Conclusion The Clear Implications of Global Climate Change

Kurt M. Campbell and Richard Weitz

This volume was the product of a year of collaboration and discussion among a new community of scientists, climate experts, and foreign policy and national security practitioners. As our work came to a close, Al Gore and the IPCC were awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to raise public awareness of climate change and its daunting implications for global security. Much has been made of the fact that the award was for peace rather than science or in some other field, but in awarding Gore and the IPCC the Nobel Peace Prize, the judges showed that they understood precisely what the stakes are when it comes to global climate change. Nothing could better underscore that the time is right: there is an urgent need to understand the nature of the climate change challenge and, more to the point, there is an urgent need for all Americans to appreciate the need for action to confront this global challenge.

Our diverse group undertook a scenario exercise in hopes of reaching a better understanding of the consequences the world could realistically face from climate change across the range of plausible effects. Our intention was to influence the public debate about climate policy. We came away with considerable clarity in our own minds: the United States can expect that climate change will exacerbate already existing North-South tensions, dramatically increase global migration both inside and between nations (including into the United States), lead to increasingly serious public health problems, heighten interstate tension and possibly conflict over resources, collapse agricultural markets and global fisheries, challenge the institutions of global governance, cause potentially destabilizing domestic political and social repercussions, and spur unpredictable shifts in the global balance of power, particularly where China is concerned. The state of humanity could be altered in ways that create strong moral dilemmas for those charged with wielding national power, and also in ways that may either erode or enhance America's place in the world.

Taken together or even one at a time, some of these challenges have the potential to overwhelm national governments and international institutions. It is difficult to anticipate just how these cascading calamities might ultimately unfold, but the prospects for destabilizing global effects are clearly on the horizon. The overwhelming message is that early steps to limit or mitigate climate change are essential because later, longer-term efforts to adapt or anticipate may not be possible.

As table 9-1 summarizes and this report makes clear, climate change has the potential to be one of the greatest national security challenges that this or any other generation of policymakers is likely to confront.

Although our charge was to offer projections based on scientific modeling, rather than predictions, the expected climate change scenario in this report is appropriately named and can be taken as a minimum basis for planning. As John Podesta and Peter Ogden write in chapter 4, the environmental effects in this scenario are "the least we ought to prepare for." National security implications include heightened internal and cross-border tensions caused by large-scale migrations; conflict sparked by resource scarcity, particularly in the weak and failing states of Africa; increased disease proliferation, which will have economic consequences; and some geopolitical reordering as nations adjust to shifts in resources and prevalence of disease. Oil and natural gas exporters might gain an upper hand, while energy importers will suffer geopolitically. All these things could cause the internal politics of nations to radicalize or destabilize. Across the board, the ways in which societies react to climate change will refract through underlying social, political, and economic factors.

In the case of severe climate change, projected massive nonlinear events in the global environment give rise to massive nonlinear societal events. In this scenario, nations around the world will be overwhelmed by the scale of change and by pernicious challenges, such as pandemic disease and water and food shortages. The internal cohesion of nations will be under great stress, including in the United States, owing to a dramatic rise in migration, changes in agricultural patterns and water availability, and the pulling away of wealthier members of society from the rest of the population. Protests,

Table 9-1. Summary of Key Environmental and National Security Implications of Three Climate Scenarios

Scenario 1:

Scenario 2:

Scenario 3:

Expected Climate

Severe Climate




Climate Change

Summary of

Average 1.3°C

Average 2.6°C

Average 5.6°C

climate change





.23 meter of sea level

.52 meter of sea level

2.0 meters of sea



level rise


Approximately 30-

Approximately 100-

30-year time frame

year time frame

year time frame

Key selected

Water scarcity

Water scarcity

Water scarcity


affects up to

affects up to 2 bil-

affects 3.2 billion

stresses, based

1.7 billion people

lion people


on scenario

Changed distribution

Increased burden

Increased morbidity


of some infectious

from malnutrition,

and mortality from

disease vectors &

diarrheal, cardio-

heat waves,

allergenic pollen

respiratory, and

floods, and


infectious dis-


Up to 3 million addi-


Approximately 30

tional people at

Up to 15 million addi

percent loss of

risk of flooding

tional people at

coastal wetlands

Up to 30 million more

risk of flooding

Up to 120 million

people at risk of

Changes in marine

more people at risk

hunger due to crop

and ecosystems

of hunger due to


due to weakening

crop failure

of the meridional

Possible collapse of

overturning circu-

the meridional


overturning circu-


Possible national

Conflict over

Wealthiest members

Migration toward


resources due to

of society pull

U.S. borders by


and driving human

away from the rest

millions of hungry

based on scenario


of the population,

and thirsty south-


Immigrants—or even


ern neighbors is

simply visitors—

morale and viabil-

likely to dominate

from a country in

ity of democratic

U.S. security and

which there has



been a significant

Global fish stocks


disease outbreak

may crash,

A shrinking Russian

may not be wel-

enmeshing some

population might

comed and could

nations in a strug-

have substantial

be subject to quar

gle over dwindling

difficulty prevent-

antine and lead to


ing China from

loss of national

Governments, lack-

asserting control


ing necessary

over much of

Dissatisfaction with

resources, may

Siberia and the

state governments

privatize water

Russian Far East;

could radicalize

supply; past expe

the probability of

internal politics

rience with this in

conflict between

and create new

poor societies

two destabilized

safe havens in

suggests likeli-

nuclear powers

weak and failing

hood of violent

would seem high


protest and politi-

cal upheaval


Table 9-1. Summary of Key Environmental and National Security Implications of Three Climate Scenarios [continued]

Scenario 1:

Scenario 2:

Scenario 3:

Expected Climate

Severe Climate




Climate Change

A strengthened

Globalization may

Rage at government's

geopolitical hand

end and rapid eco

inability to deal

for natural gas-

nomic decline may

with the abrupt

exporting coun

begin, owing to the

and unpredictable

tries and, poten

collapse of finan


tially, biofuel-

cial and produc

Religious fervor,

exporting coun

tion systems that

perhaps even a

tries; a weakened

depend on inte-

dramatic rise in

hand, both strate

grated worldwide

millennial end-of-

gically and eco


days cults

nomically, for

Corporations may

Hostility and violence

importers of all

become increas-

toward migrants

fuel types

ingly powerful rel-

and minority

Social services will

ative to govern-


become increased

ments as the rich

Altruism and gen-

burden on central

look to private

erosity would likely

government where

services, engen-

be blunted


dering a new form

U.S. military's world-

The regional posi-

of globalization in

wide reach could

tions of Turkey and

which transna

be reduced sub-

others will likely be

tional business

stantially by logis

strengthened as a

becomes more

tics and the

result of the water

powerful than

demand of mis-



sions near our

Alliance systems


and multilateral

Electricity generation

institutions may

and distribution


highly vulnerable

them the UN, as

to attack by terror-

the Security

ists and rogue

Council fractures


beyond compro-

mise or repair

civil unrest, and violent upheaval of governments are possible. The flooding of coastal communities around the world, especially in the Netherlands, the United States, South Asia, and China, has the potential to challenge regional and even national identities. Armed conflict between nations over resources and even territory, such as the Nile and its tributaries, is likely, and even a rise in nuclear tensions is possible. Globalization of the economy could halt and alliances could collapse.

The catastrophic scenario, in which average global temperatures increase by 5.6°C (10.1°F) by 2100, is by far the most difficult future to visualize. The author of this scenario (see chapter 6) notes that intense hurricanes will become increasingly common, as will droughts, floods, wildfires, heat waves, and churning seas. Hundreds of millions of thirsty and starving people will have to flee or perish, leaving the globe dotted with ghost towns. The abrupt and sudden nature of many of these phenomena will challenge the ability of all societies to adapt, including that of the United States. Two countervailing trends might provide a glimmer of hope in the long term: the most profound will be innovations in science and technology, and the social changes that come with them. New technologies may dramatically affect global energy consumption and give us more tools to mitigate the effects that can no longer be prevented. Second, the human capacity for hope and determination should never be discounted, even in the most extreme of circumstances. As the effects of climate change become undeniable, the will of people to find collaborative solutions may provide the much-needed catalyst for global change.

These scenarios aim not to speculate on events centuries in the future, as some scientific models do, but to consider plausible developments using a reasonable time frame for making acquisition decisions—such as a fighter plane or a major war ship—or judgments about larger geopolitical trends. In national security planning, it generally can take about thirty years to design a weapons system and bring it to the battlefield, so it is important to anticipate future threat environments and to begin preparations now.

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