What Can Be Done

Whatever the possible international distribution of climate change effects, there is a general consensus about the need for multilateral cooperation, for isolated and uncoordinated national-level steps are clearly not up to the task. In the October 2006 Review on the Economics of Climate Change, the former World Bank economist Nicholas Stern maintained that although the near-term costs of stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are significant but manageable (approximately 1 percent of global GDP), any major delay in responding would result in substantially higher aggregate costs, amounting to an estimated loss of up to 20 percent of the world's GDP. One of the report's key assessments is that all countries can contribute to combating climate change while still achieving economic growth. In particular, the Stern review urged a multidimensional international response involving expanded use of carbon emissions trading arrangements, increased cooperation in developing and sharing low-carbon technologies, curbing deforestation, and greater support for adaptation measures.51

At the end of March 2007, the U.S. Army War College sponsored a two-day conference at the Triangle Institute for Security Studies on the topic "The National Security Implications of Global Climate Change." Participants included civilian strategists and active-duty and retired military officers, who explored a range of issues potentially linking climate change to international security. A major goal of the conference was to assess how the military could mitigate climate change, assist in efforts to adapt to climate change, and prepare for the security challenges that might ensue from climate change. The attendees stressed that any effective response to climate change-related security problems likely would require multi-agency cooperation, especially for domestic emergency management, and typically multinational action.52

In April 2007 the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) Corporation issued a landmark report that attracted major attention in the national security community because of its advisory board of former senior U.S. military officers.53 The authors recognized that much scientific uncertainty regarding climate change persists but urged "moving beyond the argument of cause and effect," since observed climate change was already occurring and presenting challenges to national security planners. According to the report, "The chaos that results can be an incubator of civil strife, genocide, and the growth of terrorism." The authors warn that these developments could contribute to state failure, interstate conflicts, or other security problems in many geographic regions that could require a response by an already overburdened U.S. military. Transformations in the environment resulting from climate change could also complicate regular U.S. military operations. Hurricanes and rising sea levels could threaten U.S. military facilities, extremely hot or cold weather could disrupt U.S. military operations, and allied militaries might offer less support for joint missions if they also have to respond to environmental threats. The board affirmed that they as military officers had long recognized the need to assess the risks of climate change-driven events if the consequences could prove sufficiently severe.

In the face of these challenges, the CNA panel recommended that the United States adjust its national security and national defense strategies to account for the possible consequences of climate change.54 For example, the Department of Defense should conduct an impact assessment of how rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and other effects of climate change might affect U.S. military installations over the next three to four decades. They also cautioned that extreme environmental conditions degrade weapons systems and the capabilities of military personnel. Beyond the military dimension, the panel members urged that the U.S. government seek to enhance the resilience of the international community in the face of climate-related threats by strengthening the governance, health care, and disaster prevention and relief capabilities of foreign countries. They noted that the recent creation of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) seems to serve such a purpose. The authors also recommended that the United States help limit climate change through unilateral and multilateral measures; the Department of Defense could contribute through more efficient use of energy and other measures.

Stepping from the foundation these previous works have laid, the working group convened by the Center for a New American Security and the Center for Strategic and International Studies diverged from previous work by looking into the past for historical evidence of what may be to come, then employing the best available evidence and climate models to ponder the national security implications of three plausible future worlds.

These particular scenarios aim not to speculate centuries into the future, as some scientific models do, but to consider possible developments using a reasonable time frame for making acquisition decisions 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 prepare for the challenges we may face as a result of climate change.

The three scenarios we develop in this study are based on expected, severe, and catastrophic climate cases. The first scenario projects the effects in the next thirty years with the expected level of climate change. The second, severe, scenario posits that the climate responds much more strongly to continued carbon loading over the next few decades than predicted by current scientific models. It foresees profound and potentially destabilizing global effects over the course of the next generation or more. Finally, the third, catastrophic, scenario is characterized by a devastating "tipping point" in the climate system, perhaps fifty to one hundred years hence. In this future world, radical changes in global climate conditions include the rapid loss of the land-based polar ice sheets, an associated dramatic rise in global sea levels, and the destruction beyond repair of the existing natural environment.

For each of the three plausible climate scenarios, we asked a national security expert to consider the projected environmental effects of global warming and to map out the possible consequences for peace and stability. We also enlisted a historian of science to consider whether there was anything to learn from the experience of earlier civilizations confronted with rampant disease, flooding, or other forms of natural disaster. Each climate scenario was carefully constructed and the three corresponding national security futures were thoroughly debated and discussed by the group. A synthesis and summary of some of the key findings from the various chapters follows.

Historical comparisons from previous civilizations and national experiences of such natural phenomena as floods, earthquakes, and disease may be of help in understanding how societies will deal with unchecked climate change. In the past, natural disasters generally have been local or abrupt or both, making it difficult to directly compare the worldwide effects of prolonged climate change to historical case studies. No precedent exists for a disaster of this magnitude—one that affects entire civilizations in multiple ways simultaneously. Nonetheless, the historical record can be instructive; human beings have reacted to crisis in fairly consistent ways. Natural disasters have tended to be divisive and sometimes unifying, to provoke social and even international conflict, to inflame religious turbulence, focus anger against migrants or minorities, and direct wrath toward governments for their actions or inaction. People have reacted with strategies of resistance and resilience—from flood control to simply moving away. Droughts and epidemic disease have generally exacted the heaviest toll, in both demographic and economic terms, and both are expected effects of future climate change. Indeed, even though global warming is unprecedented, many of its effects will be experienced as local and regional phenomena, suggesting that past human behavior may well be predictive of the future. This history is explored in chapter 2.

In chapter 3, the climate scientist Jay Gulledge explains how projections about the effects of climate change have tended to focus on the most probable outcome, on the basis of mathematical modeling of what we know about the global climate. With climate science, however, the level of uncertainty has always been very high. Indeed, the scientific community has been shocked at how fast some effects of global warming are unfolding, which suggests that many of the estimates considered most probable have been too conserva-tive.55 When we build climate scenarios in order to anticipate the future, therefore, there is a very strong case for looking at the full range of what is plausible, and this task is taken for the effects of climate change by region.

The expected climate change scenario considered in this report, an average global temperature increase of 1.3°C (2.3°F) by 2040, can be reasonably taken as a basis for national planning. The authors of chapter 4 write that 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. 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, corresponding to an average increase in global temperature of 2.6°C (4.7°F) by 2040, massive nonlinear events in the global environment give rise to massive nonlinear societal events. In this scenario, discussed in chapter 5, nations around the world will be overwhelmed by the scale of change and the accompanying huge challenges, such as pandemic disease. The internal cohesion of nations, including the United States, will be under great stress, as a result both of a dramatic rise in migration and of changes in agricultural patterns and water availability. 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 water resources such as the Nile and its tributaries is likely, and nuclear war is possible. The social consequences range from increased religious fervor to outright chaos. In this scenario, climate change provokes a permanent shift in the relationship of humankind to nature.

The catastrophic scenario, with average global temperatures increasing by 5.6°C (10.8°F) by 2100, is by far the most difficult future to visualize without straining credulity. The author of this scenario notes that intense hurricanes will become increasingly common, and so will droughts, floods, wildfires, heat waves, and churning seas. Hundreds of millions of thirsty and starving people will have to flee these disasters 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. If the catastrophic scenario described in this chapter comes to pass, the world will be caught in an age where sheer survival is the only goal.

The author of chapter 7 describes climate change as a malignant rather than a malevolent threat. However, one of the other great challenges of our time, terrorism, a malevolent threat, provides surprisingly similar challenges to national security as does climate change. Both threaten the economy and the ways the United States uses energy, and both contribute to the vulnerability of the nation's critical infrastructure. In this sense, diverse groups whose interests center on either the environment or on national security have cause to come together and act in tandem.

The Kyoto Protocol will expire in 2012. The United States, the European Union, and China are responsible for roughly half of global greenhouse gas emissions. The authors of chapter 8 outline changing views in each of these powerhouse nations, noting that if just these three players can agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and especially if experts from all relevant communities participate, a post-Kyoto climate change framework is likely.

The United States must confront the harsh reality that unchecked climate change will come to represent perhaps the single greatest risk to our national security, even greater than terrorism, rogue states, the rise of China, or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The effects of climate change will further complicate most other security threats as well.

Though the environment-security link has long been debated in different policy circles, scientists and national security practitioners have only recently begun to work together. New dialogues among these communities and scenario planning based on the best current scientific data have begun to paint a harrowing and Hobbesian view of the earth's future. A climatically disrupted future would be marked by sharp increases in global sea levels, endemic drought, more frequent and more extreme weather events, spreading disease vectors, massive extinctions, the prospects for the collapse of agricultural sectors and global fisheries, and the largest human movements and disruptions in history. These outcomes, on a lesser scale, will be seen even if climate change is relatively mild.

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