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Climate change is National Security Risk, says US DOD, plans adaptation and climate intervention

“Climate change is a potential existential threat to the entire world if we don’t do something about it, Obama  told.” “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.


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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.


“Global temperature has risen by one degree since the late 19th century, which is absolutely considerable,” Denis Kessler, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of French reinsurer SCOR,  said. “For the first time in the earth’s history, climate change is attributable to human activity; we have to find a solution for carbon emissions.” He added that, unless we can find a solution to limit emissions, global warming is going to continue, creating incredible difficulties for the re/insurance industry. “In the most extreme warming scenarios, the risk universe will be so profoundly modified that parts of the world will become un-insurable.”

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.”


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).



U.S. Military Precariously Unprepared for Climate Threats

A string of climate-related disasters that crippled the strategic capability of multiple U.S military bases in recent years has exposed the military’s vulnerability to extreme weather, putting a spotlight on its failure to prepare and the consequences to national security. Offutt Air Force base in Nebraska, home to the U.S. Strategic Command, was incapacitated by historic flooding that swept through the Midwest in March. More than 130 structures were destroyed, and the cost of rebuilding has hit $1 billion and could go higher.


Hurricane Michael, a monster Category 5 storm, wiped out Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida in 2018, damaging 17 grounded F-22 stealth fighters and causing an estimated $5 billion in damage. Heat illnesses in the military are also rising, putting service members’ lives at risk, a 2019 investigation by InsideClimate News and NBC News showed.


Yet the Defense Department, now facing a presidential administration that rejects science and ignores climate risks, has been slow to respond, and that’s raising concerns across the military and from Congress’s watchdog agency and military think tanks. In a series of reports this year, they questioned the military’s readiness, offering foreboding conclusions that climate change poses significant threats to national security, military preparedness and personnel safety—threats they say the military is not fully equipped to handle.


“The Department of Defense is precariously underprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges,” a U.S. Army War College study bluntly concluded. The projections are also worrisome for U.S. military operations overseas, where armed forces face extreme weather, sea level rise and the risk that diminishing water supplies, changing disease patterns or crop failures could destabilize a country, the Government Accountability Office wrote in a recent report to Congress.


The reports are especially striking given the Trump administration’s record of climate science denial and its disregard of the consequences of environmental policy rollbacks. The War College report said the government was “perceived to be an irresponsible actor in the global environment,” citing President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord as an example.


The reports stress the need for massive military infrastructure safeguards. They also highlight concerns that some sectors of the Department of Defense remain resistant to climate change projections; have failed to take steps to mitigate its effects; and are unprepared for the consequences.  In a study spawned by our reporting, the Union of Concerned Scientists calculated that by mid-century, military personnel at U.S. bases in the Lower 48 states could face an extra month on average of potentially deadly heat days if the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming continues at a high rate.


Aircraft also struggle to perform as heat and humidity rise, and that’s having an effect already, the Center for Climate and Security found. Consequently the current fleet of military aircraft inventory might not be fit to operate in a future with high temperatures.

Military Impact

When a military facility is wrecked by a climate disaster, the consequences go far beyond the damage to physical structure, said Jon Powers, a retired Army captain who served as special advisor on energy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army during the Obama Administration and is now president of CleanCapital, a company that directs investment in clean energy generation. “The operations that are coordinated from that facility are halted,” said Powers. “The consequences are not just to the facility, but to the operational readiness of the units being supported out of that building.” If a communication center in the U.S. is knocked out of commission, for example, the disruption could be to military operations half-way around the world.”These facilities have to be designed for lifetimes of 50 years or more,” he said. “If we are going to make major investments in facilities, we have to make sure they are protected for their lifetime.”


Service members also face new risks in a warming world, even on U.S. soil. InsideClimate News’ investigation with NBC News this year found that cases of heat stroke or heat exhaustion among U.S. troops were up 60 percent over the past decade, as preventable heath deaths continue, with cascading consequences for military readiness.


Globally, the military should prepare for new foreign interventions, including humanitarian supply missions and disaster relief, triggered by climate-related impacts, the Army War College report warned. It examined the ripple effects of climate change-induced stressors, such as availability of water, declining food production, populations displaced by sea level rise and regions made uninhabitable because of excessive heat. These stressors can tax already weak nations with unstable governments and disrupt civil society, potentially lighting the fuse on conflict, like what happened in the Syrian civil war.


The Arctic is an example. As Arctic sea ice continues to decrease, there are greater opportunities for countries to take advantage of new shipping routes. Russia and China have embarked on a rapid build-up in the Arctic to claim control over polar trade routes, with Russia currently planning to open 10 search-and-rescue stations, 16 deep water ports, 13 airfields and 10 air defense sites. “These developments create not only security outposts for Russia, but also threats to the U.S. mainland,” the report says.


The report, which focuses on the Army, pointedly says the military must consider changes in doctrine, organization, equipment, and training to meet the mounting threats of climate change. “It would be shortsighted for any organization to not consider how potential future changes might impact their operations,” said Col. Parker L. Frawley, an assistant professor in the Department of National Security and Strategy at the United States Army War College.

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.

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’.


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




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