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Pete Altman’s Blog

Climate Change and National Security

Pete Altman

Posted May 25, 2010 in Solving Global Warming

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Over the last couple of years, and particularly the last few months, US military officials and strategists made increasingly clear that climate change could have significant impacts on national security and the missions the US Armed Forces are called on to undertake.

E&E News (subscription required) covered the most recent such report, from the US Navy's Task Force Climate Change, issued late last week, which finds that: 

"Climate change is a national security challenge with strategic implications for the Navy" and "will affect the type, scope and location of future Navy missions."

As E&E explains,

Climate change alone won't cause future conflicts, the document says, but it could contribute to them -- a conclusion that echoes the Pentagon's recent Quadrennial Defense Review, which called climate change a "threat multiplier."

The new Navy analysis also says climate change is already affecting U.S. military installations -- including low-lying Navy sites threatened by sea level rise -- and access to natural resources around the world.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review discussed climate change and the security challenges it poses at length. As the Center for American Progress (CAP) explained,

The QDR’s authors mention the “significant geopolitical impact” that climate change will have around the world, “contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments.” This acknowledgment is an important step in addressing the complex security and humanitarian challenges of coming decades. And it lays the ground for yet another step into the right direction: the notion that there isn’t a military answer to every security threat.

The QDR itself followed by a week the presentation of the Director of National Intelligence's Annual Threat Assessment, which as CAP explained "drew on expertise from various federal agencies that analyze the sources and effects of climate change." As the Assessment stated,

“As climate changes spur more humanitarian emergencies, the demand may significantly tax U.S. military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture and decreased strategic depth for combat operations.”

The Center for New American Security has more on climate change and national security.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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