Climate change's global impact will create long-ranging problems for U.S. national security over the next 20 years, a top intelligence official told Congress yesterday.
Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, said the United States would be less affected than most countries, with infrastructure replacement and repair being the most immediate problem. His testimony was based on the first public intelligence analysis of the effects of climate change on U.S. national security, which unlike most reports, relied on open source data and outside scientific expertise.
"We judge," he said, "that the most significant impact for the United States will be indirect and result from climate-driven effects on many other countries and their potential to seriously affect US national security interests."
While state failure due to climate change is unlikely, according to the analysis, its adverse effects will exasperate already existing problems such as poverty, disease, environmental degradation, poor leadership, and weak political institutions in less developed countries. This, in turn, could led to civil wars and mass migrations leading to greater social instability and an influx of immigrants into richer countries. War between states, however, is "less likely," said Fingar, but according to NPR, he said terrorism could get worse.
The global rise is temperature causes different problems for different regions, he said. The rise in global temperature in the northern-most latitudes is causing the permafrost to melt, resulting in damage to buildings and pipelines. In more southern latitudes, water scarcity will hit parts of Asia and Africa and in the Southwest United States, harming agricultural production most.
The intelligence report thus predicts that the adverse effects of global warming will hurt the United States economy due to its reliance on a smooth-functioning international trade system. Domestically, Americans will face more severe storms in the Gulf, increased demand for fuel, resource disruptions in the Artic, and increased immigration from resource-scarce regions.
The costs associated with these events, however, may not damage U.S. national security as much as their indirect effects.
"Government, business, and public efforts to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies to deal with climate change—from policies to reduce greenhouse gasses to plans to reduce exposure to climate change or capitalize on potential impacts—may affect US national security interests even more than the physical impacts of climate change itself," Fingar said.
Initially, there will be some economic benefit of warmer temperatures for Americans: increased crop yields of 5 to 20 percent. Afterwards, however, costs will rise, especially for built-up coastal regions threatened by severe weather.
Estimates show limited overall damage to the global economy until 2030, but things then take a turn for the worse.
"However," Fingar said, "the impact on global economic growth begins to mount over time and even conservative estimates put the costs at up to 3 percent of global GDP annually if the Earth's temperature were to rise 2-3 degrees C, which many scientists believe could begin to happen as early as mid-century."
The developing world will suffer most as global warming advances over time, he said, as they lack the "coping capacity" of the developed world.