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NYT: Climate change poses a growing threat to national security

WASHINGTON – Aggravation of conflicts within and between nations. Increased displacement and migration as people flee climate instability. Increased military tension and uncertainty. Financial risks.

The Biden administration on Thursday released several reports on climate change and national security, laying out in blunt terms the ways in which global warming is beginning to significantly challenge global stability.

The documents, released by the internal security and defense departments as well as the National Security Council and the director of national intelligence, mark the first time that the country’s security agencies have collectively communicated the climate risks they face. .

The reports include warnings from the intelligence community about how climate change can work on many levels to undermine a nation’s strength. For example, countries like Iraq and Algeria could be affected by a loss of income from fossil fuels, even as their region faces worsening heat and drought. The Pentagon has warned that food shortages could lead to unrest, as well as fights between countries over water.

The Department of Homeland Security, which includes the US Coast Guard, has warned that as ice melts in the Arctic Ocean, competition will increase for fish, minerals and other resources. Another report warned that tens of millions of people would likely be displaced by 2050 due to climate change, including up to 143 million people in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

The national security warnings came on the same day that major financial regulators first flagged climate change as “an emerging threat” to the US economy. More frequent and destructive disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and forest fires, lead to property damage, lost income and business disruptions that threaten to change the way real estate and other assets are valued, according to a report released by a panel of federal experts and state regulators. As of October 8, there have been 18 “weather / climate disasters” in 2021, costing more than $ 1 billion each, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The reports came as President Biden prepares to attend a major United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, known as COP26. With his climate agenda stuck in Congress, Mr Biden risks having little progress to brag about in Glasgow, where the administration had hoped to restore US leadership in the fight against warming.

The reports “reinforce the president’s commitment to evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data,” the White House said Thursday, and “will form the basis of our critical work on climate and security. in the future “.

The idea that climate change is a threat to national security is not new – the Obama administration has said so and has started pushing the Pentagon to consider climate risks. But taken together, the reports signal a new milestone in U.S. policy, one that puts climate change at the center of the nation’s security planning.

Perhaps the largest and most comprehensive of the documents was a National intelligence estimate, which aims to collect and distill the views of the country’s intelligence agencies on specific threats. The report, the first to focus exclusively on the climate issue, said the risks to US national security will only increase in the years to come.

The document made three key judgments. Global tensions will increase as countries fight over how to accelerate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change will exacerbate cross-border flashpoints and increase strategic competition in the Arctic. And the effects of climate change will be felt most severely in developing countries that are least equipped to adapt.

China and India, with large populations and heavy use of fossil fuels, will strongly determine how quickly global temperatures rise, according to the estimate.

The chances are not good that countries will meet their commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep the increase in the global average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to intelligence reports. The Earth has already warmed by about 1.1 degrees Celsius. If it crosses the 2-degree threshold, the planet will experience increasingly deadly floods, fires, storms and ecosystem collapses, scientists say.

“Given current government policies and trends in technological development, we believe that countries collectively are unlikely to meet the Paris targets,” the report said. “High-emission countries are expected to make rapid progress towards decarbonizing their energy systems away from fossil fuels over the next decade, while developing countries are expected to rely on low-emission energy sources. carbon for their economic development. “

The intelligence report identified 11 countries as being particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and particularly unable to cope with its effects. This list included four countries close to the United States, including Guatemala and Haiti; three countries with nuclear weapons (North Korea, Pakistan and India); and two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, which the United States invaded following the September 11 attacks.

The fight against climate change could benefit other countries, added intelligence agencies, especially those becoming leaders in emerging renewable energy technologies or the raw materials needed for their production. China controls much of the world’s processing capacity for cobalt, lithium, and other minerals needed for electric vehicle batteries, as well as rare earth minerals used in wind turbines and electric vehicle engines.

Other countries, such as Norway and the UK, have an advantage in meeting the growing demand for removing carbon dioxide from the air, the report says, due to government policies – such as pricing of gas. carbon – which support the development of this technology.

Federal officials have noted how climate change is melting the Arctic ice, opening the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and paving the way for competition for resources and sea lanes for commercial shipping between Russia, China, Canada and the United States, among others.

The Pentagon, which issued a his own report, said the military will start spending a significant portion of its budget to integrate climate-related threats into its planning.

The Ministry of Defense faces many climates risks. Its bases are vulnerable to flooding, fires, drought and sea level rise. Among myriad other examples, the Coronado Naval Base has experienced isolated and sudden flooding during storm events. tropical, particularly during the El Niño years, Naval Air Station Key West was hit by a severe drought several years ago and a forest fire in 2017 burned 380 acres on Vandenberg Air. Force base in Southern California. Droughts, fires and floods can also interfere with the Pentagon’s ability to train its forces and test its equipment.

Sherri Goodman, former Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security and now Secretary General of the International Military Council on Climate and Security, said the Pentagon was right to “directly integrate the concept of climate change as a multiplier threat in all aspects of defense strategy, planning, force posture and budget.

The Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said it would start making climate change a focus of its preparedness grants to state and local governments. It will also incorporate evolving science into the guidance it provides to the public and private sectors on how to manage risk, he said.

The agency said it plans to hire more staff with scientific expertise, including in its policy making and public outreach divisions.

“From extreme weather events to record heat, DHS’s workforce is on the front lines of the climate emergency every day,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement on Thursday.

When it comes to migration, the United States is already feeling the effects of climate change, with deadly and destructive hurricanes pushing migrants from Central America. People trying to enter the United States through Mexico have overwhelmed border officials on several occasions since 2014 and especially in the past six months.

The National Security Council has issued its own report Thursday, examining how climate change is already forcing people to leave their homes. The report noted a forecast suggesting that climate change could lead nearly three percent of the populations of Latin America, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to move within their countries by 2050. , or more than 143 million people.

Weather events are often one factor among others, including conflict and violence, that force people to move, according to the report.

In February, Biden signed an executive order directing the National Security Council to come up with options to protect and resettle those displaced by climate change.

The report released Thursday recommends that the White House “work with Congress to create a new legal path for individualized humanitarian protection in the United States for people facing serious threats to their lives from climate change.”

Teevrat Garg, professor of economics at the University of California at San Diego, specializing in climate migration, praised the administration’s attention to the issue. But he said the report could have addressed the deeper question of what the United States and other developed countries owe climate migrants.

“Much of the carbon emissions driving climate change come from rich countries, but the consequences are borne disproportionately by the poor,” said Dr Garg. As a result, rich countries have “an obligation to support climate refugees”.

Kayly Ober, senior lawyer and program manager for the Climate Displacement Program at Refugees International, called the report disappointing, more a review of the challenges of climate migration than a set of prescriptions on how to deal with them. “This is a huge missed opportunity,” Ms. Ober said. “I think the Biden administration hasn’t quite figured out what it wants to do.”

Somini sengupta contributed reports.

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