More than just altering the environment, climate change is threatening to permanently and dangerously reshape the global security landscape, according to a series of new assessments by U.S. military, intelligence and security officials.
The reports, ordered earlier this year by U.S. President Joe Biden as part of an effort to better confront the impact of climate change, warn no country will be spared, and that some parts of the world already may be reaching a tipping point.
“As climate change converges with other drivers — especially geostrategic competition, emerging technology and global-demographic trends — it is reshaping the risk landscape,” the Department of Homeland Security said in its climate change strategic framework, released Thursday.
“The corrosive impact of these trends will make nations increasingly vulnerable to domestic instability, with sweeping implications for regional and border security and core national security interests,” it added.
Preparing for calamities
Defense officials said they are already being forced to prepare for worst-case scenarios, from mass migration events to shifts in the balance of power in key regions to the possibility some countries could collapse outright, spawning “instability across the globe.”
"Competitive advantage in the future will go to those who can fight and win in this rapidly changing strategic and physical environment," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
The Pentagon’s risk assessment warned climate change is likely to spark instability in at least four regions – the Middle East and South Asia, Africa, Europe, and Central and South America – with three of them likely to see increased demand for humanitarian aid.
The U.S. intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate on climate change is even more dire, pointing to looming disaster for key countries in South and East Asia, and in Central America.
And where existing governments are unable to meet the challenges of climate change, insurgents and terrorists appear poised to exploit the situation.
“We assess that most of the countries where al-Qaida or ISIS have a presence are highly vulnerable to climate change,” the intelligence estimate warned.
Countries in Central Africa, already confronting rising terror threats, also may find themselves overwhelmed.
"Under-resourced and ill-equipped militaries will face severe strains when they are called upon to respond to more natural disasters in their own and neighboring countries," the assessment said.
In Central America, prolonged dry spells and excessive rains could force 30% of the working population to flee.
No country spared
U.S. intelligence officials also warn that even countries with the most resources could find themselves at odds, predicting intense competition between the U.S. and China over key mineral and clean energy technologies by 2040.
“The United States and others … are in a relatively better position than other countries to deal with the major costs and dislocation of forecasted change, in part because they have greater resources to adapt, but will nonetheless require difficult adjustments," according to the estimate.
"Adjusting to such changes will often be wrenching, and populations will feel negative effects in their daily lives," it said. "The impacts will be massive even if the worst human costs can be avoided."