Sparks Fly at Joint Hearing on National Intelligence Assessment of Climate Change’s National Security ImplicationsJune 26, 2008 By Rachel Weisshaar
“Climate change alone is unlikely to trigger state failure in any state out to 2030, but the impacts will worsen existing problems—such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions,” said National Intelligence Council Chairman Thomas Fingar at yesterday’s joint hearing of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the House Subcommittee on Intelligence Community Management.
The hearing allowed Democrats and Republicans alike to question Fingar and other witnesses on the newly completed, classified National Intelligence Assessment (NIA) on the national security implications of global climate change through 2030. The NIA relies on the mid-range projections in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report, as well as the expert opinions of scientists from the U.S. government and U.S. universities.
“Climate change could threaten domestic stability in some states, potentially contributing to intra- or, less likely, interstate conflict, particularly over access to increasingly scarce water resources. We judge that economic migrants will perceive additional reasons to migrate because of harsh climates, both within nations and from disadvantaged to richer countries,” said Fingar, adding that the United States should be prepared to assist people fleeing flooded coastal areas in the Caribbean.
Domestically, Fingar warned the representatives to expect severe water scarcity in the Southwest, increasingly frequent wildfires, and powerful storms on the East and Gulf Coasts, which could threaten nuclear power plants, oil refineries, and U.S. military installations. The military could also find its capacity overstretched abroad: AFRICOM will be tasked with responding to more frequent disease outbreaks, food scarcity, and land clashes in sub-Saharan Africa, and the U.S. military in general will be called upon to alleviate increasingly common humanitarian emergencies around the world.
According to Fingar, the NIC plans to analyze three subtopics in greater detail: climate change’s security implications for individual countries; its implications for cooperation and competition among the world’s great powers, including the United States, Russia, China, and India; and the security implications of possible climate change mitigation strategies.
Democrats and Republicans butted heads over whether the NIA was a commendable achievement or a distraction from more important security issues, such as terrorism. At one point, Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, asked Fingar whether he thought climate change could worsen the drivers of terrorism, and Fingar responded that yes, he thought climate change would probably increase the pool of recruits for terrorist activity, which was cause for concern.
Virtually the only issue on which Democrats and Republicans could agree—although for differing reasons—was that the NIA should be declassified. Democrats believed declassification was important so that government agencies and private businesses could begin to prepare for climate change’s impacts, while Republicans argued the NIA should be declassified because they believed the NIC’s analysts, having based their analysis entirely on open-source information, hadn’t contributed anything new to the existing body of knowledge on climate change. Fingar disagreed that secret intelligence is more valuable than open-source information: “Information is information; knowledge is knowledge.”
For her part, Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Intelligence Community Management, seemed content to ignore the misgivings of some of her colleagues regarding the NIA. “From this day forward, the words ‘climate change’ and ‘international security’ will be forever linked,” she proclaimed.
Selected news coverage:
Wall Street Journal: Global Warming as Security Issue: Intelligence Report Sees Threat
Reuters: Climate change may strain U.S. forces
MSNBC: Climate change could threaten U.S. security
CNN: Global warming could increase terrorism, official says