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BRIEFER: Climate Change as a “Threat Multiplier”: History, Uses and Future of the Concept

By Sherri Goodman and Pauline Baudu

Edited by Erin Sikorsky and Francesco Femia

“Threat multiplier” has become a widely used term by scholars and practitioners to describe climate change implications for security in both the policy realm and climate-security literature. The term was coined in 2007 by the CNA (Center for Naval Analyses) Military Advisory Board under the leadership of Sherri Goodman. It captures how climate change effects interact with and have the potential to exacerbate pre-existing threats and other drivers of instability to contribute to security risks. The concept has been characterized as “definitional” in having “set a baseline for how to talk about the issue” and having shaped “the way in which people studying climate policy think about risks.” Its use has also been described as “one of the most prominent ways in which the security implications of climate change have been understood.”

This briefer provides an account of the history of the “threat multiplier” term from its creation in the context of the environmental security era in 2007 to its progressive adoption by military, policy, and academic circles in the United States and abroad. It then examines the different conceptual ramifications that have derived from the term and its evolutions in capturing changing climate security realities.


  1. Origin of the term: from environmental security to climate security
    The environmental security era
    Coining “threat multiplier”: Sherri Goodman and the CNA
    Main contributions of the term in framing climate security
  2. Adoption: Shaping perspectives of the climate and defense communities in the U.S. and abroad
    Mentions in U.S. legislation and security policy documents
    Broader influence on foreign and international policymaking
  3. Conceptual developments: the future of “threat multiplier” in evolving climate security realities
    A debated term
    Scholarly evolutions: looking ahead to advance the climate-security framing
  4. Conclusion
  5. Appendix: List of notable “threat multiplier” references
    U.S. references
    International references
    Civil society and academia

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