January 6, 2012

Security Implications of Global Climate Change

Center for Strategic and International Studies and Center for a New American Security


The Methodological Approach of this Study and Previous Research on the Impacts of Climate Change


A distinguished group of nationally recognized leaders were identified and recruited from the fields of climate science, foreign policy, political science, oceanography, history, and national security to take part in this endeavor. …
  • [Economist and] Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling;
  • Pew Center Senior Scientist [—] Jay Gulledge;
  • National Academy of Sciences President [—] Ralph Cicerone;
  • American Meteorological Society Fellow [—] Bob Correll;
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Senior Scientist [—] Terrence Joyce …
  • former Vice President [Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute —] Richard Pittenger;
  • Climate Institute Chief Scientist [—] Mike MacCracken;
  • [Historian] John McNeill of Georgetown University;
  • former CIA Director [—] James Woolsey;
  • former Chief of Staff to the President [Clinton —] John Podesta;
  • former National Security Advisor to the Vice President [Al Gore —] Leon Fuerth;
  • Jessica Bailey, Sustainable Development Program Officer at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund;
  • Rand Beers, President of Valley Forge Initiative;
  • General Counsel Sherri Goodman of the Center for Naval Analysis;
  • CNAS Senior Fellow [—] Derek Chollet;
  • President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change [—] Eileen Claussen;
  • Gayle Smith, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress;
  • Daniel Poneman, Principal of The Scowcroft Group;
  • Senior Fellow Susan Rice of The Brookings Institution; and
  • Principal of The Albright Group [—] Wendy Sherman. …

[The expected and severe] scenarios in this report use the timeframe of a national security planner: 30 years, the time it takes to take major military platforms from the drawing board to the battlefield.
The exception is the catastrophic scenario, which extends out beyond fifty years to a century from now.
(p 14)


Executive Summary


The expected climate change scenario considered in this report, with an average global temperature increase of 1.3°C by 2040, can be reasonably taken as a basis for national planning.
(p 7)

In the case of severe climate change, corresponding to an average increase in global temperature of 2.6°C by 2040, massive nonlinear events in the global environment give rise to massive non-linear societal events. …

The catastrophic scenario, with average global temperatures increasing by 5.6°C by 2100, finds strong and surprising intersections between the two great security threats of the day — global climate change and international terrorism waged by Islamist extremists. …

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. …

Poor and underdeveloped areas are likely to have fewer resources and less stamina to deal with climate change — in even its very modest and early manifestations.
(p 7)

Perhaps the most worrisome problems associated with rising temperatures and sea levels are from large-scale migrations of people — both inside nations and across existing national borders. …

The term “global climate change” is misleading in that many of the effects will vary dramatically from region to region. …

A few countries may benefit from climate change in the short term, but there will be no “winners.” …

Climate change effects will aggravate existing international crises and problems.
(p 8)

We lack rigorously tested data or reliable modeling to determine with any sense of certainty the ultimate path and pace of temperature increase or sea level rise associated with climate change in the decades ahead. …

Any future international agreement to limit carbon emissions will have considerable geopolitical as well as economic consequences. …

The scale of the potential consequences associated with climate change — particularly in more dire and distant scenarios — made it difficult to grasp the extent and magnitude of the possible changes ahead. …

At a definitional level, a narrow interpretation of the term “national security” may be woefully inadequate to convey the ways in which state authorities might break down in a worst case climate change scenario.
(p 9)


The Lessons of History


The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12, following on serious floods in the Ohio and Mississippi basins, helped the prophet Tecumseh — who allegedly predicted the earthquakes — [to] rally Native Americans to his religious war against the United States (which incidentally helped maintain Canada as an independent entity). …

[If] the future holds more serious extreme weather events it seems likely that the most extreme will generate new forms of religion and intensified commitment to old ones.
(p 32)


Contents


Summary

Introduction

Lessons of History

Scenario Overview

Security Implications of Expected Climate Change

Security Implications of Severe Climate Change

Security Implications of Catastrophic Climate Change

Planetary Defense

Summary and Implications


CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AND CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY


Washington DC.

  • The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change, 5 November, 2007.
    Kurt M Campbell, Jay Gulledge, JR McNeill, John Podesta, Peter Ogden, Leon Fuerth, R James Woolsey, Alexander TJ Lennon, Julianne Smith, Richard Weitz and Derek Mix.


    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY


    [The] spreading desertification in the Darfur region has been compounding the tensions between nomadic herders and agrarian farmers, providing the environmental backdrop for genocide.
    In Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, the risk of coastal flooding is growing and could leave some 30 million people searching for higher ground in a nation already plagued by political violence and a growing trend toward Islamist extremism.
    Neighboring India is already building a wall along its border with Bangladesh.
    (p 5)
    • The first scenario projects the effects in the next 30 years with the expected level of climate change.
    • The severe scenario, which posits that the climate responds much more strongly to continued carbon loading over the next few decades than predicted by current scientific models, foresees profound and potentially destabilizing global effects over the course of the next generation or more.
    • [The] catastrophic scenario is characterized by a devastating “tipping point” in the climate system, perhaps 50 or 100 years hence. …

    [Key] findings …

    • [Expected] climate change [with] an average global temperature increase of 1.3°C by 2040 …

      [The] environmental effects in this scenario are “the least we ought to prepare for.” …
      • 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.
    (p 6)
    • [Severe] climate change [with] an average increase in global temperature of 2.6°C by 2040 …

      [Nations] around the world will be overwhelmed by the scale of change and pernicious challenges, such as pandemic disease.
      The internal cohesion of nations will be under great stress … as a result of a dramatic rise in migration and 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 resources, such as the Nile and its tributaries, is likely and nuclear war is possible. …

    • [Catastrophic climate change with] average global temperatures increasing by 5.6°C by 2100 … would pose almost inconceivable challenges …

    • Poor and underdeveloped areas are likely to have fewer resources and less stamina to deal with climate change — in even its very modest and early manifestations.

      The impact on rainfall, desertification, pestilence, and storm intensity has already been felt in much of Africa, parts of Central Asia, and throughout Central and South America.
    (p 7)
      It would be a mistake, however, to assume that climate change will not be a problem for affluent countries …
      Such nations may also face dire conditions such as permanent agricultural disruptions, endemic disease, ferocious storm patterns, deep droughts, the disappearance of vast tracks of coastal land, and the collapse of ocean fisheries …

    • [Large-scale] migrations of people — both inside nations and across existing national borders [— associated with rising temperatures and sea levels].

      In all three scenarios it was projected that rising sea levels in Central America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia and the associated disappearance of low lying coastal lands could conceivably lead to massive migrations — potentially involving hundreds of millions of people. …

    • The term “global climate change” is misleading in that many of the effects will vary dramatically from region to region. …

      Changes across the board are unlikely to be gradual and predictable and more likely to be uneven and abrupt. …
    (p 8)
    • We lack rigorously tested data or reliable modeling to determine with any sense of certainty the ultimate path and pace of temperature increase or sea level rise associated with climate change in the decades ahead. …

      [Most] scientific predictions … over the last two decades … have been consistently below what has actually transpired.
      There are perhaps many reasons for this tendency — an innate scientific caution, an incomplete data set, a tendency for scientists to steer away from controversy, persistent efforts by some to discredit climate “alarmists” …
    (p 9)

    In the coming decade the United States faces an ominous set of challenges for this and the next generation of foreign policy and national security practitioners. …
    • reversing the decline in America’s global standing,
    • rebuilding the nation’s armed forces, …
    • persevering in Afghanistan,
    • working toward greater energy security,
    • re-conceptualizing the struggle against violent extremists,
    • restoring public trust in all manner of government functions,
    • preparing to cope with either naturally occurring or man-made pathogens …
    • quelling the fear that threatens to cripple our foreign policy [and]
    • dealing responsibly with global climate change.
    (p 10)

    Our group found that, left unaddressed, climate change may come to represent as great or a greater foreign policy and national security challenge than any problem from this list.
    And, almost certainly, overarching global climate change will complicate many of these other issues.
    (p 110)


    INTRODUCTION


    Kurt M Campbell: CEO and co-founder, Center for a New American Security; former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and the Pacific
    Richard Weitz: Senior Fellow and Director of Program Management, Hudson Institute



    CAN HISTORY HELP US WITH GLOBAL WARMING?


    JR McNeill: Professor of History, Georgetown University

    For the past 2.7 million years, [the climate] has shown a pattern of alternating long ice ages and shorter interglacials, governed by cycles in the Earth’s orbit around the sun. …
    [The end of the last ice age c11,000-6,000 years ago] coincided with the emergence of agriculture in multiple locations.
    After that bout of warming … global climate changed only modestly and slowly until the industrial age.
    While our Paleolithic ancestors did have to cope with rapid climate change from time to time, when they did so the Earth had fewer people (or hominids) than Chicago has today …
    Their response to adverse climate change (as to much else) was to walk elsewhere.
    Since the emergence of agriculture, sedentarism, civilization, and the settlement of all habitable parts of the globe, the Paleolithic response has become more and more impractical.
    Thus, while there are analogues in Earth’s history for the climate change now under way, there are none in human history.
    (p 23)

    We have entered uncharted terrain.


    Buffers, Resilience, and Nature’s Shocks


    In the last 10,000 years … warming and cooling trends and attendant sea level fluctuations were small. Even the Little Ice Age, c. 1300–1850, amounted to a cooling … of about 0.5°C.
    It made harvest failures more frequent in northern Europe, and [in lower latitudes, produced] more frequent droughts …

    In recent millennia, the most dangerous of [natures shocks and stresses have] included epidemics, droughts, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. …

    The worst epidemics have killed 30 million to 100 million people, even if one counts the bubonic plague pandemic of the 14th century as a single epidemic.
    The most recent epidemic on such a scale, the 1918 to 1919 influenza, killed perhaps 40 million (about 2 percent of the global population).
    The ongoing AIDS pandemic has so far killed 25 million to 30 million, about 0.5 percent of the current population.
    Such pandemics are mercifully rare, but epidemics that affected regions or single cities were not, and they routinely killed 5 to 10 percent or even more of the affected population.

    Droughts at their worst killed a few million. …
    In the 20th century … the deadliest droughts occurred in China from 1928 to 1931, in 1936, and in 1941, with 2 million to 5 million deaths on each occasion, generally through starvation.
    The famous Sahelian droughts of 1967 to 1973 and again in the early 1980s each killed about 1 million people.
    In all probability some of the drought-induced Indian famines of the 19th century killed more, but the figures are in dispute.

    Floods too could kill thousands, even millions, although flood control and evacuation procedures have made a large difference in flood mortality. …
    The worst flood in recent Chinese history, on the Yangtze in 1954, killed 30,000 people.
    (p 24)

    Yangtze floods of 1931, perhaps the most costly ever, killed 1 million to 4 million, and those on the Hwang He in 1887 perhaps 1 million to 2 million.
    The great North Sea floods of December 1953 killed some 2,400 in the Netherlands, whereas earlier floods, in 1212, had killed 60,000.
    A 1342 flood in central Europe, which caused half of all the soil erosion over German lands in the past millennium, probably drowned hundreds of thousands of people. …

    Of the many thousands of deadly earthquakes, only 10 have killed more than 100,000 people.
    The worst occurred in China in 1566, killing perhaps 800,000.
    The recent tsunami of December 2004, created by an earthquake, killed 284,000, while the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan killed about 79,000.
    The San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the worst in US history, killed about 3,000.

    Of the countless volcanic eruptions, only six are likely to have killed more than 10,000 people.
    The worst case, Tambora (Indonesia) in 1815, took 92,000 lives …
    Krakatau (1882) cost 36,000.
    The famous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79 killed about 3,600, while the worst in U.S. history, Mt. St. Helens in 1980, killed 57. …

    Resistance and resilience are not the same thing.
    Resistance to flood, for example, can take the form of the construction of seawalls and dikes, as the Dutch have done for 600 years to keep the North Sea at bay.
    Resilience to flood means the capacity to recover as quickly and easily as possible, which might take the form of leaving a river floodplain uninhabited, used only for seasonal pasture, as was done along the Rhine until its canalization (which began in 1815).
    (p 25)

    In our earliest years … resilience consisted mainly of mobility …
    As recently as 1912–15, when severe droughts affected the West African Sahel, millions of people adapted by migrating southward—a feasible response because in those days West Africa had about one-eighth the population it carries today, and there were no effective border control regimes to inhibit migration. …
    [Today mobility] is severely restricted.

    A second source of resilience in times past was simplicity combined with fertility.
    Societies with minimal infrastructure lose little except people in experiencing natural disasters, and new people are easily created. …

    Since 1950 or so, the ability to evacuate millions and to bring large quantities of food and other supplies, quickly and over great distances, has improved immensely.
    As a result, modern famines have mainly been an artifact of war and totalitarian politics, rather than a result of environmental factors.
    Ironically, the logistical capacity to do such things was in large part developed to meet the military requirements of global war …
    (p 26)

    Vulnerability to shock consisted of several components.
    First … the intensity and duration of natural shocks often made all the difference between survival and catastrophe. …
    Second … some societies had … less in the way of buffers or resilience than others.

    Less obvious … were differences in levels of ecological ignorance. …
    Populations that have lived in one environment for several generations gradually acquire, and usually take pains to transmit, knowledge of how to survive and prosper within the limits of their environment. …

    Conversely, in many instances, especially in the last two centuries (because of cheap transportation and more long-distance migration), many populations found themselves operating experimentally in new environments. …

    • British and Irish settlers in Australia after 1788, who inevitably misunderstood antipodean ecology and often paid a price for it. …

    • American farmers … who during the 1930s drought naturally presumed that the moister years of 1915 to 1930 were normal.
      [Ignorant] of the cyclic drought patterns of the [southern plains they] inadvertently turned a routine drought into an epic Dust Bowl.

    • [Th]e failures of the Soviet Virgin Lands scheme of the 1950s, in which Premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered [a vast] area of dry Siberian steppe … to be planted to wheat, only to see within a few years disastrous drought, dust storms, and harvest failure.

    (p 27)


    Societal and Political Reverberations


    In terms of demographic losses from natural shocks, the worst era came between 1300 and 1920. …

    Normally, if disaster was followed by good fortunes, exuberant fertility made up for the losses within a few years.
    In some cases, however, reproductive slowdowns and strikes lasted decades. This appears to have been the case with the native populations of the Americas during and after the relentless epidemics of the 16th and 17th centuries.

    The economic effects of natural shocks, unlike the demographic ones, have tended to grow and grow.
    But that is mainly for cheerful reasons: the world economy is now so large that there is much more at risk.
    Global GNP grew 15-fold in the 20th century, and more than four-fold in per capita terms.
    The direct effects of damage to property depended on where disasters occurred.
    None were worse, in monetary terms, than the Kobe earthquake of 1995, whose costs may have topped $200 billion, and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, whose costs are put variously between $25 billion and $100 billion.
    The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 led to about $10 billion in direct economic losses. …

    While storms and earthquakes often had locally devastating economic effects… droughts were relatively less expensive overall …
    In the 1950s, the American total [costs from discrete natural shocks] came to roughly $4 billion per annum on average.
    In 2003 that had swollen to $65 billion, and in 2004 to $145 billion …
    About two-thirds of the costs incurred came from floods and storms.
    The mass migration into flood-prone regions since 1930, and the consequent creation of housing stock and infrastructure, chiefly accounts for the tremendous rise in the cost of floods and storms.
    (p 28)

    Although the costs from nature’s shocks … could have devastating effects for a decade or more — none in modern history, not even the 1918-19 influenza, had durable economic consequences that changed the affairs of nations.
    [By contrast,] the 1346 to 1350 plague pandemic, which is credited with helping to end feudalism in Western Europe by raising the negotiating power of laborers … killed perhaps one-third of Europe’s population …

    [It] is possible to imagine that in the long run, brutal destruction of existing infrastructure and plant could clear the way for a new generation of more efficient investment.
    This optimistic perspective … assumes a shock is followed by a time of stability and other favorable conditions.
    [For example,] the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 cleared the way for a more economically rational city plan in subsequent years …
    In any event, recurrent shocks would prohibit creative destruction even if other circumstances were favorable. …

    [All conclusions about the political] and social effects of nature’s shocks [at the local and national scale] are tentative and subject to dispute.
    Nevertheless, some generalizations seem reliable.

    • [Nature’s] shocks in the past have proven both socially divisive and unifying at the same time.
      [During] the Katrina disaster … looting was widespread and citizens preyed upon one another in various disturbing ways. …
      [Simultaneously,] citizens throughout the United States donated money, materials, and labor in solidarity with the Katrina victims. …

    • [Social] conflict on some scale was routine during and after disasters.
      Societies with little in the way of safety net — say Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s — easily succumbed to banditry, ethnic and religious violence, and even outright civil war under the stress of acute drought. …

    • [Political] reaction to shocks often took the form of scapegoating minorities or foreigners.
      The Black Death in Europe intensified persecution of Jews, who were accused of poisoning wells and causing the pestilence.
      This played some role in encouraging Jewish migration to Eastern Europe in the 14th century.
      After the great 1923 Kanto earthquake in Japan, which killed some 130,000 to 150,000 people, vigilante mobs together with army and police units attacked Tokyo’s Korean community, then about 30,000 strong, and killed perhaps 6,000.

    (p 29)

      Many Japanese believed rumors that Koreans had set fires and poisoned water supplies in the earthquake’s aftermath.

    • [In] the wake of disasters government authorities frequently attracted popular wrath either for neglect or for intrusive efforts to minimize or prevent damage.
      This is … a reflection of the state’s [increasing] assumption of responsibility for public health and order.
      The cholera epidemics in 19th century Europe … contributed to the revolutionary spirit of the 1830 to 1871 era. …
      Urban populations with unsanitary water were especially victimized, which in the context of the times fueled the widespread belief that the upper classes or the state were systematically poisoning the poor.
      Government efforts at quarantines, compulsory hospitalization, and cordons sanitaires provoked riots and attacks on state officials. …

      [During] the 1910–11 cholera epidemic in Apulia, Italy … the authorities reacted by encouraging pogroms against gypsies and forcibly detaining and isolating the sick.
      Italians responded by rioting and killing medical officials, which led the state to call in the army. …

      [Were it not for pioneering compulsory] inoculation against smallpox [George Washington would probably] have lost the Revolutionary War …

      In the right social and political circumstances, natural shocks, and perceptions of official reactions to them [can] precipitate resistance and rebellion. …

      [In] imperial China (before 1911) [and in most pre-colonial African societies] populations normally believed that proper ecological functioning … depended on a proper relationship between their rulers and heavenly powers. …

    (p 30)

      Floods and droughts were taken to mean rulers had lost … the mandate of heaven … and thus no longer were owed obedience. …

      In the 19th and 20th centuries … national governments increasingly sought and took responsibility for disease control, flood control, drought relief, and so forth …
      [But as] states improved their capacity to deal with nature’s shocks, they were held to ever higher standards, expected to cope effectively with them, but not to intrude too deeply upon citizen’s lives and lifestyles. …

    The political significance of nature’s shocks [have normally] touched international politics only indirectly. …

    • Since at least the 18th century, natural disasters have occasionally provoked outpourings of sympathy, both among populations and among states. …

    • Epidemics, while providing plenty of opportunity for mutual recrimination, probably brought states together more often than they drove them apart. …

    • Sometimes, of course, nature’s shocks exacerbate international or intersocietal conflicts. …
      The greatest revolt in the history of Spanish America, that of Tupac Amaru in the Andes from 1780 to 82, coincided with one of the worst droughts of the millennium, a result of a powerful El NiƱo. …
      [Drought] in southern Africa in the decade between 1820 and 1830, converted routine competition for grazing land and food into systemic conquests of the weak by the strong.

    (p 31)

      [This] created a torrent of refugees throughout southern Africa and resulted in the formation of powerful new states, such as the Zulu kingdom. …

      While drought was probably the most politically dangerous of all nature’s shocks in the deeper past, in the last 100 years water management schemes have often blunted its impact. …
      The historical record suggests that with well-organized states, the probability of warfare arising from drought-induced water shortage is low …
      [The] risk rises in the presence of weak states within which those … most aggrieved by drought are less constrained …

      Can natural shocks shake a society and state out of harmful complacencies and create the political will to undertake needed reforms? …
      Perhaps, if conditions already exist for reformism, and if the gales of destruction are not so powerful as to destroy the state entirely.

      The Dust Bowl in the United States … gave rise to a useful reform in the creation of the Soil Conservation Service, which has helped prevent the recurrence of catastrophic erosion on the scale of the 1930s, despite droughts in subsequent decades that were equally or more severe.
      The 1755 earthquake in Lisbon provided the Marques de Pombal with an opportunity to push through fundamental reforms in Portugal.
      The bubonic plague that harrowed Russia in the 1770s and the cholera epidemics of 19th century Europe both led to major reform efforts in municipal and national governments.
      Disappointing responses to hurricanes in 19th century Cuba had similar effects.

    (p 32)

    • Religious turbulence has long been a normal social reaction to nature’s shocks.
      Thoughout history … extraordinary natural shocks often brought heightened religiosity, either in the form of more intense devotion to traditional religions or more defections to innovative religions or cults. …
      The severe drought of 1991 to 1992 in Zimbabwe … gave rise to at least three charismatic religious movements as Zimbabweans found divine explanations for their misfortunes more satisfying than hypotheses about perturbations in the Intertropical Convergence Zone. …

    Conclusion


    [In] the long record of human history there have been certain consistencies in how human beings handle environmental disasters.
    From conflict, to coming together, to scapegoating migrants or minority groups, to religious zeal, it is clear what to expect from most people.

    [However,] past disasters occurred on a relatively limited or discrete scale, particularly in recent years.
    There is no precedent in human history for a global disaster that affects whole societies in multiple ways at many different locations all at once. …
    [The] effects of climate change will play out simultaneously on several scales …
    (p 33)

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