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The Security Implications of Human-Driven Biotic Eruptions

By Michael R. Zarfos
Edited by Andrea Rezzonico and Francesco Femia


Human society benefits from environmental and biological predictability. Farmers expect to be able to plant a particular species and variety of crop that will survive and thrive in the soils and under the climate conditions that are typical of their given region.1 They have systems in place to manage the different pests and diseases that are typical of their environment. Hunters, foresters, and fishers all rely on sustainable stocks of specific species to enable their livelihoods. Similarly, each type of ecosystem exists within an envelope of predictable environmental conditions.2

This equilibrium extends beyond the nonliving (abiotic) inputs to the system (e.g., water, heat, and nutrients) to include its living (biotic) components—its native species and pathogens. A newly introduced species may come to dominate the system as its population explodes, leading to local extinctions.3 Similarly, a native species stimulated by climate change or nutrient pollution can grow out of control, drastically altering the local environment and the services people derive from it.4 These complex interactions represent a category of potential tipping point, what we term human-driven “biotic eruptions,” which can severely disrupt the world we live in and undermine our security. Policymakers should consider these biotic eruptions in a global security context, and take actions accordingly.


Briefer: The Devil’s in the Deep: Marine Fisheries, Ecological Tipping Point Risks, and Maritime Security

By David Michel

Escalating human pressures are transforming the world’s seas. Habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, pollution, resource depletion, and the mounting effects of global climate change increasingly threaten ocean ecosystems. Many stresses interact, generating compound risks that could push marine systems over tipping points past which they cannot readily recover.

For countries and communities reliant on ocean resources, the ramifications could be considerable, jeopardizing the livelihoods, security, and welfare of millions of people.

BRIEFER: Climate Change a “Top Tier Threat” in the 2022 U.S. National Security Strategy

By Sherri Goodman, Holly Kaufman, and Pauline Baudu

The Biden Administration’s new National Security Strategy (NSS), released in October 2022, elevates attention and focus on climate security beyond any prior NSS. The security risks of climate change get the attention in the NSS they have long deserved. Climate change is in fact framed as a top-tier threat on a par with geopolitical challenges from U.S. adversaries and competitors.

The NSS states:

“Of all of the shared problems we face, climate change is the greatest and potentially [most] existential for all nations. Without immediate global action during this crucial decade, global temperatures will cross the critical warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius after which scientists have warned some of the most catastrophic climate impacts will be irreversible.”

The world is already experiencing deadly and life-altering climate-related catastrophes (e.g, flooding in Pakistan, fires and drought in California, hurricanes in Florida) when the Earth’s global average land and ocean surface temperature has risen at least 1.1 degrees Celsius since the mid-1800s (approximately 2 degrees Fahrenheit). This NSS recognizes the unprecedented risks posed by such disasters. It therefore includes climate risks and related solutions in every aspect of national security and foreign policy, from reduction of carbon pollution to building resilience at home and abroad, and threading climate risks into every regional strategy. In this regard, the new NSS includes many of the recommendations in our Briefer of June 2021,“Climate Change in the U.S. National Security Strategy: History and Recommendations.”

The most recent NSS addresses our five key recommendations as well emerging concerns due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. These are 1) include all sectors, not just energy, including sources and sinks; 2) expand the concept of climate security to ecological security; 3) increase environmental monitoring; 4) forecast and plan for unpredictability; 5) assert strong U.S. leadership on climate and inter-related global ecological concerns, including passing aggressive climate and environmental restoration legislation and appropriating sufficient funding.

This briefer by the Center for Climate and Security focuses on these five recommendations and the relevant provisions within the NSS, concluding that the NSS both succeeds in recognizing the interdependence of all natural systems and resources, but also embodies several contradictions which should be improved. However, “the theme of the 2022 NSS is spot on: ‘No country should withhold progress on existential transnational issues like the climate crisis because of bilateral differences.'”

BRIEFER: The Security Implications of the Pakistan Floods

By Andrea Rezzonico and Erin Sikorsky
Edited by Francesco Femia

The tragedy unfolding in Pakistan in the wake of unprecedented flooding late last month, which has inundated a third of the country and displaced millions of people, is not only a humanitarian catastrophe but also poses significant security threats. Already before the floods, South Asia experienced record breaking heat waves in April and May, leading to unbearable living conditions, widespread energy blackouts, and rapid glacial melt. These climate hazards will compound existing challenges in the country, including political instability, Islamic extremism, and nuclear security.

Given these dynamics, efforts to address the immediate humanitarian crisis as well as develop longer-term climate adaptation and resilience measures are not just the right thing for Western countries to do—such investments will also provide security benefits as they contribute to a more stable Pakistan in the future. In particular, the United States must live up to its climate finance commitments, and better integrate climate considerations into the range of engagements it has with Pakistan, including ongoing military training and support.

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