Today marked the release of The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change
, a report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS
) and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS
). This morning’s launch of the report featured commentary by a few of the report’s many high-profile contributors, including John Podesta, who served as former President Clinton’s chief of staff, Leon Fuerth, who served as former Vice President Gore’s national security adviser, and James Woolsey, the former director of the CIA.The Age of Consequences
analyzes the effects three different climate scenarios could have on foreign policy and national security: an expected scenario (based on a 1.3ºC average global temperature increase by 2040); a severe scenario (a 2.6ºC increase by 2040); and a catastrophic scenario (a 5.6ºC increase by 2100). Leaders and policymakers must strive to understand and plan for the potential geopolitical impacts of climate change, said the report’s authors, despite inherent uncertainty regarding the precise severity and timing of those impacts.
Podesta described the expected scenario—which is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) medium-range scenario—as the “best we can hope for, the least we should be prepared for.” This least-dramatic scenario still anticipates a plethora of effects stemming from climate change, including a sharp rise in internal and international migration, the spread of infectious diseases, and growing tensions over the distribution of dwindling natural resources. Podesta emphasized that leaders must prepare for climate impacts to interact with one another and cause cascading geopolitical implications. For better or worse, he said, the United States is already viewed as the world’s first responder to natural disasters, and even under the mildest climate scenario, the American military’s disaster response role can be expected to grow.
While presenting the severe climate scenario, Fuerth reminded the Washington policymaker audience that extreme nonlinear environmental changes will likely generate dramatic institutional changes with far-reaching geopolitical implications—but that the trigger point for these changes is always hard to predict. He also argued that the United States and other wealthy countries have a responsibility to take action to mitigate climate change’s harmful global effects. Inaction by the United States over the next 30 years in the face of severe climate change impacts in the developing world would be akin to “kicking people away from the lifeboats,” he said. The report emphasizes that poorer countries will be disproportionally affected by climate change under all scenarios, in part because they lack the resources to cope with changing conditions. However, even for developed countries, says the report’s Executive Summary, the “collapse and chaos associated with extreme climate change futures would destabilize virtually every aspect of modern life.”
Woolsey emphasized that a catastrophic climate scenario would seriously threaten both ecosystems and infrastructure systems. The debate should not become mired in whether catastrophic climate events may occur in 2050 or 2100, said Woolsey—just as it is useless for a heavy smoker to debate whether he will contract lung cancer at age 49 or 53. As a society, he argued, we are effectively “smoking six packs a day.”
Woolsey stressed that both the “treehugger” interested only in reducing carbon emissions and the “hawk” interested only in security vulnerabilities want many of the same things. For instance, they both wish to move away from a carbon-based economy—the treehugger to mitigate climate change, and the hawk to reduce the nation’s dependency on unstable overseas regimes and its energy infrastructure’s vulnerability to terrorist attack. Woolsey will expand on this coincidence of interests with a future publication featuring an imagined conversation between the ghosts of “treehugger” John Muir and “hawk” General George Patton.
ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko, who attended this morning’s briefing, noted, “The Age of Consequences is an important report that brings together a wide range of experts and succeeds at bolstering the significance of climate change as a serious long-term security concern.” Dabelko believes the next steps are “deriving specific action items for a range of actors from this report” and from similar reports, including the April 2007 CNA Military Advisory Board report, the forthcoming Council on Foreign Relations report by Joshua Busby, and the National Intelligence Council’s National Intelligence Estimate, which is expected in early 2008.
ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko contributed to this report.