The Biden administration has released a series of reports from US intelligence and security agencies sounding the alarm about the risks that the effects of climate change are expected to pose to global stability and the United States’ national security.
Assessments by the US intelligence community, Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security, made public on Thursday, warned that the “intensifying physical effects” of the climate crisis will increase global tensions and create security challenges for the US.
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“We assess that climate change will increasingly exacerbate risks to US national security interests as the physical impacts increase and geopolitical tensions mount about how to respond to the challenge,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said in the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change.
“Global momentum is growing for more ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reductions, but current policies and pledges are insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement goals.”
On his first day in office in January, President Joe Biden moved to rejoin the 2016 Paris Climate Accord, which aims at boosting global efforts to cut the emission of planet-warming greenhouse gases. His predecessor, former President Donald Trump had withdrawn from the pact in 2017.
Thursday’s reports come as the Biden administration is negotiating with US legislators to push the president’s ambitious social spending agenda, which includes funding to mitigate the effects of global warming.
The ODNI assessment predicted that developing countries lacking the tools to adapt will struggle the most in coping with the worsening climate crisis, but it cautioned that the US and its allies will not be immune to the challenges.
“These physical effects will increase the potential for instability and possibly internal conflict in these countries, in some cases creating additional demands on US diplomatic, economic, humanitarian and military resources,” the report reads.
“Despite geographic and financial resource advantages, the United States and partners face costly challenges that will become more difficult to manage without concerted effort to reduce emissions and cap warming.”
The document underscores looming interconnected natural, geopolitical and economic crises stemming from climate change.
It predicts that US efforts to push countries whose economies rely on fossil fuel exports to speed up energy transition would complicate relations with those nations. Moreover, it projects that droughts would increase competition between states over water.
“In the Middle East and North Africa, about 60 percent of surface water resources are transboundary and all countries share at least one aquifer, according to the World Bank. Several aquifers are also vulnerable to salt water intrusion, even from minor rises in sea levels, increasing the potential for conflict,” the report says in one example.
The Pentagon’s report, dubbed Defense Climate Risk Assessment, said the Department of Defense will incorporate climate considerations into relevant strategies.
“Malign actors may try to exploit regional instability exacerbated by the impacts of climate change to gain influence or for political or military advantage,” the assessment said.
In a statement accompanying the report, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin called climate change an “existential threat”.
“Climate change touches most of what this Department does, and this threat will continue to have worsening implications for US national security,” Austin said.
‘No country will be spared,’ US official says
A separate White House report on possible climate change effects on migration warns that the crisis may lead to “displacement, loss of livelihoods, weakened governments and in some cases political instability and conflict”.
“Policy and programming efforts made today and in coming years will impact estimates of people moving due to climate related factors,” it said. “Tens of millions of people, however, are likely to be displaced over the next two to three decades due in large measure to climate change impacts.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also released its own report outlining a strategy to tackle the climate crisis at home.
It includes increasing readiness for climate change-driven emergencies and helping communities adapt and increase “resilience”.
A senior US administration official told reporters before the release of the reports that “no country will be spared” from the direct impact of climate change.
“These security challenges are among the many reasons the administration has prioritised addressing the climate crisis both at – here at home and as a core element of our national security and foreign policy,” the official said.
Environmental activists have been calling on the administration to maintain funding for efforts to combat climate change in Biden’s social spending bill. Originally proposed at $3.5 trillion across 10 years, the package is expected to be significantly downsized to gain enough support in Congress.
On Wednesday, activists from the Sunrise Movement, an environmental advocacy group, began a hunger strike outside the White House to demand keeping funding for climate change mitigation in the legislation.
World leaders are set to discuss efforts to combat climate change at the United Nations’ Glasgow Climate Change Conference beginning at the end of the month.