Biden ordered the federal government to undergo an assessment of the risks climate change poses on national and international security
The US intelligence community is sending a unanimous warning about the growing risk that climate change is posing to national security and global stability, a chilling report revealed on Thursday.
All 18 US intelligence agencies signed off on the 27-page report, released in a declassified version by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence after President Joe Biden ordered the government to undergo a climate assessment in January.
It comes just over a week before Biden jets off to Glasgow for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
The intel community released its predictions for the future days after it was caught by surprise with reports of nuclear-capable missile test launches China had conducted over the summer.
Earlier this week reports emerged that China secretly tested two nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles that orbited the globe before returning to Earth.
The system would be able to overcome US anti-ballistic missile defense systems that are based in Alaska and set up to shoot down projectiles coming over the North Pole – the Chinese system would be able to strike the US from the south.
Thursday’s report is the first-ever assessment of its kind and looks into how growing carbon emissions could shift geopolitical power and exacerbate existing conflicts as well as allow new ones to emerge.
In May Biden issued an executive order requiring development of a comprehensive government-wide climate-risk strategy within 120 days, as well as an annual assessment of climate-related fiscal risks as part of the US budget.
The report was issued barely more than a week before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (pictured: Biden addresses the UN General Assembly in September)
‘Intensifying physical effects will exacerbate geopolitical flashpoints, particularly after 2030, and key countries and regions will face increasing risks of instability and need for humanitarian assistance,’ it read.
But even before any significant climate disaster, blame shifting and arguments over how goals outlined in the Paris Climate Accord should be carried out and who should do it will be a source of heightened tensions.
‘The cooperative breakthrough of the Paris Agreement may be short lived as countries struggle to reduce their emissions and blame others for not doing enough,’ it states.
Countries would then turn against one another to compete for thinning resources and dominance over new technologies.
The physical effects of climate change would also lead to more mass migration as vast swaths of the world become uninhabitable.
Climate refugees have already been highlighted as a growing point of concern by a number of global entities, including the United Nations.
Each year, hurricanes, seasonal rains and other sudden natural disasters force an average of 21.5 million people from their homes around the world, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said.
Areas like the Arctic and parts of Asia, where transboundary tensions over water already exist, would become all the more hostile as water insecurity grows.
The report flags concerns that China could strengthen its position as a significant producer of minerals necessary for renewable energy technology
The report identifies several areas at high risk. One is Pakistan, which relies on glacier-fed rivers in India as a significant water source. Land and social disputes among others have already built up historically poor relations between the two countries.
In combatting the effects of climate change, US intel agencies warn that competition to geo-engineer solutions could shift geopolitical power to a position less favorable for the US.
China for instance, the top CO2 producer in the world, is identified as one of two countries that will ‘play critical roles in determining the trajectory of temperature rise.’
Both China and India are growing their already significant carbon emissions, compared to the European Union and US where the rates are declining.
China has previously set a goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2060 but President Xi Jinping has yet to outline a concrete roadmap to do so.
Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to work toward phasing out coal during Biden’s virtual climate summit with world leaders in April
At a virtual climate summit hosted by Biden in April, Xi pledged to work toward phasing out coal.
But China is also in a ‘strong position to compete’ in the future of innovation in the face of climate change, the report notes.
Its control over key mineral exports necessary for renewable energy technology and low production standards would likely strengthen China’s position as one of the world’s largest economies.
‘China is able to process these at reduced cost mainly because of its lower environmental standards, lower labor costs, and inexpensive power,’ it states.
The US intel community also shares concerns that China will exploit the shifting geographical terrain in its quest for dominance.
They highlight the Artic region, which is becoming more accessible for new trade routes as temperatures rise and ice melts, and therefore new territory to be claimed.
‘Military activity is likely to increase as Arctic and non-Arctic states seek to protect their investments, exploit new maritime routes, and gain strategic advantages over rivals,’ the report states.
China is the top producer of carbon emissions in the world (pictured: A barge travels past the Wangting Power Plant in Wangting, Jiangsu province, China, on Thursday, Sept. 30)
By contrast the US and UK have seen their carbon emissions rates decline (pictured: Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyoming in 2018)
‘The increased presence of China and other non-Arctic states very likely will amplify concerns among Arctic states as they perceive a challenge to their respective security and economic interests.’
Other countries that have also already outlined Arctic strategies are the UK, France, Japan, South Korea and India, which the report notes prompted Russian officials to repeatedly state ‘that non-Arctic countries do not have a military role in the region.’
Thursday’s report flagged 11 poorer countries that will be left especially vulnerable to extreme weather and rising temperatures, where humanitarian aide could be hindered by ‘poor governance, weak infrastructure, endemic corruption, and a lack of physical access.’
They are Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Haiti, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Myanmar.
‘Intensifying and more frequent heat waves and droughts will create water supply volatility and probably strain their electric utility operations, while growing economies and populations will increase electricity demands to handle rising temperatures,’ the assessment says.
Countries like Russia and those in the Middle East that rely heavily on fossil fuel exports will likely continue to resist calls to change because ‘they fear the economic, political and geopolitical costs of doing so,’ the report predicts.
Its concerns and projections were based on the intel community’s assessment as well as ‘the broad consensus of scientific studies, modeling and forecasts’ from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and US National Climate Assessment.
It adds: ‘We are aware of, but in this estimate do not rely on, the small minority scientific perspectives on climate change ranging from those who consider it nonexistent to those who view it as a near-term existential threat to humanity.’