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Security Implications

What does global warming mean for National Security? The following reports include the Department of Defense, The Center for Strategic & International Studies, The Center for Naval Analysis, and the German Advisory Council. A report from authors including former CIA Director R. James Woolsey; Jay Gulledge, Ph.D., is the senior scientist and program manager for science and impacts at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress outlines three case scenarios and their impacts for national security.

A short synthesis report is available in the 2009 May Leading Edge Report.

The Royal United Services Institute conducts defence and intelligence research and provides regular security updates on their web site:

2010 Apr - Central Intelligence Agency

Environment - current issues:

Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order. large areas subject to overpopulation, industrial disasters, pollution (air, water, acid rain, toxic substances), loss of vegetation (overgrazing, deforestation, desertification), loss of wildlife, soil degradation, soil depletion, erosion; global warming becoming a greater concern.

Source: Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook

2010 Mar - Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force

"The Task Force has found that climate change is affecting, and will continue to affect, nearly every aspect of our society and the environment. Some of the impacts are increased severity of floods, droughts, and heat waves, increased wildfires, and sea level rise.    Climate change impacts are pervasive, wide-ranging and affect the core systems of our society: transportation, ecosystems, agriculture, business, infrastructure, water, and energy, among others."

Source: Inter-agency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force


2010 Feb - US Joint Forces Command

“A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India. At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment. To what extent conservation measures, investments in alternative energy production, and efforts to expand petroleum production from tar sands and shale would mitigate such a period of adjustment is difficult to predict. One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest.”

Source: United States Joint Forces Command

2010 Feb - Department of Defense QDR Report

Climate change and energy are two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment. Although they produce distinct types of challenges, climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.

Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.

A series of powerful cross-cutting trends, made more complex by the ongoing economic crisis, threatens to complicate international relations and make the exercise of U.S. statecraft more difficult. The rising demand for resources, rapid urbanization of littoral regions, the effects of climate change, the emergence of new strains of disease, and profound cultural and demographic tensions in several regions are just some of the trends whose complex interplay may spark or exacerbate future conflicts.

2009 May – Report from MIT

(Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Center for Global Change Science:

Probability of surface warming of 5.2°C by 2100, with a 90% probability range of 3.5 to 7.4 degrees.

Ronald Prinn, Dir. MIT’s Center for Global Change Science: “there is significantly more risk than we previously estimated” - “This increases the urgency for significant policy action.” - “There’s no way the world can or should take these risks,”

2007 CSIS Report

Case 1 - Expected Climate Change

An average global temperature increase of 1.3°C by 2040.

National security implications include: heightened internal and cross-border tensions caused by large-scale migrations; conflict sparked by resource scarcity, particularly in the weak and failing states of Africa; increased disease proliferation, which will have economic consequences; and some geopolitical reordering as nations adjust to shifts in resources and prevalence of disease. Across the board, the ways in which societies react to climate change will refract through underlying social, political, and economic factors.

Case 2 - Severe Climate Change

An average increase in global temperature of 2.6°C by 2040

Massive nonlinear events in the global environment give rise to massive nonlinear societal events. Nations around the world will be overwhelmed by the scale of change and pernicious challenges, such as pandemic disease. The internal cohesion of nations will be under great stress, including in the United States, both as a result of a dramatic rise in migration and changes in agricultural patterns and water availability. The flooding of coastal communities around the world, especially in the Netherlands, the United States, South Asia, and China, has the potential to challenge regional and even national identities. Armed conflict between nations over resources, such as the Nile and its tributaries, is likely and nuclear war is possible. The social consequences range from increased religious fervor to outright chaos. In this scenario, climate change provokes a permanent shift in the relationship of humankind to nature.

Case 3 - The Catastrophic Scenario

Average global temperatures increasing by 5.6°C by 2100

This catastrophic scenario would pose almost inconceivable challenges as human society struggled to adapt. It is by far the most difficult future to visualize without straining credulity. The scenario notes that understanding climate change in light of the other great threat of our age, terrorism, can be illuminating. Although distinct in nature, both threats are linked to energy use in the industrialized world, and, indeed, the solutions to both depend on transforming the world’s energy economy—America’s energy economy in particular. The security community must come to grips with these linkages, because dealing with only one of these threats in isolation is likely to exacerbate the other, while dealing with them together can provide important synergies.

Dr. David Archer:

(Professor in the Department of The Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago)

Regarding the report - "Results from the IPCC are summarized clearly, including regional climate projections, but the point is also made and discussed that climate forecasts tend to be in general conservative. In the arenas in which I have some competence to assess, the judgments the authors have made seem measured and fair to me."

Dr. James Hansen:

(Director, NASA/Goddard Institute of Space Studies)

2007 Summary - "The year 2007 tied for second warmest in the period of instrumental data, behind the record warmth of 2005, in the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis. 2007 tied 1998, which had leapt a remarkable 0.2°C above the prior record with the help of the “El Nino of the century”. The unusual warmth in 2007 is noteworthy because it occurs at a time when solar irradiance is at a minimum and the equatorial Pacific Ocean is in the cool phase of its natural El Nino – La Nina cycle."

Editors note: If the earth climate system were at a peak of solar irradiance and in the warm phase of the natural El Nino – La Nina cycle, this year would have likely broken the record with room to spare. It is now estimated that the Arctic may be ice free as early as the fall of 2013, only 5 years from now.

November 2007 – Center for Strategic & International Studies

The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change

Report - November 2007


November 2007 – German Advisory Council on Global Change

World in Transition – Climate Change as a Security Risk

(Report - November 2007)


  • Prof Dr Renate Schubert (chair), Economist: Director of the Institute for Environmental Decisions, ETH Zurich (Switzerland)
  • Prof Dr Hans Joachim Schellnhuber CBE (vice chair), Physicist: Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and visiting professor at Oxford University, UK
  • Prof Dr Nina Buchmann, Ecologist: Professor of Grassland Science, Institute of Plant Sciences, ETH Zurich (Switzerland)
  • Prof Dr Astrid Epiney, Lawyer: Professor of International Law, European Law and Swiss Public Law, Université de Fribourg (Switzerland)
  • Dr Rainer Grießhammer, Chemist Director of the Institute for Applied Ecology, Freiburg/Breisgau
  • Prof Dr Margareta E. Kulessa, Economist: Professor of International Economics, University of Applied Science, Mainz
  • Prof Dr Dirk Messner, Political Scientist: Director of the German Development Institute, Bonn
  • Prof Dr Stefan Rahmstorf, Physicist: Professor for Physics of the Oceans at Potsdam University and head of the Climate System Department at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
  • Prof Dr Jurgen Schmid, Aerospace Engineer: Professor at Kassel University, Chairman of the Executive Board of the Institute for Solar Energy Technology

April 2007 – The Center for Naval Analysis

National Security and the Threat of Climate Change

(Report - April 2007)


  • General Gordon R. Sullivan, USA (Ret.) Chairman, Military Advisory Board
  • Admiral Frank “Skip” Bowman, USN (Ret.)
  • Lieutenant General Lawrence P. Farrell Jr., USAF (Ret.)
  • Vice Admiral Paul G. Gaffney II, USN (Ret.)
  • General Paul J. Kern, USA (Ret.)
  • Admiral T. Joseph Lopez, USN (Ret.)
  • Admiral Donald L. “Don” Pilling, USN (Ret.)
  • Admiral Joseph W. Prueher, USN (Ret.)
  • Vice Admiral Richard H. Truly, USN (Ret.)
  • General Charles F. “Chuck” Wald, USAF (Ret.)
  • General Anthony C. “Tony” Zinni, USMC (Ret.)

March 2007 – The U.S. Army War College

Analyzing the security perspective of military mitigation, adaptation and preparation for climate change. They determined “climate change-related security problems likely would require multi-agency cooperation, especially for domestic emergency management, and typically multinational action.”

October 2006 review on the Economics of Climate Change

Economist Nicholas Stern: near-term costs of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG’s) would cost 1% of global GDP, major delay would result in substantially higher aggregate costs with estimates reaching 20% of the worlds GDP.

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