National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change

National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change

The Center for Naval Analysis

The Center for Naval Analysis’ (CNA) Military Advisory Board (MAB) is a distinguished group of retired senior flag and general officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard who study the nexus between national security, climate change, and energy security, and work to inform and educate the public and policy makers on those issues.

For nearly a decade more than thirty generals and admirals have served on the board, using their knowledge and insight as military leaders to assess future risks to national security and explore options for mitigating those risks. Their efforts have led to five landmark reports, including National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change, released in the spring of 2014.

Foreward to the Official Report

(abridged for space)

May, 2014

Projected climate change is a complex challenge. Without action to build resilience, it will increase security risks over much of the planet. It will not only increase threats to developing nations… but it will also test the security of nations with robust capability, including significant elements of our National Power here at home….

When it comes to thinking through long-term global challenges, none are more qualified than our most senior military leaders…. It is through this analytical prism that 11 retired Generals and Admirals came together… to examine the security implications of climate change.

The Military Advisory Board has gathered to re-examine… climate change and national security. This update reflects their decades of experience as risk managers and geopolitical security experts…. The report deserves strong attention from not only the security community, but also from the government and the American public.

The update serves as a bipartisan call to action. It makes a compelling case that climate change is no longer a future threat—it is taking place now. …

The update makes clear that actions… against the impacts of climate change are required today. We no longer have the option to wait and see. We applaud this group of American patriots for this important update. We commend its reading in full and its recommendations to the Administration, to Congress, and to the American people.


Leon Panetta | Former Secretary, Department of Defense

Michael Chertoff | Former Secretary, Homeland Security

Executive Summary

See the Full Report at The Center for Naval Analysis

CNA’s Military Advisory Board (MAB) first addressed the national security implications of climate change in our 2007 report — National Security and the Threat of Climate Change. We gather again as a group of 16 retired Generals and Admirals from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps to re- examine climate change in the context of a more informed, but more complex and integrated world, and to provide an update to our 2007 findings.

We are compelled to conduct this update now because of nearly seven years of developments in scientific climate projections; observed climate changes, particularly in the Arctic; the toll of observed extreme weather events both at home and abroad; and changes in the global security environment. Although we have seen some movement in mitigation and other areas where climate adaptation and resilience are starting to be included in planning documents, we gather again because of our growing concern over the lack of comprehensive action by both the United States and the international community to address the full spectrum of projected climate change issues.

The specific questions addressed in this update are:

1. Have new threats or opportunities associated with projected climate change or its effects emerged since our last report? What will be the impacts on our military?

2. The 2014 National Climate Assessment indicates that climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present. What additional responses should the national security community take to reduce the risks posed to our nation and to the elements of our National Power (Political, Military, Social, Infrastructure, and Information systems?


Actions by the United States and the international community have been insufficient to adapt to the challenges associated with projected climate change. Strengthening resilience to climate impacts already locked into the system is critical, but this will reduce longterm risk only if improvements in resilience are accompanied by actionable agree- ments on ways to stabilize climate change.

Scientists around the globe are increasing their confidence, narrowing their projections, and reaffirming the likely causes of climate change…. Heat-trapping gases already in the atmosphere have committed us to a hotter future with more climate-related impacts over the next few decades. The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally, now and in the future.” Some in the political realm continue to debate the cause of a warming planet and demand more data. Yet MAB member General Gordon Sullivan, U.S. Army (Ret.), has noted: “Speaking as a soldier, we never have 100 percent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going 146 to happen on the battlefield.”

Climate mitigation and adaptation efforts are emerging in various places around the world, but the extent of these efforts to mitigate and adapt… are insufficient to avoid significant potential water, food, and energy insecurity; political instability; extreme weather events; and other manifestations of climate change. Coordinated, wide-scale, and well-executed actions to limit heat- trapping gases and to help prevent and protect against the worst projected climate change impacts are required—now.

The security ramifications of global climate change should be serving as catalysts for cooperation and change. Instead, climate change impacts are already accelerating instability in vulnerable areas of the world and are serving as catalysts for conflict.

“… the projected impacts of climate change will be more than threat multipliers; they will serve as catalysts for instability and conflict.”

Rapid population growth, especially in coastal and urban areas, and complex changes in the global security environment have made understanding the strategic security risks of projected climate changes more challenging. When it comes to thinking about the impacts of climate change, we must guard against a failure of imagination.

“Climate change impacts transcend international borders and geographic areas of responsibility.”

Accelerated melting of “old ice” in the Arctic is making the region more accessible to a wide variety of human activities, including shipping, resource extraction, fisheries, tourism, and other commerce. This activity level will accelerate in the coming decades. The United States and the international community are not prepared for the pace of change in the Arctic.

As the world’s population and living standards grow, the projected climate impacts on the nexus of water, food, and energy security become more profound. Fresh water, food, and energy are inextricably linked, and the choices made over how these finite resources will be produced, distributed, and used will have increasing security implications.

“… stresses on the water-food-energy nexus are a mounting security concern across a growing segment of the world.”

Projected climate change impacts inside the United States will challenge key elements of our National Power and encumber homeland security. Of particular concern are climate impacts to our military, infrastructure, economic, and social support systems.

“… impacts of climate change will strain our military forces in the coming decades.”

In a security context, National Power is the ability to remain sovereign, protect national assets, and influence the behavior of others toward a desired outcome. Although the United States has embraced a more complex construct of National Power, a series of formal policy documents have introduced contrasting models of power, indicating that National Power has multiple and overlapping sources. In one of its simplest paradigms, National Power is modeled in terms of the ability to exert pressure through diplomatic, informational, military, and economic means (DIME). We are concerned about how projected climate change could degrade our National Power/PMESII.


1. To lower national security risks, the United States should take a global leadership role in preparing for the projected impacts of climate change.

This leadership role includes working with other nations, as well as with emerging nongovernmental and intergovernmental stakeholders —such as the Group of Seven (G-7), the World Trade Organization (WTO), —to build resilience for projected impacts of climate change. At the same time, the U.S. should lead global efforts to develop sustainable and more efficient energy solutions to help slow climate change.

2. Supported by National Intelligence Estimates, the U.S. military’s Commanders should factor in the impacts of projected climate change across their full spectrum of planning and operations.

With partner nations, CCDRs should focus on building capacity and sustained resilience. Across areas of responsibility, they should work with nations and intergovernmental stakeholders to lower risk where the impacts of climate change likely will serve as a catalyst for conflict.

3. The United States should accelerate and consolidate its efforts to prepare for increased access and military operations in the Arctic.

DOD and other U.S. agencies should build on and accelerate plans recently put forward in Arctic strategic planning…. The Arctic is already becoming viable for commercial shipping and increased resource exploit- ation. The time to act is now. To expedite crisis response, the Arctic region should be assigned to one CCMD. To provide the U.S. with better standing in future disputes in the Arctic, the U.S. should become a signatory to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

4. Climate adaptation planning should consider the water-food-energy nexus to ensure comprehensive decision making.

Rapidly growing population and urbanization combined with changes in weather patterns, will stress resource production and distribution, particularly water, food, and energy. These resources are linked, and adaptation planning must consider their interrelationships.

5. The projected impacts of climate change should be integrated fully into the National Infrastructure Protection Plan and the Strategic National Risk Assessment.

As military leaders, we know that we cannot wait for certainty. The failure to include a range of probabilities because it is not precise is unacceptable. The Strategic National Risk Assessment must include projected impacts of climate change over coming decades so that resilience requirements associated with these projections can be better defined in the National Infrastructure Protection Plan.

6. In addition to DOD’s conducting comprehensive assessments of the impacts of climate change on mission and operational resilience, the Department should develop, fund, and implement plans to adapt….

This recommendation includes decisions to be made through any future processes, including base realignment and closure (BRAC), as well as expanding climate projections in planning and design for new bases, or other infra- structure. In new or existing bases, DOD should explore innovative solutions such as public-private partnerships to build climate change–resilient infrastructure. Climate change impacts should be considered in all vulnerability assessments, now and going forward…

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