Category: Defence

Climate change poses security risks, according to decades of intelligence reports

Climate change poses security risks, according to decades of intelligence reports

By Dana Nuccitelli

A series of authoritative governmental and nongovernmental analyses over more than three decades lays a strong foundation for concern over climate change implications for national security.

Most recently, the national intelligence community – including the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other federal agencies – in January 2019 submitted the annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment.” In it, the intelligence agencies stated that “climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water. These impacts are already occurring, and the scope, scale, and intensity of these impacts are projected to increase over time.”

That report from National Intelligence Director Daniel R. Coats, a former U.S. Republican senator from Indiana, was just the most recent in a long string of analyses that any upcoming challenges to such conclusions will have to address. Those conclusions clearly are at odds with the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine and reverse federal climate policies, and they cast doubt on the President’s next day tweet that “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

With the White House now reportedly consideringan executive order to establish a Presidential Committee on Climate Security that would contest such findings, it’s useful to review the history of climate change/national security official reports and findings. Although it’s unclear where the internal White House thinking on such a committee will lead, it’s been authoritatively reported that the push for such an effort is led by two individuals – Will Happer and Steven Koonin – widely known to have climate change views far different from those of the “established” science community as represented, for instance, by IPCC and the National Academy of Sciences.

Former Princeton physicist Will Happer, now with the White House staff, has a long history of scientifically challenged views about climate science. In the past a frequent favorite witness before House hearings overseen by members rejecting the climate science community “consensus,” Happer has acknowledged in a court case receiving funding from Peabody Coal and from other fossil fuel interests. In 2015 the New York Times reported that he was caught in a Greenpeace “sting” agreeing to take money from unknown Middle Eastern oil and gas interests in exchange for writing a report challenging climate science. Steven Koonin has written on blogs and in the Wall Street Journal pieces in stark contrast to the view of the overwhelming scientific consensus.

Concerned about reports of a potential new presidential review of climate change and national security, 58 former military and intelligence officials on March 5 sent a letter to the president cautioning that “imposing a political test on reports issued by the science agencies, and forcing a blind spot onto the national security assessments that depend on them, will erode our national security.”

Three decades of climate national security warnings

Climate and water resources expert Peter Gleick, in a recent review of more than 100 national security documents addressing climate change, has assessed decades of official national security strategy documents prepared to guide Democratic and Republican administrations on national defense priorities and military strategy. Those analyses began warning about threats to U.S. national security from environmental factors in the late 1980s, and in 1990, a U.S. Naval War College Report warned of potential climate change hazards:

Naval operations in the coming half century may be drastically affected by the impact of global climate change. For the Navy to be fully prepared for operations in this future climate environment, resources of both mind and money must be committed to the problem.

President George H.W. Bush’s national security strategy in August 1991 acknowledged climate change as a security issue. In 2003, concerned by research documenting past instances of abrupt climate changes, the Pentagon commissioned a report with the name “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security.” The report authors wrote:

an abrupt climate change scenario could potentially destabilize the geo-political environment, leading to skirmishes, battles, and even war … Violence and disruption stemming from the stresses created by abrupt changes in the climate pose a different type of threat to national security than we are accustomed to today.

They concluded their report cautioning about climate disruption and conflict becoming “endemic features of life.”

Fast forward to 2007: A group of retired three- and four-star admirals and generals working with the Center for Naval Analyses wrote a report on “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change.” Their report recommended that “The U.S. should commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilize climate change at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability.” The authors concluded by saying:

Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, and it presents significant national security challenges for the United States. Accordingly, it is appropriate to start now to help mitigate the severity of some of these emergent challenges. The decision to act should be made soon in order to plan prudently for the nation’s security. The increasing risks from climate change should be addressed now because they will almost certainly get worse if we delay.

A year later, the National Intelligence Council judged that more than 30 U.S. military installations were already facing elevated levels of risk from rising sea levels.

Then came the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review also warning of security threats posed by climate change:

Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.

While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.

The prognoses got no less worrisome when in 2014 the subsequent Quadrennial Defense Review again cautioned that climate change acts as a threat multiplier:

Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, including growing, urbanizing, more affluent populations, and substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations, will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure. Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs. The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. 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.

In 2015, responding to a Congressional request, the Department of Defense stated that climate change is posing “a present security threat, not strictly a long-term risk … the Department is beginning to include the implications of a changing climate in its frameworks for managing operational and strategic risks prudently.”

There’s more. Many of those same concerns were echoed in the Trump administration’s January 2019 Department of Defense report documenting vulnerabilities of 79 military installations to events exacerbated by climate change impacts such as floods, droughts, and wildfires. As just one example, Naval Station Norfolk – the world’s largest naval base – is already experiencing frequent sunny-day flooding.

It’s unclear at this point just when – and even whether – the Trump administration will proceed with establishing a formal overview of climate change/national security links. What is clear is that any such review will have an extensive body of previous official reports to upend if it ends up reflecting conflicting viewpoints.


This article was originally published on Yale Climate Connections.
Cover photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Will end users demand to see inside climate services ‘black boxes’?

Will end users demand to see inside climate services ‘black boxes’?

As the demand for climate services grows, questions are beginning to be asked about the assumptions behind some of the tools and methods used to translate climate science into information that can be used by decision-makers. Many of these assumptions are considered to be proprietary, and therefore exist within a ‘black box’, with end users unable to scrutinise the methodologies. This means that users are not able to fully understand the assumptions that underpin the findings of the climate risk analysis, and the recommended course of action. Are we making resilience decisions in the dark?

There are an estimated 350 commercial climate and weather services providers in the U.S., a rapidly growing figure as the market continues to mature, and the impacts of climate change to commerce become more frequent and intense. In the U.S., commercial service providers rely on publicly available data, from agencies like NOAA and NASA, to develop value-added products and services for decision-support. This may be targeted at a particular sector, or in relation to a particular climate or weather hazard. An example of a value-added service could include a flood risk assessment tool that alerts property developers to flood risk potential. The property developer leverages this information to avoid investment in a particular area or build to withstand future flood risk potential.

The U.S. model of free and open access to data has created the foundation for a commercial value-added weather service industry that has enabled a sub-sector worth around $7 billion. For meteorologists or technological savvy entrepreneurs, this presents a large market opportunity to develop value-added tools based on information that is freely available. While anybody could theoretically access NOAA or NASA data to inform climate and weather-related decision-making the data is usually not available in formats that are accessible to a non-expert user. Therefore, the value-added process is an important step to make the information useable, and inform decision-making.

The users of the products likely do not understand the climate and weather data behind the applications, nor the value-added processes that render this information usable. The end results – a level of risk, or a dollar sign – may be the only information they are interested in. However, for those users that want to dig a bit deeper into the data and processes that inform the service, they may run into a black box. In crude terms, the general approach to developing a client-facing service appears to be: meteorological data (i.e. NOAA / NASA) + other data + client specific information + proprietary algorithm = value-added service.

While service providers may disclose the meteorological information that they are accessing (such as station data from NOAA) the process of adding value to this information is often considered proprietary. Commercial service providers generally do not disclose their methodology in fear of compromising their cutting edge against a competitor. They provide demos of the service but do not open up the contents. This raises the question of how can the products be open to scrutiny and comparison if they are proprietary? How can a user make an informed decision between one service and the next, if they don’t have substantial information about either?

Importantly, there is no consensus on governance standards for developing, or applying climate services (Adams et al, 2015). The WMO’s Global Framework on Climate Services is guiding the development of climate services for decision-support in climate sensitive sectors, particularly in developing countries, however there is no entity – to our knowledge – vetting commercial applications.

Climate services are a big and growing industry, with new firms continuing to enter the market. As individuals and businesses are increasingly making risk-management decisions based on the output of these services, worth large sums of money, what mechanisms are in place to ensure the integrity of these services? Will the black boxes become more transparent? Will a third-party be allowed to peer inside the black boxes? Or will the market grow in a similar to that of the catastrophe modeling industry where black boxes are the norm


Cover photo by Kelvin Yan on Unsplash.
Arctic melt spurs geopolitical tensions

Arctic melt spurs geopolitical tensions

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

With the Arctic heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world, the borders its sea ice once protected are being left exposed. That so-called unpaid sentry is disappearing fast, giving way to not just new shipping routes but also security challenges countries in the region are reacting to.

Sea ice in the Arctic is being lost at a staggering rate of over 10,000 tonnes per second, by 2035 the region could be ice-free during summer. Speaking to The Guardian, Klaus Dodds, professor of geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London, explained “The unique Arctic security architecture has shape and form that come from natural extremities. If the Arctic becomes just another ocean, this breaks down. It’s elemental.”

This is also the reason why military activity in the Arctic is increasing: the prospect of a completely open water body is cause for concern among countries that until recently relied on sea ice for securing their northern borders. However, it should be emphasised that an increase in military activity does not imply imminent conflict. Comparing the situation to that in the South China Sea – where nations compete not through combat but by demonstrating presence – former Norwegian defence minister Espen Barth Eide said “It’s not because there is an immediate threat, it’s that, as an area becomes more important, it’s natural to have a heightened military presence.”

With national security concerns also comes an increased sense of competition for the growing business interest in the region. The Northern Sea Route from Asia to Europe can save ships up to 20 days travel time as opposed to the Southern Sea Route (Suez Canal passage). Parts of the northern passage historically have only been ice-free for two months each year. However, as mentioned above, that is rapidly changing. Remote places like Tromsø in Norway are becoming bustling tourism and business hubs. “Now we have a historically strange situation with political and economic activity in the Arctic. So many people are knocking on our door, including business and state representatives from China, Pakistan, Singapore and Morocco,” said Tromsø mayor Kristin Røymo.

The receding ice is a massive game changer, especially for Russia. Not only does the country have the largest border in the Arctic region but must of the Northern Sea Route currently extends across Russia’s exclusive economic zone. As long as the ice doesn’t recede beyond that zone, Russia will get paid by anyone who uses that shipping route. But as sea ice recedes further, ships will be able to travel in international waters. China, an observing member of the Arctic Council since 2013, is one of the countries exploring this possibility and the potential for infrastructure investments in a “Polar Silk Road”, threatening the exclusive position Russia has been in historically.

In addition to the growing interest in the Arctic for its shorter shipping routes, oil & gas companies are sniffing their chance at exploring new oil and gas fields. Norway came under fire earlier this year for having approved over 80 new exploration licenses. At the Arctic Frontiers conference in January, environmentalists highlighted the dual role of oil as both a driver of climate change, which is heavily impacting the Arctic, and as a driver of increasing resource extraction in one of the most fragile and pristine environments on this planet. These tensions and the growing competition are also putting into question peaceful cross-border cooperation efforts that held up even during the cold war and regulated fishing, scientific research and even reindeer herding.


Cover photo by Menglong Bao on Unsplash
Battling the elements – Adapting to climate change on the UK’s Defence Estate

Battling the elements – Adapting to climate change on the UK’s Defence Estate

By Ben Sears

As custodians of vast areas of land and sea, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) must manage assets and adapt to climate change to ensure it can continue to meet the UK’s defence requirements.

UK Defence strategy and priorities

The UK’s national security has increasingly been making headlines in recent years, with concern over the threat of international terrorism, destabilisation in Europe and the rise of new and old global powers. One threat that has been less well publicised however, is that posed by climate change to its defence infrastructure and capabilities. This threat was officially recognised by the coalition Government in their 2010 paper A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The National Security Strategy. Alongside international terrorism and hostile attacks upon UK cyber space, the paper recognised “A major accident or natural hazard which requires a national response, such as severe coastal flooding affecting three or more regions of the UK…” as being a Tier 1 Priority Risk.

Although it highlights climate change threats, the strategy is focused more on the physical effects of climate change becoming “increasingly significant as a ‘risk multiplier’, exacerbating existing tensions around the world,”rather than the potential of climate change to affect defence infrastructure and training capabilities here in the UK.

Climate-related threats to defence estate

The MoD is one of the UK’s largest landlords, owning and holding rights to over 431,300 hectares, or1.8% of the UK land mass. As well as owning strategically important defence infrastructure,such as nuclear submarine bases and munitions stores, it also owns and manages sites of ecologically and historically important land, with management responsibility for approximately 170 designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), many of which are of international significance.

The impacts of climate change are already being felt on the MoD estate. Some coastal sites have experienced increased flood events in low-lying areas such as Kent and Pembrokeshire, leading to periodic site closures and the interruption of military training. An article in The Telegraph highlighted the impact of coastal flooding on MoD sites, saying that “Many of the military’s most important facilities, including RAF Brize Norton, the RoyalNavy bases at Plymouth and Portsmouth, and the Ministry of Defence’s headquarters in London, face a ‘direct impact’ from floods by 2020.” Fires on training areas such as Sennybridge and Salisbury Plain have historically occurred, particularly during live firing exercises, however these have increased in frequency, with 2018 recording a higher number of incidents than previous years.  Following the dry spell in June this year, exhaust fumes from a US Osprey aircraft caused a fire which destroyed 150 hectares of dry grassland on the Sennybridge Training Area in the Brecon Beacons, Wales. IT services have also been disrupted during periods of extreme heat, with significant security implications.

As well as these major events,more extreme weather has led to an increase in building and rural maintenance work and related costs. Many buildings on the defence estate date back to the1950s and are susceptible to wind, rain and heat damage. The winter storms of2017 saw a significant increase in damage to roofs, fences and trees, requiring costly repairs and disruption to training.

Measuring the impact of climate change

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) developed the Climate Impacts Risk Assessment Methodology (CIRAM) in order to take steps to identify the estate’s vulnerabilities on a site-by-site basis and build adaptive capacity where required [Editor’s note: The first iteration of CIRAM was co-developed by Acclimatise]. The CIRAM process “identifies the risks to defence outputs from current and future climate or extreme weather events, and identifies the actions required to maintain and optimise operational capability,” supporting a number of UK government programmes.

The CIRAM process has four key stages:

  • Stage A– Pre-workshop preparation
    • Identify who to involve
    • Identify site objectives and critical operational functions in delivering its defence output
    • Collation of site information (infrastructure and assets) and identification of potential issues
    • Collection of historic and projected climatic information for the site
  • Stage B– Risk workshop and production of a Climate Resilience Risk Register (CRRR)
    • Organising and delivering the risk assessment workshop
    • Facilitating the working sessions and completing the CRRR
    • Risk identification
    • Risk scoring
    • Identifying actions, processes and owners
  • Stage C– Post-workshop review
  • Stage D– Implementation
    • Adoption of CRRR and implementation with short,medium and long-term actions
    • Integration with management processes
    • Monitoring and review (full review every five years)

Adapting to climate change

As with any business, the findings of the CIRAM process often highlight the need for interdepartmental communication and planning and recognises areas that are likely to need to be addressed in order to protect vital defence infrastructure and maintain the operational capability and training requirements of the UK’s armed forces.Common areas that are likely to require action as a result of the CIRAM process include:

  • Strategic estate planning – the location, operation and maintenance of facilities may need to change
  • Equipment– specification and location of equipment may need to change
  • Health and safety policy – new risks may arise e.g. increased risk of fires or flooding
  • Personnel policy – working practices and skills may need to change
  • Infrastructure design and construction – major and minor project siting and specifications may need to be future climate proofed
  • Operational activities and training emphasis – may need to be revised to adapt to changing threats e.g. increased requirement of military to assist with natural disasters

Summary

As well as becoming a contributing factor to future global conflicts in which the UK is involved, climate change is also shaping the UK’s defence requirements, its estate management and its spending priorities. One of the major challenges for the defence estate is to ensure that it recognises and manages the risk posed by climate change, and adapts its infrastructure, its strategic and operational planning and its delivery accordingly.


About the author: Ben Sears PIEMA, PGCE Geography, BSc (Hons) Environmental Protection

 Ben Sears is an environmental and sustainability consultant,currently working on a major rail project on his doorstep in Wales, UK. He has experience in civil and commercial construction and is also a qualified Geography teacher.Ben’s main areas of interest include climate adaptation engineering, sustainable procurement and natural philosophy.

Cover photo by Philip Halling/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0): Entering the Sennybridge Training Area Here the B4519 enters the Sennybridge Training Area.
Climate effects strike US military bases

Climate effects strike US military bases

By Alex Kirby

Climate effects strike US military installations today, a Pentagon study finds, despite White House failure to recognise any threat.

Once more, the administration of President Trump seems puzzled about how seriously – if at all – it should regard how climate effects strike US military abilities.

In December the president listed the global threats he reckoned the US was facing – and climate change didn’t get a mention. Now, though, the US Department of Defense says many of its bases are feeling the worrying impacts of – climate change.

Around half of US military bases worldwide are already experiencing those impacts, a Pentagon report says. A survey shows risks to military infrastructure related to climate and extreme weather are widespread, affecting nearly 50% of the 1,684 sites involved.

The survey, described as a vulnerability assessment, identifies several key categories of risk: flooding, both from storm surges and causes such as rain, snow, ice and river overflows; extreme heat and cold; wind; drought; and wildfire. The Pentagon says the risks are not confined to vulnerable coastal sites.

Worrying picture

The survey paints what the Center for Climate & Security (CCS), a US non-partisan policy institute composed of security and military experts, calls “a concerning picture of current climate change-related risks to military installations both at home and abroad”.

John Conger, a senior policy adviser at the CCS, is a former US deputy under-secretary of defense. He told the Climate News Network:

“This report represents the first survey of climate impacts across the Department of Defense’s installation enterprise, and while it does not detail specific impacts, the breadth of impacts it reports is significant.

“No region is immune from climate impacts. This work will form the foundation of vulnerability assessments and mitigation planning in the future.”

“What is potentially significant about this survey … is how widespread climate change-related risks to military assets already are”

As rapid climate change is projected to intensify most of these risks during this century, the CCS says, it is reasonable to expect that military sites will become more vulnerable unless significant resources are devoted to adaptation, or the rate and scale of climate change are reduced.

“What is potentially significant about this survey … is how widespread climate change-related risks to military assets already are”, it says.

The vulnerability statement insists that the Pentagon will do what it thinks necessary to protect its bases: “Our warfighters require bases from which to deploy, on which to train, or to live when they are not deployed.

“If extreme weather makes our critical facilities unusable or necessitates costly or manpower-intensive work-arounds, that is an unacceptable impact.”

Present danger

The CCS says the survey makes it clear that climate change is already affecting the US military’s ability to do its job, finding that many installations are “highly vulnerable to a variety of different types of extreme or severe weather events.  Scientists expect heat waves, flooding, drought and wildfires to all increase over the coming decades.”

On the president’s December failure to include climate change in his list of global security threats to the US, Mr Conger said: “While it is unfortunate that mention of climate was dropped from the strategy, it isn’t surprising.

“I expect the US military will continue to focus on mission assurance efforts and it clearly recognises climate change is one of the risks it must consider.  The omission won’t block the DoD from working on climate resilience, but its reduction in priority is likely to slow progress.”


Learn about Acclimatise’s work with the US Department of Defense by clicking here.

This article was originally published on Climate News Network and is shared under a Creative Commons license.

Cover photo by Michael Afonso on Unsplash.
US Secretary of Defense asserts that climate change is threat to national security

US Secretary of Defense asserts that climate change is threat to national security

By Gracie Pearsall

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, expressed his view that climate change is real and poses a threat to national security. Following his January confirmation hearing, Mattis provided written answers to “Questions for the Record” from several senators. ProPublica , an American non-profit investigative news site, published excerpts from the answers. In the exchange, Mattis emphasized that climate change poses a threat to the Pentagon’s assets and interests abroad, and confirmed the Department of Defense’s commitment to mitigating the consequences of climate change.

Climate change and the Pentagon

The Pentagon has long recognized the security threats the changing climate will bring, and has taken them into consideration when planning operations. In 2016, President Obama commissioned a report on the national security implications of climate change, and ordered federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, to fully consider climate change-related impacts on national security in policies and plans.

This report identified possible timelines and pathways for the physical, social, political, and economic effects of climate change on national security. It listed threats to the stability of countries, heightened social and political tensions, adverse effects on food availability, increased risks to human health, negative impacts on investments, and potential climate discontinuities as the principal pathways through which climate change will impact national security. It also found that during the next five years, the main climate-related threat will come from distinct extreme weather events and climate-related stress on currently strained conditions. Additionally, during the next 20 years, the principal threat will arise from disturbances and changes in broader climatic systems, such as sea level rise.

Mattis’ Strategic Focus on Climate Change

Mattis has held this stance on climate change for quite some time. In 2003, Mattis famously stated that the military must be “unleashed from the tether of fuel” – a view he reiterated in his recent written responses. Although he has taken this stance for a variety of reasons, he illustrated the Department of Defense’s commitment to exploring renewable energy, where it makes sense for them. Furthermore, when Mattis was commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, he signed off on Joint Operating Environment, a document that listed climate change as one of the principal security threats the military will face in the next quarter-century.

In his written answers, Mattis expressed his concern for climate change as a driver of instability and alter political dynamics. For example, he stressed that climate-related drought and water shortages are already impacting the stability of areas where US troops are stationed, particularly in the Middle East. He also cited the increased maritime access in the Artic due to the reduction of ice cover, as a key climate related change that will have significant impact on the Unite States’ security situation, as well as the political climate of the North Atlantic.

Mattis described climate change as a broad challenge that will require a “whole-of government” response to address.  He reassured the senators that the Department of Defense is prepared to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate. He wrote of the Pentagon’s plans to continue incorporating the impacts of climate change into defense planning and operations. He also wrote that the Pentagon is committed to ensuring that shipyards and bases will continue to function as required, in the face of rising sea levels and drought. Mattis’ written statements signal to other countries that, despite pulling out of the Paris Agreement, the US is still engaged in addressing climate change.


Cover photo by US Secretary of Defense/Flickr (CC BY 2.0): Jim Mattis during a visit to the United Arab Emirates earlier this year.
Was Syria really a ‘climate war’? Examining the links between drought, migration, and conflict

Was Syria really a ‘climate war’? Examining the links between drought, migration, and conflict

By Lina Eklund, Lund University and Darcy Thompson, Lund University

The Syrian civil war has raged for more than six years now. You’ve probably heard the following story linking it to climate change: an intense drought, made more likely thanks to global warming, caused “mass migration” within the country from rural to urban areas, which in turn contributed to the 2011 uprising which then escalated into civil conflict.

This narrative assumes that there is a relationship between drought, migration and conflict. However, the connection is not so clear-cut. Our worry is that putting too much emphasis on the climate overlooks the role of political and socio-economic factors in determining a community’s vulnerability to environmental stress. Conflict is not inevitable in the face of drought.

That’s one conclusion from our work on drought and resource management in Syria. In our research, we broke down the popular “climate war” claim into two parts – the link between drought and migration, and the link between migration and conflict – to see if and how these factors fit together.

We started with the very idea of environmentally induced migration. The problem is that it’s very difficult to determine the actual reasons why people leave home and look for opportunities elsewhere – a changing environment is likely to be only one among several factors and not necessarily the most significant. For instance, having the capital to move is a major factor for migration, so only those who can afford to move in response to drought are able to.

In the case of Syria, there has been no scientifically proven link between reduced rainfall or failed crops, and rural-urban migration. The evidence that has been used to prove the drought-migration link comes from displacement reports published by the Syrian government and UN assessment missions. The two phenomena are claimed to be linked because they coincided in time. Scientifically, however, this is not enough.

The drought which affected Syria has been described as a severe, multi-year drought that lasted between 2006 and 2010. But rainfall levels in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 were close to normal, both in Syria as a whole and in the northeastern “bread basket” region. This suggests that only 2008 was a real drought year.

Only 2008 was a true drought year. CHIRPS 2.0, Author provided

A drought can be devastating for one community but barely noticed in another. Just look at the Kurdistan region of Iraq, which was affected by the same dry period as Syria but without any mass migration flows at the time. A community’s vulnerability to drought is more important than the drought itself.

Various factors meant Syrian farmers were particularly vulnerable to drought. An overuse of water to nourish thirsty crops such as cotton had left the land dry and degraded. The government had also cancelled subsidies for fuel used to power irrigation pumps and to take produce to market – and it had dismantled a micro-finance network that had served as an income security net. A national drought strategy that had been approved in 2006 was not implemented once the rains dried up.

From migration to conflict

The second stage of the Syrian narrative is that migration causes violent conflict. While some research does suggest a connection, there is also evidence suggesting no strong link at all.

By simply looking at migration flows past and present, we can see that violent conflict is rare. In fact, migration may actually strengthen social and economic conditions in receiving communities in the developing world. While urban migration does not cause development per se, sustained economic development does not occur without it.

Religious, social and ethnic integration may also improve as contact with one another increases. However, migration can also promote conflict, through increased competition for resources and services, and tensions due to ethnic and demographic changes. The potential for conflict in a given urban space is mitigated by factors such as the destination area’s ability to absorb migrants, the permanency of people’s migration, and whether there is already social and/or political instability.

In the case of Syria, there was a mass exodus of farming families from the worst drought-affected areas in the north of the country (the agricultural bread basket of Syria) to the nearby cities of Damascus, Hama and Aleppo. However, what role this migration played in helping to fuel the uprisings and then the conflict is far from clear.

The initial protests broke out in the city of Daraa, in the south-east of the country, in response to the arrests and mistreatment of a group of youths allegedly caught painting anti-government graffiti. What started as a provincial uprising spread to other parts of the country where deep-seated socio-political dissatisfaction had been simmering for years.

What this sequence of events highlights is that the conflict is a culmination of several interconnected factors that had been steadily developing over decades. While drought, migration and conflict may all be linked by association, such links are not established facts and, in the case of Syria, they are difficult to gauge.

The ConversationWhat can be said with much greater certainty is that economic struggles stemming from drought vulnerability, the loss of subsidies and the loss of agricultural wages did contribute to widespread dissatisfaction with the government. And it was this dissatisfaction which served as a rallying cry to unite people in opposition.


Lina Eklund, Post Doctoral Researcher in Physical Geography/Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and Darcy Thompson, PhD Candidate, Political Science/Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
 Cover photo by Dmitry Golovko, Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Wikimedia (CC BY-4.0): Destroyed streets in Aleppo, Syria.
Climate change impacts and adaptation on Southwestern DoD facilities

Climate change impacts and adaptation on Southwestern DoD facilities

By Acclimatise

A newly published Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) report completed by a team comprised of researchers from the University of Arizona and Acclimatise assessed climate change impacts and adaptation on Southwestern US Department of Defense (DoD) facilities. The project aimed to:

  1. develop and pilot-test approaches for climate risk assessment;
  2. evaluate climate adaptation best practices in a series of case studies, and
  3. evaluate approaches and needs for climate services to support adaptation planning compatible with DoD decision-making needs and processes.

In a four-year long process the project team interacted with DoD personnel in risk assessment workshops and case-study pilots at four installations in the Southwest, through participatory processes. They conducted interviews and convened workshops with personnel, in order to identify gaps, needs, and opportunities for infusing climate adaptation thinking and practice into DoD operations. These interviews also helped evaluate promising approaches to climate services, that mesh with military culture, leadership, and practice. Current obstacles to adopting climate adaptation measures and possible solutions to overcome these obstacles were also explored.

The research team found that integrating climate change risks into decision-making processes creates active engagement as it focusses on current challenges that can be dealt with now. Furthermore, adopting publicly available data and decision-making tools can help bases with limited resources to undertake climate risk assessments comprehensively. Finally, the study showed that while base management was receptive to climate-related actions, day to-day priorities dominate decisions and resource allocation. This is further complicated by the fact that there is rarely designated funding for climate adaptation, forcing base management to allocate already scarce funds to other competing and iften immediate priorities. Thus, mainstreaming climate into existing priorities could help tackle such budget issues.

Installations are the “front lines” of climate adaptation in the DoD and their emphasis allowed the researchers to develop a unique strategy tuned to the needs and challenges of this organizational level, including (1) assessing data and information needs, (2) assessing Base wide risk, (3) engaging personnel, (4) communicating climate change information, (5) mainstreaming climate change into DoD practice and policy, (6) addressing DoD institutional norms, leadership and partnerships, and (7) providing climate services for DoD installations and supporting DoD climate services capacity. This model shows great promise to speed the incorporation of climate adaptation planning at all levels of the DoD.

Download the full report by clicking here.


Cover photo: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Chris Drzazgowski/Released – U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Koleton Mitchell, 25th Operational Weather Squadron weather forecaster, participates in a 7-mile-long ruck alongside fellow Airmen at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, one of the bases that participated in this research.
The US military: On the frontlines of climate change

The US military: On the frontlines of climate change

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Ever since the change in US federal government at the end of January 2017, there have been several news stories pointing at the fact that the administration seems to have little to no interest in mitigating or adapting to climate change. This, however, is not stopping the US military from pressing ahead with their plans to build resilience against climate risks.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is globally speaking one of the best prepared military institutions. Climate change has been on the DoD’s priority list for many years: its threat to national security and the threat it poses to the safety of DoD installations.

According to a 2012 study, the DoD’s global real estate is worth US$828 billion. Much of this real estate is built in low lying coastal areas and climate-vulnerable regions. Given these figures, the fact that the Defense Department is interested in protecting its assets from  climate risks doesn’t come as a surprise. Additionally, climate risks can be a significant threat to mission readiness, which is of the utmost importance to any military institution.

The Naval Station Norfolk has become somewhat of a poster child for the climate impacts the US Military faces and will face. The station is headquarters of the Atlantic fleet and its facilities flood up to ten times a year. Since the naval station was built during World War I, the sea level there has risen 14.5 inches. By the end of this century it might become completely unusable.

Installations in the Arctic are threatened by thawing permafrost, and for those in the Western USA, the drought has increased the occurrence of wildfires, which last year threatened several DoD installations.

However, sea level rise remains the biggest risk for the Defense Department as it affects oversea installations in the Pacific Ocean as well as stations on US shores. 128 stations, valued at US$100 billion face significant risks from rising oceans.

The bases at Norfolk and Virginia are especially vulnerable because sea level rise there is happening at twice the average global rate and, in addition, the ground is subsiding. The DoD is now working with scientists, state and local officials in Norfolk and Virginia Beach to adapt the region. While some actions have already been implemented, like replacing piers and protecting power lines from flooding, others have not. All the adaptation plans require funding, and that is hard to come by when climate change gets as politicised as right now.

Long-term climate risks are always a hard thing to communicate. However, the Defense environment is ever changing, always adapting to new and very short-term risks, and additionally there is a quick rate of staff turnover. All this and the political landscape complicate long-term planning, especially for climate risks. However, the DoD is very aware of the risk climate change poses for its operations and it continues to figure out ways that will increase the US military’s climate resilience.

One of those efforts is a wide-ranging programme of climate adaptation measures is being implemented to ensure that US defence operations remain climate resilient. Researchers at the University of Arizona with help from Acclimatise have been undertaking work to ensure that DoD managers are integrating climate risk into their operational planning, framing climate change as an issue of national defence and homeland security. Soon, the final reports of this multiyear project will become available and will offer useful guidance.


Cover photo by John L. Beeman (Public Domain)
A military view on climate change: It’s eroding our national security and we should prepare for it

A military view on climate change: It’s eroding our national security and we should prepare for it

By David TitleyPennsylvania State University

In this presidential election year we have heard much about some issues, such as immigration and trade, and less about others. For example, climate change was discussed for an estimated 82 seconds in the first presidential debate last week, and for just 37 minutes in all presidential and vice presidential debates since the year 2000.

Many observers think climate change deserves more attention. They might be surprised to learn that U.S. military leaders and defense planners agree. The armed forces have been studying climate change for years from a perspective that rarely is mentioned in the news: as a national security threat. And they agree that it poses serious risks.

I spent 32 years as a meteorologist in the U.S. Navy, where I initiated and led the Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change. Here is how military planners see this issue: We know that the climate is changing, we know why it’s changing and we understand that change will have large impacts on our national security. Yet as a nation we still only begrudgingly take precautions.

The Obama administration recently announced several actions that create a framework for addressing climate-driven security threats. But much of the hard work lies ahead – assuming that our next president understands the risks and chooses to act on them.

Climate-related disruptions

Climate change affects our security in two ways. First, it causes stresses such as water shortages and crop failures, which can exacerbate or inflame existing tensions within or between states. These problems can lead to state failure, uncontrolled migration and ungoverned spaces.

On Sept. 21 the National Intelligence Council issued its most recent report on implications of climate change for U.S. national security. This document represents the U.S. intelligence community’s strategic-level view. It does not come from the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change, politicians of either party or an advocacy group, but from nonpartisan, senior U.S. intelligence professionals.

The NIC report emphasizes that the problem is not simply climate change, but the interaction of climate with other large-scale demographic and migration trends; its impacts on food, energy and health; and the stresses it will place on societies, especially fragile ones.

Aftermath of a bomb attack in 2014 in Jos, Nigeria by the militant group Boko Haram. Analysts have linked Boko Haram’s rise to climatic shifts and resource shortages. Diariocritico de Venezuela/Flickr, CC BY

As examples the report cites diverse events, ranging from mass protests and violence triggered by water shortages in Mauritania to the possibility that thawing in the Arctic could threaten Russian oil pipelines in the region. Other studies have identified climate change as a contributing factor to events including the civil war in Syria and the Arab Spring uprisings.

Second, climate change is putting our military bases and associated domestic infrastructure in the United States under growing pressure from rising sea levels, “nuisance flooding,” increasingly destructive storm surges, intense rainfalls and droughts, and indirect impacts from wildfires. All of these trends make it harder to train our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to deploy and fight the “away” game and to keep our forces ready to deploy.

These changes are not hypothetical. Consider Hurricane Matthew: although we cannot directly attribute this storm to climate change, scientists tell us that as climate change worsens, major hurricanes will become more severe. As Matthew moves up the Atlantic coast, the armed forces are evacuating thousands of service members and dependents out of its path, and the Navy is moving ships out to sea. Other units are preparing to deliver hurricane relief to hard-hit areas.

Marines from the 8th Engineering Support Battalion, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, participate in relief efforts in New York after Hurricane Sandy, November 2012. U.S. Navy/Flickr, CC BY

Many of us who work in this field have written and talked about risks like these for years. Along with 24 other retired senior officers, civilian defense officials from Republican and Democratic administrations, and well-respected academics, I recently signed a consensus statement that calls climate change a strategically significant risk to our national security and international stability. We called for “a robust agenda to both prevent and prepare for climate change risks,” and warned that “inaction is not an option.”

The “change” part of climate change is critical: The more ability we have to adapt to and manage changes and the rate of change in our climate, the greater our chances are to avoid catastrophic chaos and instability.

Meeting the challenge

Simultaneously with the NIC report on Sept. 21, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum, or PM, on climate change and national security. This document formally states the administration’s position that climate change impacts national security.

Building on past executive orders and policies, it directs senior climate officials at 20 federal agencies to form a working group on climate change and national security, cochaired by the president’s national security adviser and science adviser. This working group will analyze questions such as which countries and regions are most vulnerable to climate change impacts in the near, medium and long term.

That’s high-level attention! In the words of a senior administration official, the PM “gives permission” for career civil servants and military professionals to work on this challenge, just as they address myriad other security challenges daily.

Destroyed tanks in front of a mosque in Azaz, Syria, 2012. Climate scientists have identified the 2006-2010 drought in Syria as a factor in the civil uprising that began in 2011. Christiaan Triebert/Flickr, CC BY-NC

But we need to do much more. I am a member of the Climate and Security Advisory Group – a voluntary, nonpartisan group of 43 U.S.-based military, national security, homeland security, intelligence and foreign policy experts from a broad range of institutions. We have produced a comprehensive briefing book for the next administration that makes detailed recommendations about how to expand our efforts to address security risks associated with climate change.

Our top-line recommendation is to “mainstream” this issue by ensuring that U.S. leaders consider climate change on an equal basis with more traditional security issues, such as changing demographics, economics, political dynamics and other indicators of instability – as well as with low-probability, high-consequence threats like nuclear proliferation. We also recommend that the next president should designate senior officials in key departments, the intelligence community, the National Security Council and within the Executive Office of the President itself to ensure this intent is carried out.

What’s next? As a retired naval officer, I find myself drawing on the words of American naval heroes like Admiral Chester Nimitz. In 1945, while he was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Nimitz wrote about a devastating storm near the Philippines that had sunk three ships and seriously damaged more than 20 others, killing and injuring hundreds of sailors. He concluded by observing that:

The next president will have a choice to make. One option is to continue down the path that the Obama administration has defined and develop policies, budgets, plans and programs that flesh out the institutional framework now in place. Alternatively, he or she can call climate change a hoax manufactured by foreign governments and ignore the flashing red lights of increasing risk.

The world’s ice caps will not care who is elected or what is said. They will simply continue to melt, as dictated by laws of physics. But Americans will care deeply about our policy response. Our nation’s security is at stake.


David Titley, Professor of Practice in Meteorology & Director Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Center for New American Security, Pennsylvania State University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Cover photo by U.S. Navy/Flickr (Public Domain)