In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) introduced this legislation to require the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct research on, and take action to address, climate change’s effects on U.S. national security:
“We must recognize the multi-faceted nature of the climate crisis, and that includes taking action to address its geopolitical implications. The national security impacts of climate change are extremely difficult to overstate, yet our lack of research in this area leaves America vulnerable to a wide range of threats–China and Russia are exploiting melting Arctic sea lanes to their advantage, increased droughts and food insecurity are creating ideal conditions for extremism to flourish and our coastal critical infrastructure is under siege by rising seas. My legislation, the Homeland Security Climate Change Research Act, takes important action to address America’s national security concerns in the face of climate change.”
This bill passed the House with the support of two Democratic House cosponsors.
Of Note: The planet has warmed about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century. It is predicted that it will warm an additional 2.7 degrees by 2030. In 2018, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (a federal program responsible for coordinating federal climate research) reported that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially greenhouse gas emissions, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
According to the Dept. of Defense (DOD), there are national security implications associated with climate change. In a 2015 report, “National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and a Changing Climate,” the DOD observed:
“A changing climate increases the risk of instability and conflict overseas . . . The Department of Defense sees climate change as a present security threat, not strictly a long-term risk. We are already observing the impacts of climate change in shocks and stressors to vulnerable nations and communities, including in the United States, and in the Arctic, Middle East, Africa, and South America. Case studies indicate that in addition to exacerbating existing risks from other factors (e.g. social, economic, and political fault lines), climate induced stress can generate new vulnerabilities (e.g.) water scarcity and thus contribute to instability and conflict even in a situation not previously considered at risk.”
The security challenges associated with climate change were also discussed in the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which stated that “[a]s global temperatures rise, droughts and famines can lead to more failed states, which are breeding grounds of extremist and terrorist organizations.”
According to a University of California-Berkeley study, droughts, famines, floods, wildfires, and other climate change-related events “lead to instability that extremist groups can take advantage of to create conflict.” This has already borne out in some parts of the world. For example, in Iraq, ISIS targeted farmers whose crops were lost to drought and other events for recruitment. In 2018, U.S. officials observing this expressed concern that both ISIS and al-Qaeda recruitment in the Sahel region were bolstered by increased water instability in the region due to climate change.
In a 2017 article, National Geographic detailed the boost that famine and drought — which are related to climate change — gave to terrorist recruiters in the Sahel in 2009. The article described how a terrorist recruiter targeted “the most shabbily dressed farmers,” promising them easy riches and help feeding their families in return for joining the terrorist organization. Then, in the following years, the jihadists would reappear “with every flood or bout of extreme heat or cold,” and the farmers, “in no state to navigate the extra challenges of climate change,” were recruited. Due to this cycle, some of the most environmentally-challenged Sunni Arab villages became some of the foremost recruiting grounds for jihadists.
The U.S. military is already working to prepare for climate change. It is working with allies, studying potential threats, ensuring resilience to extreme weather and preparing to deploy armed forces when needed. The 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) outlined priorities within the framework of “great power competition,” particularly focusing on China and Russia, in addition to threats from North Korea, Iran, and terrorists. The 2018 NDS noted the challenges of an “increasingly complex security environment,” including climate change.
More recently, in 2019, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued a new threat assessment report highlighting climate change’s destabilizing effects. The ODNI report predicted that the “negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change will impact human security challenges, threaten public health, and lead to historic levels of human displacement.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Scharfsinn86)