Military and Intelligence Services’ Thoughts on our Crises
Denial is a big barrier to resilience and adaptation, so this article is dedicated to the people that think that the risk and consequences of our converging crises of climate change, ecocide, peak energy, and overpopulation are exaggerated.
I imagine that most people agree that the world’s armed forces and intelligence services take possible threats seriously, without falling too much into politics and denial.
On the other hand I most acknowledge that they are biased towards “security”.
Nevertheless, it’s useful to know their perspective.
Here I’m quoting official documents from Germany, United States, Mexico, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and NATO military forces and intelligence services on the threats of some of our converging crises, particularly climate change, which is often labeled as a “threat multiplier” or “catalyst” for other crises.
United States’ assessment:
“Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond. Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security.” Worldwide Threat Assessment of The US Intelligence Community (2019)
“More extreme weather, water and soil stress, and food insecurity will disrupt societies. Sea-level rise, ocean acidification, glacial melt, and pollution will change living patterns. Tensions over climate change will grow.” Report to Congressional Committees, National Security: Long-Range Emerging Threats Facing the United States As Identified by Federal Agencies (2018)
“Extreme weather events in a warmer world have the potential for greater impacts and can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages.”1Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community (2018)
“Accelerating biodiversity and species loss—driven by pollution, warming, unsustainable fishing, and acidifying oceans—will jeopardize vital ecosystems that support critical human systems. Recent estimates suggest that the current extinction rate is 100 to 1,000 times the natural extinction rate.” Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community (2018)
“Water scarcity . . . [is] likely to heighten tension between countries.”2Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, National Intelligence Council (2008)
“[G]rowing energy, food, and water constraints; and worries about climate change will limit and diminish what will still be an historically unprecedented age of prosperity”3Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, National Intelligence Council (2008)
“The already stressed resource sector will be further complicated and, in most cases, exacerbated by climate change, whose physical effects will worsen throughout this period. Continued escalation of energy demand will hasten the impacts of climate change. On the other hand, forcibly cutting back on fossil fuel use before substitutes are widely available could threaten continued economic development. . . . Technological advances and policy decisions . . . over the next 15 years are likely to determine whether the globe’s temperature ultimately rises more than 2 degree centigrade—the threshold at which effects are thought to be no longer manageable.”4Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, National Intelligence Council (2008)
“Food and water also are intertwined with climate change, energy, and demography. Rising energy prices increase the cost for . . . industrial scale agriculture. . . . Climatically, rainfall anomalies and constricted seasonal flows of snow and glacial melts are aggravating water scarcities, harming agriculture in many parts of the globe.5Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, National Intelligence Council (2008)
Energy and climate dynamics also combine to amplify a number of other ills such as health problems, agricultural losses to pests, and storm damage. The greatest danger may arise from the convergence and interaction of many stresses simultaneously. Such a complex and unprecedented syndrome of problems could overload decisionmakers, making it difficult for them to take actions in time to enhance good outcomes or avoid bad ones.” Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, National Intelligence Council (2008)
“Many governments will face challenges to meet even the basic needs of their people as they confront demographic change, resource constraints, effects of climate change, and risks of global infectious disease outbreaks. 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. The risk of conflict and mass atrocities may increase.” The National Intelligence Strategy of the United States of America (2014)
“Changes in the climate will produce more extreme weather events and put greater stress on humans and critical systems, including oceans, freshwater, and biodiversity. These changes, in turn, will have direct and indirect social, economic, political, and security effects. Extreme weather can trigger crop failures, wildfires, energy blackouts, infrastructure breakdown, supply chain breakdowns, migration, and infectious disease outbreaks.”6Global Trends Paradox of Progress, National Intelligence Council (2017
“Half of the world’s population will face water shortages by 2035, according to the UN. Rising demands from population growth, greater consumption, and agricultural production will outstrip water supplies, which will become less reliable in some regions from groundwater depletion and changing precipitation patterns. More than 30 countries—nearly half of them in the Middle East—will experience extremely high water stress by 2035, increasing economic, social and political tensions.” Global Trends Paradox of Progress, National Intelligence Council (2017) Print and eBook
“A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India. At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment. To what extent conservation measures, investments in alternative energy production, and efforts to expand petroleum production from tar sands and shale would mitigate such a period of adjustment is difficult to predict.
One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest.” Joint Operating Environment, United States Joint Forces Command (2010)
Mexico is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, due to its location. In the next decades, the effects of climate change will add more pressure to our ecosystems, particularly in the context of urban development that demands more and more food, water, and energy.
In the medium and long term we’ll need to move our crops, plants and animals to maintain food production. This phenomenon will incorporate new regions into food production and drastically reduce others. We shouldn’t underplay the possibility of people migrating looking for a better quality of life and sustenance. Maintaining a sustainable supply of food will be one of the greatest challenges for Mexico in the immediate future.7Program for National Security 2014-2018 (2014) in Spanish
Total Mexican gas and oil reserves decreased 23% between 1999 and 2012, today we only have a decade of proven reserves. If the trends continue, Mexico could change from having a surplus of oil to having a deficit. This would compromise our energy security, which forms a base for our social and economic development. Program for National Security 2014-2018 (2014) in Spanish
Climate change presents transcendental challenges in the medium and long term for our worldwide society. It will unleash conflicts due to resource scarcity, cause massive amounts of climate refugees, and will aggravate poverty in many societies, increasing the fragility of some nations and the threats to global security.
At a global level, in the medium and long term, our current energy model is hardly sustainable. Adding to that is the high energy demand coming from developing economies and the concentration of energy deposits in politically unstable regions like North Africa and the Middle East. In addition, there are environmental risks like fossil fuel extraction catastrophes, and the need to reduce global CO2 emissions. Spain Security Strategy (2011) in Spanish
New Zealand’s assessment:
“[Climate change] will exacerbate the challenges of population growth and environmental degradation, and will contribute to food shortages and undermine economic development.” 2016 Defence White Paper, Australia Department of Defence (2016)
United Kingdom’s assessment:
“While the demand for food is expected to grow, some countries are likely to experience significant declines in agricultural productivity. Water shortages are likely to be particularly acute in many areas, exacerbated by increasing demand and climate change.”8” Strategic Trends Programme Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2045, Ministry of Defence (2014)
“Competition over some resources is likely to intensify and exacerbate existing political and security tensions, potentially acting as a catalyst for intra- and inter-state conflict. Demand for food may outstrip supply, leading to a rise in costs. Food shortages could lead to sharp price spikes, which could result in instability in those areas unable to absorb the increase. Climate change could contribute to increasing incidences of crop failure, potentially causing disruption to global food supplies.” Strategic Trends Programme Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2045, Ministry of Defence (2014)
“Human influence on the climate system will have far-reaching consequences as floods, drought, storms, heatwaves and heavy rainfall become more intense and possibly more frequent. Transport and trade routes, including key chokepoints, are likely to be disrupted affecting global markets and supply chains.9Global Strategic Trends The Future Starts Today, Ministry of Defence (2018)
Rising sea levels will increase the risk of flooding with low-lying tropical island communities and coastal cities (especially in developing countries) at particular risk. Pollution, habitat destruction and over exploitation will lead to significant reductions in biodiversity and increase the risk that some ecosystems will rapidly collapse. The demand for food and water will increase but some crops will fail and water shortages will become more frequent. The destruction of homes and livelihoods due to natural disasters could also lead to increasing migration and increased tensions. Better management of water and improvements in agriculture could meet rising demand . . . If not handled effectively, it could lead to disputes, and possibly conflict.” Global Strategic Trends The Future Starts Today, Ministry of Defence (2018)
“The most vulnerable regions of the world . . . are also the most exposed to climate events. Continued global warming may cause migration movements to intensify. . . . Extreme climate events impact the availability of critical farming and fishing resources, which may increase international and local competition for their control.” Defence and National Security Strategic Review 2017
“Climate change is a global phenomenon and is already affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people. In addition, climate change has significant and existential implications for many states and their populations. As a consequence, access to water and other limited basic resources is becoming an existential threat for an increasing number of states and regions. It is therefore increasingly relevant for security policy and indirectly for Germany.
In combination with resource scarcity and population growth, climate change is also destabilising structures and aggravating conflicts, particularly in fragile regions. States that are unable to take adequate countermeasures can be pulled into a downward spiral. Possible results are state failure, violent conflicts and migration – usually along pre-existing lines of conflict in society.” White Paper 2016 On German Security Policy and the future of the Bundeswehr
“When considering the consequences of peak oil, no everyday experiences and only few historical parallels are at hand. It is therefore difficult to imagine how significant the effects of being gradually deprived of one of our civilisation’s most important energy sources will be. Psychological barriers cause indisputable facts to be blanked out and lead to almost instinctively refusing to look into this difficult subject in detail. Peak oil, however, is unavoidable.” Peak Oil Security policy implications of scarce resources, Bundeswehr Transformation Centre (2010)
“[E]ven if the [Paris Agreement] targets were met today, any mitigation efforts would not have impact for at least two decades, and so climate change will continue along its current trajectory through 2035 and beyond. The consequence of this will be that oceans will warm, Arctic sea ice and glaciers will shrink and sea levels will rise. Rainfall patterns will change and overall surface temperatures will increase. The natural ecosystem and human habitats, agriculture, food and water systems will all be affected in some way. The instabilities caused by these changes, while not necessarily direct drivers, will exacerbate existing tensions in the human, political, and economic spheres, and for this reason climate change is often described as a Threat Multiplier”. Strategic Foresight Analysis 2017 Report
The Center for Climate and Security assessment:
“Over time, climate-driven stresses on natural resources can degrade a nation’s capacity to govern, including its ability to meet its citizens’ demands for basic resources or prosperity (e.g., food, water, energy, employment) – also known as its “output legitimacy.” This threat to output legitimacy can contribute to state fragility, internal conflict, and potentially, state collapse. Seen through this lens, climate change may present a serious challenge to state sovereignty in a number of places around the world.” A Responsibility to Prepare: Governing in an Age of Unprecedented Risk and Unprecedented Foresight, Center for Climate and Security (2017)
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- Climate Wars: What People Will Be Killed For in the 21st Century
- Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats
- The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change, Center for Strategic & International Studies (2007)
- Letter to the President of the United States: 58 Senior Military and National Security Leaders Denounce NSC Climate Panel
- Secretary-General’s remarks on Climate Change
- Climate and Security Resources: U.S. Government, Intelligence
- The Global Risks Report 2019 World Economic Forum