US government: Climate change is a risk to national security

The Biden administration released a set of reports on climate change and national security, describing how global warming is creating serious problems to the United States’ stability. From increased migration as people flee their flooded territories to increased military tension and uncertainty between many countries, climate change has become a national security risk. 

The documents were issued by the National Security Council and the departments of Homeland Security and Defense and they are the government’s most significant assessment so far of these challenges and how to address them. The publication comes just days away of the COP26 climate summit in the UK, where world leaders (including Biden) will be joining to discuss ways to address the climate situation. 

Image credit: Flickr / Prachatai

Climate reports

The reports “reinforce the President’s commitment to evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data,” the White House said in a statement. “The Biden-Harris Administration has prioritized addressing the climate crisis both at home and as a core element of our national security,” the press statement reads. 

The National Intelligence Estimate, a report that collects and refines the views of the US intelligence agencies about particular threats, was among the ones published. It says that climate change will “increasingly exacerbate” risks to US national security interests, from physical impacts to how countries respond to the climate crisis.  No country will be spared from challenges directly related to climate change, the report reads.

The climate risks are classified into three types:

  1. higher geopolitical tension as countries argue over climate action,
  2. cross-border geopolitical tension, and
  3. climate effects altering country-level stability in specific countries and regions. 

The report expresses massive doubt on delivering the goals of the Paris Agreement, the landmark agreement on climate change signed in 2015 by almost every country, to keep warming within 2 degrees Celsius of the preindustrial age. The US government doesn’t believe the goals will be reached because not enough countries are transitioning from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources, it argues. 

Military issues

The Pentagon also published a report of its own, looking at how to incorporate climate change threats into its planning. The military will start spending a significant part of its next budget on climate — especially because military bases are vulnerable to extreme weather events such as fires, drought, and rising sea levels. 

The Pentagon report “describes how DOD will integrate climate considerations into strategic, planning, budget, and other key documents, as well as engagements with allies and partners. Inclusion of climate considerations across these documents will ensure that DOD considers the effects of climate change at every level,” a press statement reads.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the country’s main responder to natural disasters, said in a report to be looking at future technology to tackle the risks of extreme weather events – from investing in more energy-efficient construction to electric vehicles. 

Climate change will be a focus of the department’s preparedness grants for state and local governments, also incorporating climate science into the guidance it provides to the public and private sectors on how to manage risks. The department will also give advice to specific communities, such as people leaving in areas exposed to climate risks. 

The US is already seeing the consequences of climate change on migration, with hurricanes forcing people to leave their homes in Central America and fleeing to the US through Mexico. That was the focus of the National Security Council on its report, looking at how climate change is forcing people to migrate within and between countries.

The report says climate change might lead to 3% of the populations of Latin America, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa moving within their countries by 2050. That won’t be just because of climate change but instead because of the interaction between extreme weather events and other global challenges, such as conflicts and war. 

“The scientific community is clear: human activities have directly contributed to climate change. We are already experiencing the devastating impacts that climate has wreaked on almost every aspect of our lives, from food and water insecurity to infrastructure and public health, this crisis is exacerbating inequalities,” the White House press release reads. 

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