CIA-commissioned climate change report outlines perils for U.S. national security

heated planet will produce. “It is prudent to expect that over the course of a decade some climate events — including single events, conjunctions of events occurring simultaneously or in sequence in particular locations, and events affecting globally integrated systems that provide for human well-being — will produce consequences that exceed the capacity of the affected societies or global system to manage and that have global security implications serious enough to compel international response,” the report states.

The report thus argues that states will fail, large populations subjected to famine, flood, or disease will migrate across international borders, and national and international agencies will not have the capacity or resources to cope with the resulting conflicts and crises.

The report points to two events in the summer of 2010 — the heat wave in Russia and floods in Pakistan — as distinct but linked climate-related events which imposed heavy burdens on the two societies involved.

The report points to the Nile River watershed as a place where climate-related tensions over water and farmland are already on the rise as the combined populations of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia approach 300 million.

Conflicts over water and arable land are not limited to countries in the region: South Korea and Saudi Arabia have purchased large tracts of fertile land in the Nile watershed to produce crops to feed their own people, but the report warns that local forces could decide to seize the crops for their own use, potentially leading to international conflict.

The Times notes that the 18-month study is not the first report from government agencies or research organizations to draw a direct link between climate change and U.S. national security concerns. The U.S. National Intelligence Council produced a classified national intelligence estimate on climate change in 2008, and has issued a number of unclassified reports on the topic since then. The Pentagon and the White House have also highlighted the role of climate change in humanitarian crises and security threats.

The National Research Council recommends that all government agencies bolster their ability to monitor global climate and improve their capacity to assess the consequent risks to populations and critical resources around the world.

Steinbruner said that just as the need for more and better analysis is growing and becoming more urgent, the resources the government is devoting to such an analysis are shrinking. Some Republicans in Congress objected to the CIA’s creation of a climate change center and tried to deny money for it.

For example, in early fall 2009, when the CIA announced its plan for the new center, Senator John Barrasso, a conservative freshman Republican from Wyoming, said that he would try to stop the agency from opening the new climate change center by choking off its funding. “The CIA is responsible for gathering foreign intelligence information for the United States,” Barrasso said in announcing an amendment to a 2010 spending bill to block any money being spent by the agency on the new office. “I don’t believe creating a center on climate change is going to prevent terrorist attacks.” Barrasso’s amendment was defeated.

Steinbruner also noted that the American weather satellite program is losing capability because of years of underfinancing and mismanagement, imperiling the ability to predict and monitor major storms.

— Read more in Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis (National Research Council, 2012)