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Security threats may rise with sea levels

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

Providing a preview to a key topic he’ll discuss during a security conference that begins tomorrow, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel yesterday described how climate change may affect the security environment.

Building a climate resilient future — Dr David Viner explains why climate resilience should be a top priority

Hagel cited rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events as some of the challenges that will intensify global instability, hunger, poverty and conflict. The likely results, he wrote on the White House blog, will be ‘food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.’

‘In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier” because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these impacts.’

Chuck Hagel, US Secretary of Defense

Hagel added that the military could be called upon to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the face of ‘more frequent and more intense natural disasters’, and that the ways in which the military executes its operations ‘may be altered or constrained’ by extreme weather conditions and impacts on supply chains.

‘While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains. But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action. Every day, our military deals with global uncertainty. Our planners know that, as military strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote, “all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight.”’

Chuck Hagel, US Secretary of Defense

Hagel announced the US Department of Defense’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap as part of the solution, asserting that with ‘wise planning and risk mitigation’ now, we can reduce adverse impacts ‘downrange’.

‘We must also work with other nations to share tools for assessing and managing climate change impacts, and help build their capacity to respond. Climate change is a global problem. Its impacts do not respect national borders. No nation can deal with it alone.’

Chuck Hagel, US Secretary of Defense

Assessing the risks

A baseline survey assessing the vulnerability of the US’s military bases, installations and facilities – numbering over 7,000 in total – is underway, in a bid to identify the effects of climate change on military sites.

The conclusions will help to inform the way climate change is integrated into operations, planning and training so that associated risks can be managed.

‘Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning. Our armed forces must prepare for a future with a wide spectrum of possible threats, weighing risks and probabilities to ensure that we will continue to keep our country secure.

‘By taking a proactive, flexible approach to assessment, analysis, and adaptation, the Defense Department will keep pace with a changing climate, minimise its impacts on our missions and continue to protect our national security.’

Chuck Hagel, US Secretary of Defense

Speaking at a news conference in Santiago, Chile, after a meeting with government leaders there, Hagel underlined the risk climate change presents to the security environment, noting that potential threats may rise along with sea levels.

‘When there is any natural disaster event that occurs, there always is some element of a security risk – law and order, individuals attempting to take advantage of those catastrophes, adjusting to shifts in security requirements.’

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel

Nations will compete for natural resources

The secretary cited the Arctic as an example. ‘We see an Arctic that is melting, meaning that most likely a new sea lane will emerge’, he said. ‘We know that there are significant minerals and natural deposits of oil and natural gas there. That means that nations will compete for those natural resources.’

That hasn’t been an issue before, Hagel said. ‘You couldn’t get up there and get anything out of there’, he added. ‘We have to manage through what those conditions and new realities are going to bring in the way of potential threats.’

Hagel, who is on a six-day, three-nation trip to South America, said he will discuss the relationship between climate change and security in more detail during the Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas, which begins tomorrow in Arequipa, Peru.

Roadmap to resilience

Last November, Obama issued an executive order on climate preparedness directing federal agencies to modernise programmes to ‘support climate-resilient investments, manage lands and waters for climate change preparedness and resilience and plan for climate-change-related risk, among other things’.

This isn’t the first time Hegel, a Republican, has voiced his concerns about the risks and impacts of climate change – but he faces opposition in Congress from climate-change denying members of his own party.

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