Climate Change Poses A National Security Threat Says 2 New U.S. Government Reports

Environmental Policy Brief #134 | By: Katelyn Lewis | November 1, 2021

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Policy Summary

In dual reports, the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Intelligence Council reached the same conclusion: Climate change poses an exacerbating, adverse effect on national security.

“To keep the nation secure, we must tackle the existential threat of climate change,” the DoD Climate Risk Analysis (DCRA) report said.

Both evidence-based reports were released on Oct. 21 in response to Executive Order 14008.

The DCRA report outlines key security implications of climate change both nationally and internationally; its role in climate policy and responsibilities; and considerations and prioritizations for the Department’s actions.

“The unprecedented scale of wildfires, floods, droughts, typhoons, and other extreme weather events of recent months and years have damaged our installations and bases, constrained force readiness and operations, and contributed to instability around the world,” the report said. “Climate change touches most of what this Department does, and this threat will continue to have worsening implications for U.S. national security.”

For example, the Report outlines how more drought and flooding events will lead to reduced water supply and an inundation of critical assets, leading to a competition for scarce natural resources as well as a heavier demand for defense support, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response. These climate hazards will also reduce agricultural production and damage infrastructure, prompting “heightened social and political tensions [and] increased likelihood of migration, conflict, and/or competitors using instability to expand influence.”

Meanwhile, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) focuses on climate change’s geopolitical implications abroad. It finds that the risks to U.S. national security interests will increase through 2040 as countries around the world respond to “the intensifying physical effects of climate change” as well as the political and financial upheavals they are likely to spawn.

The NIE report breaks down the risks and changes in levels of risk into three categories – geopolitical tensions over climate responses, climate exacerbated geopolitical flashpoints, and climate effects impacting country-level instability.

It concludes that unified international action to reach the Paris Agreement’s greenhouse gas emissions goals globally may be nearly impossible to achieve as “most countries will face difficult economic choices and probably will count on technological breakthroughs to rapidly reduce their net emissions later.”

Meanwhile, developing and vulnerable countries trying to cope with climate change may look to the U.S. for help, increasing demands on “diplomatic, economic, humanitarian, and military resources,” according to the report.

“The United States and others […] are in a relatively better position than other countries to deal with the major costs and dislocation of forecasted change, in part because they have greater resources to adapt, but will nonetheless require difficult adjustments,” the report says. “Climate impacts such as excessive heat, flooding, and extreme storms will prove increasingly costly, require some military shifts, and increase demands for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.”

Policy Analysis

The mirroring reports were released just 10 days before world leaders gather to meet for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, which begins on Oct. 31.

On the same day the Defense and Intelligence reports were issued, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released its “Strategic Framework for Addressing Climate Change.” The guide outlines the department’s efforts “to safeguard the homeland from the immediate impacts of climate change, while pursuing long-term solutions that support resilient, prosperous communities and safeguard critical national security interests.”

All three documents, as well as a fact sheet released by the White House, establish the threat climate change poses for the U.S. on multiple fronts as well as what actions the Biden Administration’s leadership hopes to focus on going forward.

They offer good insight into U.S. President Joe Biden’s focus for the conference, and show his administration’s efforts to analyze the current climate situation as well as what strategic steps top officials advise to move the U.S. forward to mitigate its adverse consequences.

Ahead of COP26, Biden also released a $1.75 trillion social and climate change spending framework on Thursday, Oct. 28. A big portion of that spending, at about $555 billion, is allocated to “make it easier to buy electric vehicles, install solar panels, retrofit buildings and manufacture wind turbines and other clean-energy equipment in the United States,” The Washington Post reports.

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“The legislation, coupled with executive actions, could help Biden halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in less than nine years compared with 2005 levels,” the Post reports. “Documents from the White House and analyses by independent experts suggest the legislation will reduce U.S. annual carbon dioxide emissions by about a gigaton, nearly a sixth of its current annual emissions.”

While Biden’s social and climate change spending framework would make a major investment toward producing clean energy and combating climate change, its release just three days before COP26 begins – and uncertain passage through Congress – slightly weakens the pressure he may be able to apply on other countries to ramp up their actions against greenhouse emissions.

Without established laws or federal spending toward climate action already in place, Biden heads into COP26 as a leader of one of the richest, developed countries with only ideas, not solidified actions, on how the U.S. will address climate change and cut its greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to mitigate global warming trends.

The Intelligence report reaches a similar, dismal conclusion. In particular, it outlines how perceptions of insufficient contributions to reduce greenhouse emissions, countries’ inability to meet net-zero pledges, and resistance to transition away from fossil fuels, among others, will increase and intensify geopolitical tensions.

“Countries are arguing about who should act sooner and competing to control the growing clean energy transition,” it says. “Global momentum is growing for more ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reductions, but current policies and pledges are insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement goals.”

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on hyperlinks to visit resource website.

Reuters Logo

Reuters – “Factbox – What are the climate change provisions in the U.S. budget bill framework?” (Oct 28, 2021) – ​​ 

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The Washington Post – “White House, intelligence agencies, Pentagon issue reports warning that climate change threatens global security” (Oct. 21, 2021)

The Washington Post – “New Budget Deal Marks the Biggest Climate Investment in U.S. History” (Oct. 28, 2021) – 


The White House – “Fact Sheet: Prioritizing Climate in Foreign Policy and National Security” (Oct. 21, 2021) – 

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Virginia Mercury – “What’s in – and out – of Biden’s $1.75 trillion social spending and climate bill” (Oct. 28, 2021) – 

Writer’s Sources

Click or tap on hyperlinks to visit resource website.

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National Intelligence Council – “National Intelligence Estimate: Climate Change and International Responses Increasing Challenges to US National Security Through 2040” (Oct. 21, 2021) – 

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U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary for Policy – “Department of Defense Climate Risk Analysis” (Oct. 21, 2021) – 

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U.S. Department of Homeland Security – “DHS Strategic Framework For Addressing Climate Change” (Oct. 21, 2021) – 

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