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Last Year, the U.S. Intelligence Community Warned of a Coronavirus Pandemic: Will We Heed their Climate Warnings?

2019 Worldwide Threat AssessmentBy John Conger, Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell

In the absence of a public hearing and release of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s “Worldwide Threat Assessment” this year, it is instructive to look at last year’s assessment to see what the nation’s intelligence professionals were predicting. The following passage was particularly striking:

We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or largescale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support. Although the international community has made tenuous improvements to global health security, these gains may be inadequate to address the challenge of what we anticipate will be more frequent outbreaks of infectious diseases because of rapid unplanned urbanization, prolonged humanitarian crises, human incursion into previously unsettled land, expansion of international travel and trade, and regional climate change.

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Health-Related Costs of Climate Change Will Add Billions to Damage Assessments

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An aerial view of Offutt Air Force Base affected by major flood waters March 17, 2019. An increase in water levels caused by record-setting snowfall over the winter, and a large drop in air pressure, caused widespread flooding across the state of Nebraska. (U.S. Air Force photo by TSgt. Rachelle Blake)

By Dr. Marc Kodack

The recent physical damage and destruction of facilities and infrastructure in the United States, both on and off military installations (e.g., Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida from Hurricane Michael in 2018 and  Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska due to flooding from the Missouri River in 2019), will cost billions of dollars to repair or replace. Both Hurricane Michael and the Missouri River flooding were likely influenced by climate change. Besides the physical effects of these and other events, there are also health-related costs from climate change that will affect the populations that live and work on installations, their surrounding communities, and the larger surrounding region. These health care costs will be in the billions of dollars, and in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, it seems even more critical than ever to alleviate other strains on health security in the United States,

To estimate what these climate-related health costs may be, Limaye et al (2019) used data from 10 cases across 11 states that occurred in 2012. The research improves on 2011 research by Knowlton et al. Understanding these costs are important because health costs are regularly absent from the damage assessments prepared for facilities and infrastructure, whether this infrastructure is military or civilian; identifying these costs raises their importance for estimating future health costs and their implications to the holistic damage estimates that climate change is forecasted to cause; and better estimating these costs prepares communities to assess whether the kinds of adaptation efforts they undertake, including those related to health, will return the benefits they anticipate. (more…)

Lack of Discussion of Climate Change Effects on Federal Water Infrastructure

State of the InfrastructureBy Dr. Marc Kodack  

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) released a joint report at the end of 2019 on their water-related infrastructure that went largely unnoticed. Notably, however, the report omits discussion of climate change implications for this aging infrastructure. The report includes infrastructure that the two entities collaboratively operate, as well as respective programs for “power generation, water supply, navigation, flood risk reduction, [and] recreation.” While the benefits and challenges to different types of infrastructure are summarized in the first section of the report – e.g., dams, hydropower facilities, navigation (ports, locks, and dredging), canals and pipelines, bridges and roads, levees –  climate change is inexplicably not mentioned as being a challenge to infrastructure. Thus, there is no consideration of the consequences of climate change effects on any of this infrastructure (see here for effects to interstate highway bridges). (more…)

U.S. Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs: Climate Change Impacts National Security

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Dr. Mark Esper, U.S. Secretary of Defense, and GEN Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, address climate change threats to the military before the House Armed Services Committee – February 26, 2020

By Dr. Marc Kodack

On February 26, 2020, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on “The Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense.” Witnesses providing written statements and answering questions included Dr. Mark Esper, U.S. Secretary of Defense and GEN Mark Milley, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both Secretary Esper and General Milley identified climate change as a phenomenon that has impacts on the military and national security, and that investments need to be made now in order to address future risks. Below is a verbatim transcript of the exchanges between Members of Congress and the two witnesses on climate change and climate-related topics.

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RELEASE: Future Climate Change Presents High-to-Catastrophic Security Threat, Warn U.S. National Security, Military and Intelligence Experts in New Assessment

Cover Image_NSMIP_2020_2Washington, DC, February 24, 2020 In a comprehensive report released today by the “National Security, Military and Intelligence Panel (NSMIP)” of the Center for Climate and Security, experts warn of High-to-Catastrophic threats to security from plausible climate change trajectories – the avoidance of which will require “quickly reducing and phasing out global greenhouse gas emissions.” The panel, made up of national security, military and intelligence experts, analyzed the globe through the lens of the U.S. Geographic Combatant Commands, and concluded that “Even at scenarios of low warming, each region of the world will face severe risks to national and global security in the next three decades. Higher levels of warming will pose catastrophic, and likely irreversible, global security risks over the course of the 21st century.”

The report will be officially launched this afternoon at 3:30pm EST in a briefing at the Rayburn House Office Building (Gold Room 2168) featuring distinguished members of the expert panel. The briefing will also be webcast live, and is hosted by the Center for Climate and Security (CCS), an institute of the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR),  in partnership with the Henry M. Jackson Foundation (HMJ) and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). (more…)

Center for Climate and Security Director Conger Testifies Before Senate Special Committee on the Climate Crisis

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John Conger, Director of the Center for Climate and Security, testifies before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on the Climate Crisis

On February 13, John Conger, Director of the Center for Climate and Security and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment, testified before the U.S. Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis with Advisory Board Member Rear Admiral Ann Phillips, USN (Ret) and the Chief Operating Officer of the American Security Project Andrew Holland, discussing the implications of climate change on national security.

Here are links to the statements of Mr. Conger, RADM (Ret) Phillips, and Mr. Holland, as well as Senator Duckworth’s opening statement.  While John Conger made a brief opening statement, he offered the Center for Climate and Security’s full Climate Security Plan for America as his submitted testimony. The hearing was summarized here by Hawaii Public Radio, but the full hearing video is worth a watch:

The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis is a parallel to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and is chaired by Senator Brian Schatz. The climate security hearing was led by Senator Tammy Duckworth.

Climate Change More Prominent Than Ever at Munich Security Conference with “World Climate Security Report 2020” Release

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Munich Security Conference Main Stage Event on Climate and Security, Feb 15, 2020. From Left: Jennifer Morgan (GPI), Kent Walker (Google), Patricia Espinosa Cantellano (UNFCCC), Lindsey Graham (U.S. Senator), General (Ret) Tom Middendorp (International Military Council on Climate and Security), Sheldon Whitehouse (U.S. Senator), Melinda Crane-Röhrs (Deutsche Welle).

Climate change has never been very prominent at the Munich Security Conference (MSC), a leading forum for senior military, security and foreign policy leaders. That changed this year, with the release of the “World Climate and Security Report 2020” by the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) – an international network administered by the Center for Climate and Security, in partnership with a consortium of organizations. The report featured prominently on the MSC stage – at the opening “Hashtag Event” on February 13 and in a later event on the Main Stage on February 15 – which even featured strong U.S. bipartisan support for comprehensive policies combating climate change. These events included powerful contributions from General Tom Middendorp, Chair of the IMCCS, and former Chief of Defence of the Netherlands. These were reinforced by other IMCCS voices during the World Climate and Security Report 2020 side event on February 15, in the media, and by senior defense leaders and IMCCS staff in Luxembourg. Below is a description of the key climate security events during this extraordinary three days – three days of climate change being elevated, as it should be, to some of the highest levels of the international security discourse. The next step will be translating this discourse into actions that are commensurate to the threat. (more…)