Defense Secretary Panetta: ‘Climate Change Has A Dramatic Impact On National Security’


Written by Arpita Bhattacharyya

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta joined the chorus of academics, policymakers, and security analysts concerned about the “dramatic” impacts of climate change on national security.

“Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” said Panetta at a recent event at the Environmental Defense Fund.

While Congress continues to waver on mitigation measures and debate the science, the U.S. defense, development, and diplomacy establishments are already grappling with the impacts of climate change in their work at home and abroad.

The latest Quadrennial Defense Review recognized climate change as an “accelerant of instability or conflict” and emphasized the challenges U.S. and partner militaries will face in light of rising sea levels, more frequent extreme weather events, desertification and water scarcity.  USAID is working to integrate climate change into its development efforts, particularly in their agriculture and technology programs. And at the State Department, U.S. negotiators are exploring options to make the Green Climate Fund a reality to support climate change adaptation in vulnerable countries.

Understanding climate change and integrating its anticipated effects into our defense, development and diplomacy strategies will be crucial in addressing the security challenges that Panetta highlights. Crisis scenarios are made increasingly complex by the intersection of climate change with other geopolitical trends like human migration.

The Center for American Progress’s new report on Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict in North Africa, part of CAP’s Climate, Migration, and Security Project, outlines exactly the sort of complex crisis Panetta forecasts. The report links Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, and Morocco as a contiguous region or “arc of tension” in which climate change impacts could exasperate existing conflicts and worsen migratory conditions.

Author and columnist Thomas Friedman also highlighted the implications of climate change in conflict scenarios in his recent piece on “The Other Arab Spring.”  While the exact casual relationships between climate and conflict have not been fully studied, both Friedman and Secretary Panetta realize that climate change must be factored into our assessments of national and regional security.

Water security, for example, is central to these challenges, as outlined in a new Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Water Security from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.:

During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems—shortages, poor water quality, or floods—that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important US policy objectives. Between now and 2040, fresh water availability will not keep up with demand absent more effective management of water resources. Water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and generate energy, posing a risk to global food markets and hobbling economic growth. As a result of demographic and economic development pressures, North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia will face major challenges coping with water problems.

The impacts of climate change, including salt intrusion, drought, and more frequent floods will continue to shape the already complex global water security scenari0.

It is clear that Secretary Panetta — indeed, virtually the entire military establishment — understands the security implications of climate change and is working to prepare the U.S. military for the challenges ahead. Congressional lawmakers need to wake up and address the problem with the same sense of urgency.

This post was originally published by Climate Progress.


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Bangladesh: Climate Change to Increase Hunger and Malnutrition


Photo from The Department of Defense


Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo4 years ago

Thank you for revealing the truth.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams4 years ago

I can NOT blame our military for wanting very much NOT to have to fight another war like Iraq.

Harsha Vardhana R
Harsha Vardhana5 years ago

Welcome awareness

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Let us hope that at least one portion of the US government takes climate change seriously.

Sandi C.
Sandi C5 years ago

Thanks for the post!

Howard C.
.5 years ago

It is great to see a politician recognising the issue and there is little doubt that the Defense Secretary has identified serious concerns - the question is what politiicans across the world are going to do about it, or maybe more fairly what are they going to try to do. The only thing that will bring about sufficient change is if we all start take action now.

Linda T.
Linda T5 years ago

I'm almost frieghtened for him because we have all seen how vengeful the Republicans are. They will probably take his funding away now that he has come out talking National Security over Climate Change although he is speaking the truth.

Mike Barnes
Michael Barnes5 years ago

Duh. Instead of spending the money on cold war weaponry, try spending it on renewable energy projects. We'll be safer because the Middle East will be able to do what it wants with its oil, we'll have more jobs, so our economy will be better, and we'll save the money we used to spend on fossil fuel, so it can be applied to, gasp! education, health care, and infrastructure.

Carl Oerke
Carl O5 years ago

It would be nice if Senator James Inhofe and the climate change deniers would pull their collective heads out of their collective asses and get on board. Maybe then some progress could be made on the issue.

terri armao
terri armao5 years ago

this is something that everyone can do something about. stop allowing companies, business, agriculture and individuals to pollute water. conserve water. homeowners disconnect your gutters from the storm drain system and instead let the water drain into your yard. make sure all new construction has a grey water system. take down dams. use permeable concrete.....