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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.

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New Report: China’s Climate Security Vulnerabilities

By Erin Sikorsky | Edited by Francesco Femia

A new, first-of-its-kind report from the Center for Climate and Security (CCS), China’s Climate Security Vulnerabilities explores China’s security vulnerabilities in the face of expected climate change effects, focusing on its key risks, the Chinese response so far, and identifies important uncertainties as conditions continue to develop. The report also makes several recommendations for the United States as it addresses what the Department of Defense has called the “pacing threat” from China.

While China is often credited with better integrating a long-term approach to its strategic planning than the West, there are key uncertainties regarding Beijing’s climate security preparations, including tensions between day-to-day politics and strategic planning, as well as the adequacy of its adaptation strategy, which is largely rooted in physical infrastructure projects.

From the Executive Summary:

From melting glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau to the effect of rising sea levels on the heavily populated Yangtze River Basin and Pearl River Delta, from record heatwaves and drought to unprecedented flooding from extreme precipitation—a range of climate hazards threaten critical Chinese civilian and military infrastructure, risk domestic political instability, including in already restive regions of the country, and challenge Chinese geopolitical interests abroad.

China’s senior leadership appears to recognize climate change as a national security threat. Under Xi Jinping, China has adopted a broad concept of national security that encompasses internal and external, traditional and non-traditional threats. It is unclear, however, the extent to which ecological and climate security topics have permeated Chinese military strategy and doctrine, though public documents and statements provide some indications that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is at least considering these climate implications.


Direct inquiries to: Andrew Facini, afacini [at] csrisks.org

Read, Watch, Listen: CCS Across the Web | September 2022

By Brigitte Hugh

Welcome to “Read, Watch, Listen” from the Center for Climate and Security (CCS), a monthly round-up highlighting some of the articles, interviews, and podcasts featuring the CCS network of experts.  

Over the summer, governments across the globe deployed military forces to fight fires and respond to drought. As fire season winds down and hurricane season begins, militaries are once again being called upon to respond to climate-worsened threats. These are only the latest examples of climate shifting traditional military missions, and one of the issues highlighted by our experts in September. 

Op-Eds

  • Militaries around the world are being deployed in response to non-traditional threats from climate crises, writes Director Erin Sikorsky. (Foreign Policy)
  • Non Resident Research Fellow, Cullen Hendrix, took a look at the connections between the most recent food and oil crises and Russia’s foreign and domestic policy. (Foreign Policy)

Video and Podcast

  • Sikorsky spoke with David Priess about the Pakistan floods and the direct and indirect security impacts. (Lawfare)
  • Sea level rise is already threatening coastal U.S.military bases. Though the military is working to address the issue, adaptation projects are lengthy efforts, says Sikorsky. (Weather Channel)

Articles 

  • Sikorsky and advisory board members Gen. Tom Middendorp (ret.) and Alice Hill note that world militaries are not prepared for the increased demand for their aid in response to climate change impacts. (Washington Post)
  • The U.S. Department of Defense announced the creation of a new office focused on the Arctic and global resilience. A move welcomed by Senior Strategist, Sherri Goodman, who noted that the new office will help “maintain mission readiness.” (Arctic Today)
  • Research Fellow Elsa Barron was featured in the Christian Science Monitor, with a focus on her climate activism and faith journey. 

Keep up with all the work being done by the experts from the Center for Climate and Security by following us on Twitter and LinkedIn and subscribing to our blog.

And Air Force Makes Three… Comparing the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force Climate Plans

By John Conger

With the release of the U.S. Department of the Air Force Climate Action Plan on October 5, 2022, we now have climate plans developed by each of the military departments. The Army published its Army Climate Strategy in February 2022 and the Navy released Climate Action 2030 in May 2022. Below, I’ll highlight some of the key similarities and differences between the three approaches, which will help us develop a more complete forecast for where and how the Department of Defense (DoD) will address the security challenge posed by climate change.

Just as the three military departments have their own distinct cultures and personalities, these three plans are quite different, even as they all move toward a common set of goals.

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