By Christopher Flavelle, Julian E. Barnes, Eileen Sullivan and Jennifer Steinhauer © The New York Times Co.
WASHINGTON » Worsening conflict within and between nations. Increased dislocation and migration as people flee climate-fueled instability. Heightened military tension and uncertainty. Financial hazards.
The Biden administration released several reports Thursday on climate change and national security, laying out in stark terms the ways in which the warming world is beginning to significantly challenge stability worldwide.
The documents, by the departments of Homeland Security and Defense as well as the National Security Council and director of national intelligence, form the government’s most thorough assessment of these and other challenges, as well as how it will address them. The reports include warnings from the intelligence community about how climate change can sap the strength of a nation through multiple threats. For example, Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq and Algeria could be strained by a decline in revenue from fossil fuels, even as the region faces worsening heat and drought. The Pentagon warned that food shortages could lead to unrest, along with fights between countries over access to drinking water.
The Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Coast Guard, warns that as ice melts in Arctic Ocean, competition will increase for fish, minerals and other resources. Another report warns that tens of millions of people are likely to be displaced by 2050 because of climate change — including as many as 143 million people in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
The national security warnings came on the same day that top financial regulators for the first time flagged climate change as “an emerging threat” to the U.S. economy. More frequent and destructive disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires, are resulting in property damage, lost income and business disruptions that threaten to change the way real estate and other assets are valued, according to a report released by a panel of federal and state regulators appointed by the president. As of Oct. 8, there have been 18 “weather/climate disaster events” this year costing more than $1 billion each, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The flurry of reports come as President Joe Biden prepares to attend a major United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, known as COP26. With his climate agenda stalled in Congress, Biden risks having little progress to point to in Glasgow, where the administration had hoped to reestablish United States leadership on addressing warming.
The reports “reinforce the president’s commitment to evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data,” the White House said Thursday, and “will serve as a foundation for our critical work on climate and security moving forward.”
The documents released Thursday mark a new stage in U.S. policy, one that places climate at the center of the country’s security.
The notion that climate change is a threat to national security is neither novel nor particularly controversial; the Obama administration said as much and began pushing security agencies to account for the risks related to global warming.
Perhaps the broadest and most sweeping of the documents released was a National Intelligence Estimate, which is meant to collect and distill the views of the country’s intelligence agencies about particular threats. The report, the first such document to look exclusively at the issue of climate, said that risks to American national security will grow in the years to come. After 2030, key countries will face growing risks of instability and need for humanitarian assistance, the report said.
The document makes three key judgments: Global tensions will rise as countries argue about how to accelerate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; climate change will exacerbate cross-border flash points and amplify strategic competition in the Arctic; and the effects of climate change will be felt most acutely in developing countries that are least equipped to adapt.
The document also states that China and India, with large populations and heavy use of fossil fuels, will play key roles in determining how quickly global temperatures rise.
When it comes to the odds of countries around the world meeting the commitment made at the 2015 climate conference in Paris to keep the rise in average global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels, the intelligence report said the chances were not good. The Earth has already warmed by about 1.1 degrees Celsius; if it exceeds the 2 degrees threshold, the planet will experience increasingly deadly floods, fires, storms as well as ecosystem collapse, scientists say. “Given current government policies and trends in technology development, we judge that collectively countries are unlikely to meet the Paris goals,” the report said.