As indicated in Chapter 1, the main focus of this report is a subset of the ways that climate change might affect U.S. national security. In particular, we examine climate events, that is, events that are directly connected to properties of climate through deterministic physical or biological mechanisms, and the harm such events cause to human life and well-being when socioeconomic and political systems do not respond adequately. (See Box 2-1 for definitions of key terms used in this report, which are indicated in this chapter by being shown in italics when first introduced.) Climate events, which may be acute or slowly developing, include physical events such as droughts, heat waves, and extreme storms; the ecological consequences of physical changes, such as crop failures and disease outbreaks; and events that may have both physical and biological causes, such as fires in unhealthy forests. Depending on other socioeconomic, political, and environmental conditions and on societal reactions to the disruption caused by climate events, a given climate event may ultimately result in large-scale social and political outcomes that have the potential to affect U.S. national security. This chapter develops several concepts that can help us identify, classify, and discuss the many ways in which climate events may contribute to such social and political outcomes. It also develops a conceptual framework for thinking about the potential security implications of vulnerabilities to climate change, that is, gaps between existing states of adaptation and what the adaptations would have to be to prevent harm from climate events.
Definitions of Key Terms
Adaptation: the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities (shortened from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012:3). Also, an action that reduces exposure or susceptibility to harm from a potential future event or that increases the likelihood of effective response.
Climate Change: a change in the mean or variability of any of the properties of climate that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer (adapted from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012:3).
Climate Event: any event that is directly connected to the properties of climate through deterministic physical or biological mechanisms. Such events might be acute (e.g., a storm or heat wave), slowly developing (e.g., a drought or a change in the ecological range of a crop pest), or a combination of the two (e.g., wildfires in a drought-stricken forest). The behavior of climate includes the full range of climate events; the term weather normally is applied to short-term climate events.
Climate Extreme: the occurrence of a value of a weather or climate variable above (or below) a threshold value near the upper (or lower) ends of the range of observed values of the variable (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012:3).
Coping: actions taken by individuals and communities using their available resources and typically without the intervention of formal organizations to face and manage adverse conditions, emergencies, or disasters (adapted from United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, 2009a).
Disaster: a consequence of hazardous physical or biological events interacting with vulnerable social conditions, leading to widespread adverse human, material, economic, or environmental effects that alter the normal functioning of
Figure 2-1 shows our general conceptual framework for thinking about climate–security relationships that involve vulnerabilities to climate events. We developed this framework from an examination of the research literature on the implications of climate change for human well-being and security, and we present it here as a way to think through the connections among various factors and to explore the needs for analysis, monitoring, and projecting potential security threats. We expect that as events proceed, monitoring improves, and understanding increases, the framework will evolve, and it will become possible to formulate it with more precision.
a community or society sufficiently to require immediate emergency response to satisfy critical human needs (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012).
Exposure: the presence of people, livelihoods, environmental services and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets in places that could be adversely affected (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012:3).
Human life-supporting system: any combination of natural systems and the human activities and institutions that use them to meet critical needs for human life and the well-being of individuals, communities, and societies.
Impact: a consequence for a human or natural system of the interaction of climatic, environmental, and human factors.
Recovery: actions taken by people, communities, and formal organizations in the aftermath of a disruptive event to compensate for the harm caused or to restore altered systems to a more desired state.
Response: the provision of emergency services and assistance, typically by formal organizations such as police, hospitals, and governmental or international organizations during or immediately after a disruptive event in order to save lives, reduce health impacts, ensure public safety, and meet the basic subsistence needs of the people affected (adapted from United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, 2009a).
Susceptibility: the degree to which a population, community, society, or system suffers or would suffer immediate harm as the result of exposure to a climate event. Thus, susceptibility is an indicator of the extent that an event would create disruptive change in the short term in that population, community, society, or system.
Vulnerability: the propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012:3). Aspects of vulnerability include the susceptibility to being harmed and the likelihood of effective coping or response in the event of harm.
This section briefly describes the framework; its implications are elaborated throughout the report.
Climate Events and Vulnerabilities
People and societies depend for their lives and well-being on a number of complex and interrelated systems that may be affected by climate variability and change. The most important systems are those that meet critical human needs by protecting health and providing water, food, energy, shelter, transportation, and essential commercial products. Each of these human life-supporting systems is affected by physical and biological systems, including climate, and by the socioeconomic and political conditions that
organize how people and societies interact with those systems to meet their needs. It is important to recognize that some human life-supporting systems, including international disaster assistance, protections against pathogens, and markets for key commodities such as grains and petroleum, are global. This means that climate-related events anywhere that affect these systems have the potential to create disruptions elsewhere on the planet.
People, societies, and their support systems have developed over time in ways that leave them well adapted to a range of variations in physical and biological conditions and events in their environments but vulnerable to harm if events go far enough beyond their usual ranges. Climatic change and climate-related events have the potential to affect each of these
life-supporting systems by presenting them with such conditions. There are many ways of providing a general description of how harm might arise. One useful characterization comes from a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012), which describes harm from climate change as resulting from confluences of climate-related events, exposure of people or the systems they depend on to those events (i.e., being in harm’s way), and the vulnerability of those people or things to the events. We refer to this idea as the EEV (for events, exposure, and vulnerability) model of impacts.
In this model the term climate events refers to weather and other events that are directly connected to the properties of climate through deterministic physical or biological mechanisms. Exposure is defined as the presence of people, livelihoods, environmental services and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets in places that could be adversely affected. Vulnerability is defined in the IPCC report simply as “the predisposition or propensity to be adversely affected” (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012:3).
A large scholarly literature on environmental hazards and climate change elaborates on the concept of vulnerability in ways that we find useful for the purposes of national security analysis (Liverman, 1990; Kasperson and Kasperson, 2001; O’Brien et al., 2004; Wisner et al., 2004; Brooks et al., 2005; Adger, 2006; Eakin and Luers, 2006; Füssel, 2007; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, 2012; Polsky et al., 2007). In particular, we find it useful to distinguish two elements of vulnerability. One is the susceptibility of some aspect of well-being to harm from climate events, taking into account the actions—often called “adaptive actions” in the climate change literature (or “hazard mitigation” in the disaster literature; see, e.g., National Research Council, 2006)—that are taken before an event occurs and that reduce exposure or decrease direct or immediate harm to an exposed system or population compared with what it would have been in the absence of these actions. A system, community, or society is susceptible to harm from a climate event to which it is exposed to the extent that the event creates disruptive change in that system, community, or society.
The IPCC defines disaster, an extreme result of events outstripping adaptations, in terms that imply a certain level of susceptibility. Disaster is defined as “severe alterations in the normal functioning of a community or a society due to hazardous physical events interacting with vulnerable social conditions, leading to widespread adverse human, material, economic, or environmental effects that require immediate emergency response to satisfy critical human needs and that may require external support for recovery”
(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012:3).1 This concept of disaster is very close to our concept of susceptibility: An event is said to produce a disaster when the disruption it causes is severe enough to require an immediate emergency response in order to take care of critical human needs.
The other element of vulnerability that we highlight involves socioeconomic and political reactions to disruptive climate events. Following the terminology common in disaster research (e.g., United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, 2009a), we distinguish three kinds of reactions: coping, response, and recovery.2 Coping involves actions taken by individuals and communities using their available skills and resources to face and manage adverse conditions, emergencies, or disasters more or less on their own, at least temporarily. Immediately after an unanticipated climate event, coping is the predominant reaction; with some events, it remains the predominant reaction for some time. The term response connotes more formal activities and is generally taken to mean “the provision of emergency services and public assistance during or immediately after a disaster in order to save lives, reduce health impacts, ensure public safety, and meet the basic subsistence needs of the people affected” (United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, 2009a). This definition implicitly recognizes the roles of governmental and other formal organizations, and it specifically refers to short-term activities during or immediately after a disruptive event. Recovery involves actions taken by people, communities, and formal organizations in the aftermath of a disruptive event to compensate for the harm caused or to restore altered systems to a more desired state. The difference between response and recovery is not clearly marked, and different areas or groups in an affected area may be in different stages at the same time. Response is particularly important from a security perspective because, as discussed further in Chapter 4, political and social upheavals in the aftermath of environmental disasters typically result more from actual or perceived failures of response by governmental organizations than from the disasters themselves.
1 Climate change can also create hazards when physical events interact with biological sys tems, such as terrestrial or aquatic ecosystems, in ways that lead to events that affect human well-being. Examples include the spread of pests or pathogens to new places or new hosts, leading to disease outbreaks among humans or food species. Although the drivers of such ecological changes may be physical changes in climate or weather conditions, these events ultimately are hazardous because of their biological aspects. Our definition of disaster includes events that result from connections between physical climate events and their biological consequences.
2 Because disruptive climate events are typically experienced as natural disasters, the con cepts developed over more than half a century of disaster research are particularly useful in our analysis.
Vulnerability can be thought of as the gap between an existing state of adaptation and what it would have to be in order to avoid harm from a potential future event. Alternatively, it can be thought of as the amount of harm to a place, population, or system that would result from a future event, taking into account the available resources for coping, response, and recovery. Vulnerability, therefore, is a function of the event under consideration, the pre-existing conditions of human life-supporting systems, and the likely effectiveness of coping, response, and recovery. It is important to note that disruptive events and reactions to them can significantly alter the vulnerability of an affected place, population, or system. Sometimes, a disaster leaves those affected more vulnerable; however, an ideal recovery process is one that leaves them less vulnerable than before.
Climate Events and Social and Political Disruption
The extent of disruption that occurs as the result of a climate event is determined by the interaction of the event; the preexisting climatic, environmental, socioeconomic, and political conditions; the exposures of places, populations, or life-supporting systems; and their vulnerability, including both susceptibility and deficits in coping, response, and recovery systems. This formulation, which might be called EEV+, expands on the EEV model by including conditions that precede an event and by elaborating the concept of vulnerability to specifically reference the included elements of susceptibility, coping, response, and recovery. These interactions may result in a loss of life and livelihoods as well as in disruptions within any of the major human life-supporting systems, with the possibility of causing harm in places located far from the initiating climate event.
Climate conditions, including averages and variations in climate parameters such as temperature and precipitation, have always generated potentially disruptive events. Some extreme climate conditions have been occurring more frequently in recent decades (Hansen et al., 2012; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012), and the likelihoods of several kinds of extreme climate events are expected to increase—at an increasing rate in most places—in the future (e.g., Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012). Climate conditions affect other environmental conditions, including those of hydrological, ecological, and land-cover systems, on both short and long time-scales, and these systems in turn affect climate. Climate conditions similarly interact with socioeconomic and political conditions on long time-scales in the sense that human systems have evolved in response to experiences with climate and that, through the use of various environmental resources, human systems in turn affect climate. Because most of these interactions occur on time-scales of many decades or longer, they are not of major concern for this study.
Of greater concern for this study are the ways in which climate change and climate events interact with the environmental, socioeconomic, and political conditions operating on shorter time-scales that help determine exposure, susceptibility, and the likelihood of effective coping, response, and recovery and thus the potential for social and political consequences that can become national security concerns. Although in the past much of the discussion about climate change and national security has focused on anticipating climate events, in this report we point out that there is also great value in assessing exposure and the elements of vulnerability, which implies monitoring and anticipating the social, political, and economic conditions that determine exposure and vulnerability. It is often the case that the ability to estimate vulnerability is greater than the ability to foresee climate events. The interactions of climate events with other factors are discussed in greater detail in Chapters 4 and 5.
In sum, the potential for climate events to trigger disasters and social or political upheavals depends both on the events and on exposures and vulnerabilities of the places and systems that are affected. To anticipate the damage that climate change may cause and the social disruption that might result, the intelligence community needs not only to anticipate climatic events but also to anticipate exposures, susceptibilities, and the likelihood of effective coping, response, and recovery. Climate science is the main source of knowledge for foreseeing climate events; social science and knowledge of local conditions are the main sources of knowledge for foreseeing exposures, susceptibility, and the likely effectiveness of coping, response, and recovery. We discuss the determinants of future climate events in Chapter 3 and the determinants of exposure, susceptibility, coping, response, and recovery in Chapter 4.
Because the human consequences of climate events are also influenced by pre-existing conditions and by societal factors affecting exposure, susceptibility, coping, response, and recovery, the affected people and countries may not always see the disruption as climate-related. Disputes about the proper attribution of the events can themselves contribute to social disruption. For example, between 2010 and 2012 Pakistan experienced a series of electrical blackouts and shortages of irrigation water, both attributable in part to decreased flows in the Indus River. The decreased flows occurred in the context of a long-term decline in per capita water availability, which by 2010 was less than a third of what it had been in the 1950s (Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority, 2011) as a result of the increasing demands for irrigation water to feed a rapidly growing population, inefficient drainage practices, and possibly inequitable water allocation between regions and uses (Ghumman, 2012a; News International, 2012). Drought arrived on top of these stresses. Protest demonstrations and riots occurred with increasing frequency and intensity during 2010 and 2011, tied mainly to the power
blackouts (Ayub, 2011). The blackouts and water shortages themselves were disruptive enough, but, in addition, their cause became a contentious political issue with the potential to inflame Pakistan–India relations. The Pakistani foreign minister blamed the decreased flows on illegal water withdrawals upstream by India; the commissioner of the Indus River System Authority in Pakistan attributed them to climate change (Jafrani, 2010).
Social and Political Disruption and U.S. National Security
Climate events that affect vulnerable places or life-supporting systems can become concerns for U.S. national security in at least two ways. One is by creating social or political stresses or inducing policy actions within or between foreign countries that pose security risks for the United States. Another is by developing into major humanitarian crises that directly create U.S. national security concerns or engage U.S. resources that also have national security missions. In either case, disruptions from climate events in other countries are usually at least one step removed from U.S. national security concerns. The intervening steps may involve violent domestic conflicts or the deterioration of governments’ abilities to function in affected countries, cross-border wars, mass international migration, demands on the United States to provide humanitarian relief, or the diversion of U.S. military and other resources from current security missions to disaster response. In short, any effects of climate events and climate change on U.S. national security over the next decade are likely to be indirect, mediated by the susceptibilities of human life-supporting systems to harm in exposed places or through global social or economic processes, the responses of national governments and international institutions to experienced harm, and the social and political consequences of responses that are or are perceived to be inadequate. This means that the potential effects of climate change on U.S. national security cannot be anticipated without considering all of these conditions and potential responses. Security issues may also arise when the response of a government is to suppress popular demands for assistance or to prevent access to aid.
The framework sketched in Figure 2-1 has several noteworthy implications for security analysis.
“Impacts of Climate Change” Do Not Result Only from Climate Change
The effects of climate change on human well-being and on U.S. national security will depend not only on climatic and environmental conditions,
but also on socioeconomic and political ones. Security concerns arise from climate events that prove disruptive. Extreme climate events are sometimes, but not always, disruptive to social and political systems, and climate events that are not extreme can sometimes be very disruptive; the ultimate outcome depends on susceptibilities and reactions to harm. It is important to project the likelihoods of potentially disruptive climate events, but analyses restricted to this, whether globally or at finer scales, will often fail to provide sufficient information to those concerned with human, national, or international security. It is also necessary to consider socioeconomic and political conditions at levels from local to global.
The Picture Changes Over Time
All the elements in the conceptual framework change over time, and they change at various rates. Thus, to anticipate the risks of security concerns arising at any point in the future requires an analysis that examines all of the framework’s elements and their interrelationships in the intervening period. Socioeconomic and political conditions often change more rapidly than average climate or many environmental conditions, and this is likely to be the case over the coming decade. When this is the case, the rate of change in the risk of disruption from climate events may be more dependent on changes in the conditions affecting exposure and vulnerability, including actions taken to reduce susceptibility and prepare for disasters, than on changes in climate.
Changing Exposures to Coastal Storms and Floods
A simple example is the growing risk to human populations in coastal areas from storm surge and sea level rise. Climate and environmental change are exposing more land to these hazards, but in many regions rapid population growth and infrastructure development resulting from birth rates exceeding death rates, net migration, and economic development are putting people and property in harm’s way faster than climate and environmental change alone. For example, one recent scenario-based analysis estimated increases of population exposure to coastal flooding as a function of climate change and changes in social and economic conditions over the next 60 years in several countries. It concluded that exposure in India would increase from the present level of about 5 million people to about 28 million, with about 13 million of that increase attributed to socioeconomic change and about 10 million to the combination of climate change and land subsidence. In Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, and Nigeria, almost all the projected increase in population exposure is due to socioeconomic change; in Japan,
very little of the projected change in exposure is socioeconomic in origin (Hanson et al., 2011).
Changing Susceptibility to Food Insecurity
In many developing countries economic development and urbanization are making large populations less dependent on subsistence agriculture and local food supplies. This trend will decrease these populations’ vulnerability to extreme climate events affecting local crops and meat supplies. At the same time the dependence of low-income populations on imported food supplies provided by global markets may increase their vulnerability to climatic or economic events in other parts of the world that sharply increase the prices of the foods they have come to depend upon. The net effect of these social changes on the well-being of these populations in the face of climate change is likely place-dependent.
Changing Likelihood of Effective Response
Social, economic, and political conditions may also affect the capacity and willingness of governments and societies to respond and mitigate harm to vulnerable populations when disruptive climate events occur. Disaster researchers point out that both “social capital” in the affected communities and formal emergency response institutions and infrastructure play important roles in mediating the net degree of loss, disruption, and stress that result from extreme environmental events, including climate events (see, for example, Aldrich, 2012). Effective response also depends on the economic and other resources available to the governments of the affected populations and on the governments’ allocation of those resources. Whether or not climate events become social and political stresses serious enough to destabilize a government or generate violent conflict may depend on whether or not governments’ disaster response efforts are perceived to be under-resourced, poorly managed, or characterized by favoritism, corruption, and lack of compassion. (This is discussed in more detail in Chapter 4.) Estimates of risks from climate events may therefore need to take into account the likely future condition of formal and informal response and recovery systems; furthermore, if there appears to be a significant likelihood of inadequate responses, the estimates should consider the likely consequences for social and political systems, including the governments potentially held responsible.
Small Climate Events Could Have Large Social Effects
Thresholds or tipping points have received much attention in the literature of physical climate science. In Chapter 3 we discuss evidence on the likelihood, in the next decade, of crossing important physical thresholds that could lead to a sharply altered climate regime. Less commonly examined are the ways in which changes in human systems might sharply alter vulnerabilities and thus contribute to the potential of even small climate events to have major impacts. Such changes could contribute to social and political stresses, even in an unchanged climate regime, and could have greater effects in the presence of climate change. The following examples illustrate some mechanisms by which this could happen.
Loss of “Slack” in Local Life-Supporting Systems
Relatively slow climatic, ecological, or economic changes can shift the balance of supply and use of natural systems at a local or regional level to the point that adequate supply can be achieved only with favorable climate conditions. The effects may not be noticeable until an unusual climate event occurs, but the responsibility for the impact would in fact lie with the combination of the event and the underlying changes in vulnerability. The decline in water availability in Pakistan in 2010–2012, already mentioned, exemplifies this type of situation. For decades water supplies had been increasingly appropriated to irrigate crops and provide electric power, but this situation did not create a crisis for livelihoods until these slow changes combined with the much decreased water flows in the Indus River to create a situation in which the agricultural and energy systems were highly vulnerable to drought. The Indus water commissioner’s claim that the cause of the water shortage was climate change may or may not have been accurate; ordinary climate variation may have been the trigger. Even events within the normal range of climate variability can lead to major disruption if support systems have become vulnerable to them.
Increasing Dependence on Global Markets
Economic development in most countries has generally been marked by a pattern in which livelihoods depend decreasingly on subsistence agriculture and the local manufacture of essential products and increasingly on wage labor and the purchase of necessities in global markets. This transition usually includes a rural–urban shift in national populations as well. Historically, these changes have tended to decrease vulnerability of food supplies to local climate events because when destructive climate events occur locally, necessities can be purchased from places where such events have
not occurred. But while direct vulnerability to events that limit local food production has decreased, vulnerability, especially of the lowest-income groups, remains and may be increased with respect to events that limit distribution or that sharply increase prices in global markets for necessities that cannot be acquired locally. Economic globalization thus changes the nature of vulnerability to climate events as well as the degree of that vulnerability (Leichenko and O’Brien, 2008). With globalization, populations become increasingly interconnected via international trade so that it becomes possible, for example, for a climatic event that affects one of the world’s grain-producing regions to influence global commodities markets in ways that can seriously affect populations that do not directly experience the climate event. In this way the well-being of households in Lagos or Nairobi can be sharply affected by a drought in Ukraine or the United States. Security analyses should consider the possibility of this sort of phenomenon in commodity markets when assessing the climate vulnerabilities of large low-income populations in key countries.
Climate and Ecological Change
Societal activities are well known to alter ecosystems. Climate change also does this—sometimes slowly, and sometimes as the result of extreme events—with results that may not become evident until an extreme climate event occurs. For example, climate change can alter the ranges of certain species of pests or pathogens, increasing the exposure of human populations or economically important nonhuman species. The expansion of the pine bark beetle in North America is a familiar example. As average temperatures in the region increased, making additional areas suitable for beetle infestations, the beetle expanded its range northward and toward higher elevations (Carroll et al., 2003). The ecological change did not become seriously disruptive to human populations until the increased prevalence of dead trees combined with drought and hot weather to produce major wildfires that affected populated areas. The wildfires in Colorado in 2012, widely described as unprecedented in extent, may have been affected by this process.
Slow climate change could potentially have similar effects on the evolution or distribution of human pathogens (influenza, yellow fever, etc.) or of pests of major crop or livestock species. When one of these pests or pathogens makes contact with a vulnerable population, epidemics, epizootics, or crop failures can spread rapidly, leading to major losses of human life and well-being. Slow processes of ecological change or slow changes in the resistance of host populations to disease organisms could lead to the crossing of a tipping point in vulnerability, at which point the meeting of pest and host populations can set off a highly disruptive chain of events.
Anticipating Disruptive Climate Events: A Trans-Disciplinary Problem
The climate sciences help in anticipating climate events. Various other scientific disciplines are engaged in understanding some of the many societal processes that affect exposure and vulnerability and can therefore help in estimating the disruptive capacity of future climate events. These disciplines need to be more fully engaged with the climate sciences in order to assess the disruptive potential of possible climate events. For example, demography has been particularly successful at forecasting exposures by estimating future human populations from fertility and mortality data and trends and from migration data and trends. Researchers in the development and planning fields can provide useful estimates of infrastructure development that can help with estimating the exposure of property to climate events known to be prevalent in particular areas. Forecasts of economic growth and economic well-being of populations can be useful for anticipating the degree to which extreme events will create serious disruption or suffering. Engineering analyses can estimate the ability of physical infrastructure to withstand possible extreme events. Ecological analyses of habitat change for pests and pathogens can help in foreseeing outbreaks of some human, animal, and plant diseases. There are also social scientific bases for estimating capacity and willingness to cope and respond in environmental emergencies, although some of these, such as for forecasting social capital, are at early stages of development. In addition, there is a body of research literature on the effects of the quality of disaster response on the stability of governments. We discuss these issues further in Chapter 4.
As the discussion so far makes clear, there are many plausible scenarios by which climate change, climate events, and their interactions with non-climate environmental conditions and socioeconomic and political changes might set processes in motion that create national security concerns for the United States. It is also clear that the likelihood that any specific scenario will arise is highly uncertain. This section considers strategies that the U.S. intelligence community might use to better inform national security decision makers with regard to potential risks related to climate change.
The problem might be phrased simply as one of determining which potential futures are important enough to worry about. Policy makers have limited cognitive bandwidth, so they can pay attention to only so many warnings. After some important event has occurred it is often easy in retrospect to identify the relevant precursors. Before the event, however, it is often much more difficult to separate the signal from the noise.
We reemphasize the point made in Chapter 1 that the appropriate
standard of evidence for considering security risks is different from the standards of evidence in fundamental science. Intelligence and security actions are often warranted to reduce the risks from events whose likelihoods are low or cannot be predicted with confidence because the phenomena are too complex or poorly understood or because of the importance of human agency in shaping the course of events. Many of the risks associated with climate change have these characteristics. Nonetheless, the relevant sciences sometimes can develop useful estimates of changes in the likelihoods of certain kinds of events and consequences. Security analysis needs to apply a risk-based analytic approach to recommending action, such as the one briefly described in Box 2-2.
There are several general approaches for implementing a risk-based climate–security analysis. One takes a forecasting approach: Analysts project the likelihoods of disruptive events and bring the high-risk forecasts to policy makers’ attention. Applied to climate change, this approach would need to involve the forecasting of climate events as well of as societal conditions that alter exposure and susceptibility to harm from those events and that affect the ways that governments, societies, and other social institutions respond when climate events create social disruptions. Forecasting requires an understanding of the key variables that need to be included in the forecast as well as a theoretical framework that specifies how current conditions and trends are linked to future outcomes of concern.
This approach potentially has the advantage of bringing to decision makers’ attention a range of scenarios worth worrying about. In particular, because risk is the product of likelihood and impact, this approach would likely bring both high-likelihood/medium-impact events and low-likelihood/high-impact events to policy makers’ attention. Both types of events may be relevant for assessing the impact of climate change on social and political stresses of security interest. An important drawback of this approach is that the ranking of risks—and thus the selection of the events that fall above and below the threshold for policy makers’ attention—may be highly sensitive to erroneous estimates of both likelihood and consequence in ways that are poorly understood or even unnoticed a priori. Such errors may occur in the forecasting of every relevant factor—in the forecasting of climate events, of exposure and susceptibility, and of reactions to disruptive events. The difficulties of forecasting all of these things given the current state of knowledge has led us to put a low priority on using this approach.
A second approach emphasizes early warning. Analysis can suggest early warning indicators of significant events in countries of interest. Analysts might, for instance, identify early indicators of climate conditions that are likely to lead to serious economic or social consequences for the affected populations or indicators of a lack of political or social capacity to cope with or respond to such consequences. They might also develop
A Risk-Analytic Approach to Climate Events and Stresses
Risk is typically defined as the severity of an undesired outcome multiplied by the likelihood of its occurrence. Climate change alters both the likelihood of occurrence and the likely severity of certain events that may degrade human life-supporting systems. Changes in these systems may in turn alter the likelihood and severity of social disruption, stress on political systems, and events of potential importance to U.S. national security—violent internal or international conflict, state failure, and so forth.
Social conditions and social changes affect the exposure and vulnerability of human populations and societies to climate events and thus the risks associated with these events. They also shape the responses of social systems when such events occur, further influencing the risks of political and social stress.
It is essential to think about climate and security in terms of risks because it is beyond the capacity of today’s science to predict specific climatic events or their social or political consequences years or even months in advance. However, the natural and social sciences can help the intelligence and national security communities understand whether, where, and to what extent the risks of these effects are changing and how to reduce them.
The security risks posed by climate change are multidimensional. The overall risk may depend on attributes of:
1. Types of climate events (e.g., floods, crop failures, and disease outbreaks)
2. The likelihoods of the events
indicators of exposure, susceptibility, or the likelihood of successful coping and response, either of socioeconomic systems or of the resource bases on which human populations in critical regions depend.
A third approach emphasizes the analysis of system vulnerabilities. Such an analysis might be focused, for example, on the social and political capabilities and weaknesses of particular regimes both generally and in the face of expected climate events. It would ask how capable a particular regime is of dealing with its routine challenges and then consider how able it would be to deal with additional stresses, specifically those that might arise from future climate events. The focus for a particular country, region, or system should be on the examination of potentially disruptive climate events that have a reasonable likelihood of arising there in the coming years—that is, a set of plausible worst cases—along with various ways that the regime might address such problems (e.g., hardening infrastructure,
3. The magnitude and extent of the events
4. The places and times that the events occur
5. Whether events arrive singly or in clusters
Exposures to the events:
6. The populations, communities, and infrastructure affected
7. The life-supporting systems affected (e.g., food, water, energy, health)
8. The social and political systems affected
Susceptibilities of exposed systems to harm from events:
9. The extent to which these systems in the affected communities and countries will suffer harm upon exposure
The likelihood of effective coping, response, and recovery:
10. The capacity of exposed people and communities to cope
11. The capacity and willingness of various social institutions to respond and support recovery of the affected systems
Security implications of ineffective reactions to disruption:
12. The reactions of the affected populations and social institutions to the adequacy or inadequacy of response
13. The ability of governments to cope with post-event reactions, and consequences for well-being on larger social and political systems
Because risks are so varied in kind and in their implications, it is useful to think in terms of a risk profile—the shape of the risk on all the above dimensions—as a basis for systematic analysis.
putting in place general purpose rapid response capabilities, or suppressing demonstrations by unhappy citizens). A vulnerability approach might also be applied to systems within countries, e.g., of the water supply in Pakistan or the food supply in China. The “stress testing” that we recommend in Chapter 6 mainly follows this approach.
A fourth approach emphasizes policy vulnerability analysis. Analysts would consider a specific existing or proposed policy, future states of the world in which that policy would fail to meet its goals, and the policy responses that would ameliorate these vulnerabilities. They would then organize scenarios to illuminate for policy makers the trade-offs among responses to maintain the viability of the policy. For instance, such an analysis might note that climate changes that go beyond certain thresholds would likely be sufficiently disruptive to the functioning of the government in Pakistan to significantly undermine the ability of current U.S. policy
to achieve its policy goals there; then identify policy changes that might reduce those vulnerabilities (e.g., by raising the threshold at which climate change would harm the ability of the United States to achieve its goals); and, finally, provide information to decision makers that would help them decide whether or not to adopt those policy changes. This approach has the advantage of generally being less likely to misestimate risks than the forecasting approach, but it requires analysts to analyze the implications of specific policy options.
In practice, a mix of approaches will likely prove most useful, because each approach has the potential to miss important pieces of the security situation. For example, a forecasting approach might identify stresses that might arise in a country of interest and create general conditions of social disruption, but it might not carefully consider the implications for specific U.S. policy goals in the country. A policy vulnerability analysis will need help from the forecasting or early warning approach to estimate the thresholds at which current policies might lose viability.
All of these analytical approaches can be better informed by the monitoring of a wide range of variables, including those describing climatic and other environmental factors as well as socioeconomic variables; the monitoring priorities may in some cases depend on the analytical approach being used. Forecasting can require the monitoring of a large number of all these types of variables, both to support forecasts and to build and validate the theories on which risk estimates are made. Early warning obviously requires the monitoring of climatic variables, but it also depends on the monitoring of other environmental and socioeconomic variables that could make climate events disruptive in countries of interest. Analysis of system vulnerabilities requires the monitoring of regime capacities and capabilities, but it also requires monitoring the various climatic and socioeconomic factors that might make climate events stressful for the system. Similarly, policy vulnerability analysis requires the monitoring of U.S. policy goals and priorities, but it also requires monitoring the range of conditions that could make policies vulnerable. In Chapter 6 we offer recommendations for monitoring that can support these analytic strategies.