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Research Report


Peter Engelke
Daniel Chiu
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2016
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 21
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 3-4)

    Will a changing climate reshape US national security interests in the years to come? The answer is a definitive yes: an altered climate will affect US security interests at home and abroad. The causes of climate change, the degree to which the Earth’s climate is changing, and the policy responses to that change all may be controversial topics in contemporary American politics. However, defense and security planners within the US government now assume that they must prepare the country’s national security apparatus for the near- and long-term consequences of climate change. This essay examines the past, present, and future of...

  2. (pp. 5-7)

    While scholars have linked the security of the state to the natural environment for millennia, it was not until the late twentieth century that scholars and practitioners began systematically exploring this linkage.10 Between the 1960s and 1990s, social and intellectual currents, combined with real-world events, produced a field of work now called environmental security.

    The mass environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s represented changing popular and elite opinion about the natural world. During those decades, Americans were also rethinking their country’s role in global affairs, including the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Both of those conflicts had environmental...

  3. (pp. 8-10)

    In 2009, President Barack Obama entered office wanting to prioritize climate change. Shortly after taking office, he appointed Carol Browner, former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Clinton, as director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change, a new entity. Her appointment as climate “czar” was a tangible sign of the incoming administration’s desire to move aggressively on the climate issue. Under Browner’s guidance, the White House sought comprehensive climate and energy legislation, negotiated new fuel-efficiency standards, coordinated the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and included renewable-energy incentives in the 2009...

  4. (pp. 11-14)

    Climate security has become a useful concept in a five-decade-old field tying environmental change to national and global security. The question going forward is whether climate security will remain restricted to discussions within academia, civil society, and a few dedicated places within the US government, or if it will acquire a more pivotal role in the formulation of US national security strategy.

    Climate security’s fate will depend, to a great extent, on the evolution of the United States’ political debate about climate change. Absent breakthroughs in the current stalemate, climate security will remain a limited phenomenon, confined to the edges...

  5. (pp. 15-16)

    This paper offers two recommendations for advancing a climate security agenda. The first recommendation consists of a prosaic, but important, initial step: create a set of scenarios to spell out the security consequences of alternative future climates. These scenarios would describe and analyze the national security consequences of different climates into the future. They would begin by spelling out the ecological implications of different warming increases—if, for example, global mean temperatures were to increase by one, two, or three degrees Celsius. The scenarios would assess these implications for countries and regions of greatest interest to US national security, and...