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Climate change is National Security Risk, says US DOD, plan adaptation and “climate intervention”

“ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States,” Obama  told the Atlantic, referring to the Islamic State. “Climate change is a potential existential threat to the entire world if we don’t do something about it.”  “We’re seeing change, climate change in the Arctic, and it’s having a strategic effect on us. It also has an effect on sea levels which, well, particularly for Pacific islanders and everything has a material effect on them. Patterns of climate affect human security because they cause people to move and famines to occur and things like that have security implications,” said Defense Secretary Carter.

Representatives from 195 nations gathered in Paris to negotiate an historic agreement to combat climate change and accelerate the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future, which was formally signed at the UN headquarters in New York on April 22, 2016. The parties agreed to balance the human-driven greenhouse-gas budget some time between 2050 and 2100. This commitment is intended to limit the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels to “well below 2 °C” — and preferably to 1.5 °C. Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, international governments are taking steps to transition away from fossil fuels as an energy source and transition  to a low-carbon, sustainable future. Israel, India and the U.K. all proposed plans for the rapid deployment of renewable energy to lower their carbon emissions.

PwC UK, has identified the top ten breakthrough technology solutions with substantial potential to move towards a zero net emissions economy over time. These are: advanced materials, cloud technology including big data, autonomous vehicles, including drones, synthetic biology, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, robots; blockchain, 3D printing and last, but not least — the Internet of things (IoT).

The “Innovation for the Earth” study demonstrates how these technological innovations could be applied to five areas of focus for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, namely clean power, smart transport systems, sustainable production and consumption, sustainable land use, smart cities and homes.


New analysis identifies game changing technology solutions for climate change

PwC UK, showcases how innovators and businesses could harness these advances to build solutions that deliver sustainability benefits, alongside economic and societal impacts. Addressing some of climate change’s biggest challenges could be helped by combining the technologies into five innovation game changers:

1. A next generation distributed grid: combining blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud and big data, and advanced materials.
2. Electrification of the transport system: combining cloud and big data, advanced materials, AI and IoT.
3. A smart and automated road transport grid: combining autonomous vehicles, cloud and big data, and IoT.
4. Smart and transparent land-use management: combining autonomous vehicles, IoT, AI, cloud and big data.
5. Technology enabled urban planning and design: combining IoT, AI, cloud and big data, advanced materials, 3D printing, and autonomous vehicles.

Examples outlined in the report include virtual power plants connected to each other via the cloud, and utilising the IoT to aggregate emerging energy sources including solar panels, micro-grids and energy storage installations, could be optimised using big data and machine learning.

The study warns that innovators and policy makers also need to plan in the unintended consequences of rapid advances in technology and its accessibility. The expanding digital economy has an exponentially rising need for data transmission, data storage and computing power, giving rise to increasing GHGs and digital waste alongside the energy and emissions savings it generates

Compelling evidence for rapid climate change

According to NASA, the current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years. The rate at which global sea level is rising in the last decade, is nearly double that of the last century.

The 10 of the warmest global temperature years occurred in the past 12 years. Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa. In 2013, the daily level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time in human history.

Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent. The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, along with increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.

“You can’t be on the ground in Asia, Africa, or the Middle East and not see what’s happening,” said Christine Parthemore, a former Pentagon official who now serves as the executive director of the Center for Climate & Security, a think tank.

Arctic Geopolitics and resource competition

Global warming is also melting the Arctic ice, and opening up new shipping trade routes and real estate, intense resource competition over an estimated $1 trillion untapped reserves of oil, natural gas and minerals has started. Russia is acting quickly to become dominating Geostrategic and Military power in the Arctic.

President Barack Obama had previously announced a proposal to accelerate the acquisition of a replacement heavy-duty icebreaker by 2020 after a visit to Alaska in September 2015. The icebreaker is meant “to ensure the United States can operate year-round in the Arctic Ocean,” the White House said.

Recent Pentagon directive told, “All DoD operations worldwide must be able to adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of climate change in order to maintain an effective and efficient U.S. military.”

The “Report on National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and a Changing Climate” to Congress, identifies the most serious and likely climate-related security risks for each combatant command and the ways those commands integrate risk mitigation into their planning processes. Further, the report was to provide resources required for effective responses and the timeline of resource needs.

World’s Space Agencies Unite to Face Climate Challenge

For the first time, under the impetus of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the French Space Agency (CNES), space agencies of more than 60 countries agreed to engage their satellites, to coordinate their methods and their data to monitor human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

Without satellites, the reality of global warming would not have been recognized, out of the 50 essential climate variables being monitored today, 26 – including rising sea level, sea ice extent and greenhouse gas concentrations in all layers of the atmosphere – can be measured only from space.

The key to effectively implementing the Paris Agreement lies in the ability to verify that nations are fulfilling their commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Only satellites can do that. The goal now will be to inter calibrate these satellite data so that they can be combined and compared over time. In other words, it is to make the transition to closely coordinated and easily accessible ‘big space data’.

Adaptation and Mitigation

Adaptation – adapting to life in a changing climate – involves adjusting to actual or expected future climate. The goal is to reduce our vulnerability to the harmful effects of climate change (like sea-level encroachment, more intense extreme weather events or food insecurity). It also encompasses making the most of any potential beneficial opportunities associated with climate change (for example, longer growing seasons or increased yields in some regions).

Mitigation – reducing climate change – involves reducing the flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, either by reducing sources of these gases (for example, the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat or transport) or enhancing the “sinks” that accumulate and store these gases (such as the oceans, forests and soil).


National Security Impact

Climate change can exacerbate a number of potential drivers of instability and conflict, such as access to energy, water, food and other scarce resources, poverty and inequality, population movements, and land and border disputes. Second order effects of increased social tensions, disrupted livelihoods, potential displacement of populations, and political unrest may result in security challenges.

“Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water. The present day effects of climate change are being felt from the Arctic to the Midwest. Increased sea levels and storm surges threaten coastal regions, infrastructure, and property. In turn, the global economy suffers, compounding the growing costs of preparing and restoring infrastructure.” Notes White House, National Security Strategy, February 2015

Pentagon’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review laid out the very serious threat posed from climate change: “These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”

Impact and US DOD adaptation plan

US Department of Defense, Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, 2014 focuses on the Department’s climate change adaptation activities.

The Department has established three broad adaptation goals:


  1. Identify and assess the effects of climate change on the Department

Geographic Combatant Commands (GCCs) have identified four general areas of climate-related security risks:


  • Persistently recurring conditions such as flooding, drought, and higher temperatures increase the strain on fragile states and vulnerable populations by dampening economic activity and burdening public health through loss of agriculture and electricity production, the change in known infectious disease patterns and the rise of new ones, and increases in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. This could result in increased intra- and inter-state migration, and generate other negative effects on human security.


  • More frequent and/or more severe extreme weather events that may require substantial involvement of DoD units, personnel, and assets in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) abroad and in Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) at home. The need for HADR and DSCA will likely rise as cities expand to encompass the majority of the global population and because flood risk threatens more people than any other natural hazard, especially in urban areas.


  • Sea level rise and temperature changes lead to greater chance of flooding in coastal communities and increase adverse impacts to navigation safety, damages to port facilities and cooperative security locations, and displaced populations. Sea level rise may require more frequent or larger-scale DoD involvement in HADR and DSCA. Measures will also likely be required to protect military installations, both in the United States and abroad, and to work with partner nations that support DoD operations and activities.


  • Decreases in Arctic ice cover, type, and thickness will lead to greater access for tourism, shipping, resource exploration and extraction, and military activities. Land access—which depends on frozen ground in the Arctic—will diminish as permafrost thaws. These factors may increase the need for search and rescue (SAR) capabilities, monitoring of increased shipping and other human activity, and the capability to respond to crises or contingencies in the region.


Our supply chains could be impacted, and we will need to ensure our critical equipment works under more extreme weather conditions. Weather has always affected military operations, and as the climate changes, the way we execute operations may be altered or constrained . . . Climate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the Nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security.”

  1. Integrate climate change considerations across the Department

Continue efforts to integrate climate considerations into programs, operations, plans and processes. Develop and implement adaptation strategies to address risks identified through the iterative assessment process in Goal 1.


  1. Manage associated risks and Collaborate with internal and external stakeholders on climate change challenges.

Promote deliberate collaboration with stakeholders – across the Department and with other Federal, State, local, tribal and international agencies and organizations in addressing climate change considerations. This collaboration may include expanded operations, adaptation strategies and research.

Geoengineering as a Solution to Climate Change

To date, most research on countering the impacts of climate change has focused on mitigating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions or on adapting human and natural systems to make them more resilient to the effects of a changing climate. Recently a committee was convened by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to consider a third option, climate intervention, also known as geoengineering.

The main finding of the report is that climate intervention is not a substitute for mitigation or adaptation. Efforts to address climate change should continue to focus most heavily on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions in combination with adapting to the impacts of climate change because these approaches do not present poorly defined and poorly quantified risks and are at a greater state of technological readiness. Climate intervention strategies are at a very early stage of development.

Carbon dioxide removal and albedo-modification techniques have been grouped up until now under the common term “geoengineering,” but they vary widely with respect to environmental risks, socio-economic impacts, cost, and research needs.

Carbon dioxide removal and sequestration

Carbon dioxide removal addresses the root cause of climate change — high concentrations of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere — and generally have well-understood benefits and risks. The drawback, however, is that these approaches act slowly and are difficult to scale to the problem at hand. Strategies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are limited by cost and technological immaturity.

Ocean iron fertilization (OIF) is one approach to carbon dioxide removal that might bear adverse environmental consequences. The NAS Committee recommended more research before OIF could be considered as an effective or safe strategy.

Large-scale deployment would cost as much or more than replacing fossil fuels with low carbon-emission energy sources, the committee said. In particular, research is needed to minimize energy and materials consumption, identify and quantify risks, lower costs, and develop reliable sequestration and monitoring capabilities.


Albedo-modification research

Technologies that prevent sunlight from reaching Earth’s surface could reduce average global temperatures within a few years, similar to the effects of large volcanic eruptions.

While many albedo-modification techniques have been proposed, the committee said two strategies that could potentially have a significant impact are injection of aerosols into the stratosphere and marine cloud brightening. The ‘marine cloud brightening’ technique modifies the low clouds to make them more reflective thereby cooling the climate.

Unlike carbon dioxide removal, these methods would not require major technological innovation to be implemented and are relatively inexpensive compared with the costs of transitioning to a carbon-free economy.

However, albedo-modification techniques would only temporarily mask the warming effect caused by high CO2 concentrations, and present serious known and possible unknown environmental, social, and political risks, including the possibility of being deployed unilaterally and should not be deployed at this time.

There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change, a National Research Council committee concluded in a two-volume evaluation of proposed climate-intervention techniques.

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