The U.S. National Research Council released a report Friday on the link between global climate change and national security. The scientific study details how global warming is putting new social and political stresses on societies around the world and how the United States and other counties can anticipate and respond to these climate-driven security risks.
The report by the congressionally-chartered research group begins with an assertion that global warming is real, and that the mainstream scientific community believes that heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are being added to the atmosphere faster today than they were before the rise of human societies.
And it says the consequences of climate change -- including rising sea levels, more frequent and severe floods, droughts, forest fires, and insect infestations -- present security threats similar to and in many cases greater than those posed by terrorist attacks.
John Steinbruner, the chairman of the committee that wrote the report, says the U.S. intelligence community in particular needs to make climate change-related security threats a greater priority.
“We are not as prepared as we need to be, I think [is] the better statement. It’s not that they are completely ill-prepared. It is not as if they are not monitoring in some sense, but it is not as organized or as developed as it needs to be,” he said.
Steinbruner says extreme weather events, for example, need to be anticipated where they can be and assessed in terms of their potential to destabilize countries and regions around the world. And he believes that a better understanding of how floods and droughts can trigger migration and civil conflict in parts of Africa and South Asia -- regions with weak governments and high levels of poverty -- will help developed countries better plan to prevent or respond to humanitarian disasters.
The study urges greater international cooperation in gathering information on climate trends. Steinbruner notes that Pakistan and India currently refuse to share data on precipitation rates with the United States, information that could predict floods and droughts in South Asia.
“There needs to be, if you will, a global diplomatic and scientific discussion saying, ‘Look, we need to set rules. We need to set processes where all of us are monitoring according to the same standards.' We all get the same benefit from it,” he said.
And Steinbruner says the U.S. military needs to anticipate new climate change-related threats -- for example, how the decreasing level of ice in the Arctic Ocean could lead to international competition or conflict over access to natural resources there.
Alexander Ochs, the Climate and Energy Director at the non-profit Worldwatch Institute, says the report is an important reminder to world leaders of the complex problems posed by climate change:
“So any investment we can make today in reducing emissions will make the problem smaller and it will pay out multi-fold in terms of the costs we have to pick up in the future,” Ochs said.
The report, however, does not deal with how nations should go about reducing carbon emissions in the future. It focuses on the present and how the U.S. and the world can better manage potentially disruptive climate events.