot of time left. The U.S. security community, including America’s top national security leadership in the White House, should take these issues up now, and with great seriousness.”

– Francesco Femia, Co-Founder and Research Director, The Council on Strategic Risks and the Center for Climate and Security; Co-Founder and Senior Advisor, The International Military Council on Climate and Security; Former CEO of the Center for Climate and Security and the Council on Strategic Risks from 2010-2019.

Dr. Thomas Fingar

The multiple and interactive threats to the biosphere, humanity, and national security summarized in this excellent and timely study are real, intensifying, and accelerating.  Each of the many threats to the ecosystem summarized by the authors should be cause for alarm and a prod to action.  Their most worrisome message is that earlier, albeit less comprehensive, warnings were largely ignored or dismissed.  The threats they describe demand at least the attention and magnitude of effort now devoted to “conventional” threats to national security.

– Dr. Thomas Fingar, Shorenstein APARC Fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Former Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis, Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, and Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research. Oversaw production of and provided Congressional testimony on the 2008 National Intelligence Assessment on the National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030.

Brigadier General Gerald Galloway, US Army (Ret)

“Ecological disruption clearly is underway worldwide and is a threat to both national and natural security. Water is the fabric that holds ecology together and by its presence or absence impacts lives across the globe on a day-to-day basis. It is also an element that is taken for granted, perhaps even ignored, until a crisis arrives that brings its critical position to our attention. Leaders and water experts in international and national organizations find that it is largely neglected and mismanaged. Study after study has reported that water challenges have and will continue to be catalysts for conflict at the local and regional level and a major source among nations of tension that could spill into conflict. The report by Schoonover, Cavallo, and Caltabiano provides a long needed and concise description of the relationships among natural systems, and their ties to security. They make a strong case that continuing neglect of the ecological issues that face the world today creates a risk that cannot be tolerated and places a sword of Damocles over the lives of nations and individuals. The report effectively describes the linkages that exist among natural systems and identifies actions that must be taken to ensure that these natural systems, including water, will be equitably available for future generations. In the face of stark and growing realization of the threats of climate change, it is clear that the time for action is now. The report creates an effective roadmap to guide national and international action and needs to be immediately addressed by US government and national leaders.”

-Brigadier General Gerald E Galloway, US Army (Ret), PE, PHD, Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, Glenn L Martin Institute Professor of Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and an Affiliate Professor at the School of Public Policy of the University of Maryland, former Dean of the United States Military Academy and former Dean of the Faculty, Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University; National Academy of Engineering.

The Honorable Sherri Goodman

“Security in the 21st century is being fundamentally reshaped by global ecological disruption, from zoonotic disease, to climate change, to declining ocean health.  This report offers a new national narrative in which planetary health is a core element.  This report will enable decision makers in both Congress and the Executive branch to take practical steps to address ecological disruption, including pandemic risks, environmental crime, biosphere degradation, forests and fisheries, as key components of national security strategy, plans and programs.  The Biden Administration has a unique opportunity to elevate ecological security, along with climate security, to the highest levels of attention in diplomacy, development, defense, disaster planning, and scientific research.”

-Sherri Goodman, Senior Strategist and Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, Chair of the Board at the Council on Strategic Risks, Secretary General of the International Military Council on Climate and Security, and Senior Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Polar Institute and Environmental Change and Security Program. Former  first Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security).

Lukas Haynes

“When politically objective scientists warn us that a sixth mass extinction event is underway, policymakers risk ignoring the metaphorical ‘forest’ and focusing too much on the near-term health of ‘the trees’. This report should be a clarion call to policy research funders and policymakers in every branch of government: the security, development, justice and foreign policy mechanisms of the USG are ill-equipped to deal with unfolding collapse of natural systems that ensure health and prosperity. Now is the time to reinvent them and mobilize government and NGO allies to meet the challenge of the century.”

– Lukas Haynes, Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, and Executive Director of the David Rockefeller Fund.

Rear Admiral Len Hering, US Navy (Ret.)

“This is the most comprehensive and well thought out and presented piece I have read in more than 10 years. The detail to which this study outlines and explains the impacts we are to face– should we continue to ignore climate science– is extraordinary.  Methodically linking the forecast ecological disruptions to the components of national security is enlightening, and clearly shows how desperate the consequences will be if we do not act. Without exception, I know of no other piece that captures the totality of the situation we face. I truly believe this piece should be a must read at the Services War Colleges and institutions of higher learning offering courses in foreign and national policy. “

– Rear Admiral L.R. Hering, US Navy (Ret), Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, and Executive Director, I Love A Clean San Diego

The Honorable Alice Hill

“This report focuses on the issue that will dominate national security experts for decades to come:  the cascading risks that flow from environmental degradation worsened by climate change. The collision of  accelerating climate extremes with the unsustainable exploitation of the earth’s resources– through practices like overfishing, deforestation, and wildlife trafficking–will fuel transnational crime, undermine  human security, and erode global stability. The Security Threat That Binds Us provides a much-needed policy roadmap for the U.S.government to address these growing threats.”

– The Honorable Alice C. Hill, Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, Member of the Council on Strategic Risks’ Board of Directors, and Senior Fellow for Climate Change Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Former Senior Counselor to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and ex officio member of the Third National Climate Assessment.

General James Jones, US Marine Corps (Ret)

“Our world faces many threats in the 2st century. No longer can we think of threats to our security as being purely military in nature. That type of thinking ended with the 20th century. The United States has been blessed with an abundance of natural wealth and resources not seen anywhere else on the planet. For America to remain at the pinnacle of global influence, it must lead by example and by its willingness to lead in all domains possible. It must also share its knowledge and abundance with other countries that are not so fortunate. From all matters pertaining to energy, climate, food, water, fisheries, and forests, we must dedicate ourselves to helping other countries join in the 21st century revolution towards democracy, prosperity and freedom.”   

– General James Jones, US Marine Corps (Ret), Executive Chairman Emeritus of the Atlantic Council, Founder, Jones Group International, former National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and COmbatant Commander USEUCOM, and 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps.

General Ronald Keys, US Air Force (Ret)

“This report is a clarion call to arms for ecological security. The authors have laid out the multifaceted risks to natural, financial, social, and political capital that ecological destruction, disruption, and collapse pose, and it is clear and compelling how ecological and natural security is critical for all of us. The time for more studies is over. The time for choices, action, and responsibility is here.”

– General Ronald Keys, US Air Force (Ret), Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, Chairman of the CNA Military Advisory Board, and former Commander of Air Combat Command.

Dr. Marcus King

“Ecological disruptions are responsible for significant changes across numerous Earth systems, yet they remain under-studied and under-discussed. This report addresses the changing security landscape by clarifying the nexus between altering ecosystems and national security risks. Laying the foundation for an exploration of such disruptions, this report outlines tangible steps that policymakers can take to minimize ‘actorless’ security threats, such as resource insecurity and pandemics that result in part from ecological degradation.”

— Dr. Marcus King, Senior Fellow and Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, John O Rankin Associate Professor, and Director of the Master of Arts in International Affairs Program (MAIA) at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, and former foreign affairs specialist in environmental security in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Dr. Christopher Kojm

“The Council on Strategic Risks’ ecological security report documents the security ramifications of environmental disruption. In short, we are facing a national security issue of the first order.  Scientific expertise must guide the response of our defense, diplomatic and intelligence communities to this profound threat.  A new national security doctrine–and urgent action by the President and Congress–are needed now to save our planet.”

— Dr. Christopher Kojm, Director of George Washington University Elliott School’s Leadership, Ethics and Practice Initiative and Professor of Practice in International Affairs, Former Chair of the National Intelligence Council, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, and Deputy Director of the 9/11 Commission.

Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, US Navy (Ret)

The Security Threat That Binds Us sheds considerable light on the serious security implications presented by the growing threat of significant global ecological disruptions. These real and dangerous threats have been largely neglected in both national and international security doctrine, planning and preparation, and must be addressed with urgency. This report provides valuable insights into the growing threat and provides US and other global leaders and decision makers valuable recommendations on how to better recognize, organize and prepare for the challenges that are coming…soon.”

Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, US Navy (Ret), Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board. Previously served as Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command.

The Honorable Maria Otero

“This report makes the powerful case that ongoing ecological destruction and disruption need to be considered alongside climate change as critical threats deserving of heightened national security and foreign policy attention. Water insecurity worldwide is already a serious and sometimes acute threat to human and national security.  More than mere environmental concerns, such stresses to water, food, wildlife, forests, and fisheries contribute to conflict and political instability, fuel corruption and crime, and undermine human health and security. The authors effectively argue that biosphere degradation poses wide-ranging security risks, such as heightened pandemic potential, and provide a thoughtful plan for the United States to lead on addressing ecological security.”

–The Honorable Maria Otero,Former Under Secretary of Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights of the U.S. Department of State, former President’s Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, and former President of ACCION International.

Erin Sikorsky

“If there’s one thing the US national security community learns from the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be that its traditional definition of what constitutes a security threat is too narrow. This ground-breaking report on ecological security is a key step toward broadening that definition–it provides concrete examples of the risks posed by ecological disruptions and biosphere changes and clear-eyed solutions that national security practitioners can advance.”

–Erin Sikorsky, Deputy Director of the Center for Climate and Security, Director of the International Military Council on Climate and Security, and former Deputy Director, Strategic Futures Group, National Intelligence Council

Dr. Greg Treverton

“I had the great good fortune to work with Rod Schoonover when I was Chair of the National Intelligence Council.  I was the beneficiary then of his keen mind and careful science, and now the nation will benefit from those qualities of his and his collaborators.  We have known for a long time — but too often not behaved as though we knew — that the two existential threats humans face are pandemics in the short run and the climate crisis in the long.  It is well past time for us to expand our concept of “national security” accordingly, when more Americans die each day from Covid-19 than were killed in the World Trade Center attack. This report is an important benchmark in that redefinition, and it also reminds us that the threat of ecological disruption centers on the climate crisis but runs well beyond it.  With the appointment of John Kerry as the Biden administration’s special envoy for climate, the report has the unique success of having one of its main recommendations accepted before it was even printed!  It will be natural to expand Kerry’s writ — even if “special envoy for ecological disruption” is not a title that falls off the tongue — and to assure that the National Security Council is staffed to support him.”

-Dr. Greg Treverton, Senior Adviser (non-resident) with the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Professor of the practice of international relations at the University of Southern California. Former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, and Director of the RAND Corporation’s Center for Global Risk and Security.

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