New Report: Canada’s Top Climate Change Risks

In a new report released by the Council of Canadian Academies’ Expert Panel on Climate Change Risks and Adaptation Potential (with the refreshingly prosaic title “Canada’s Top Climate Change Risks,”) the authors highlight twelve major climate change risks affecting Canada. While all twelve of the identified risks have a relationship with Canada’s national security in one form or another, two stand out in that context: Geopolitical Dynamics and Physical Infrastructure. From Page 11 of the report:

Geopolitical Dynamics: Risks related to geopolitical dynamics affecting Canada, including increased international migration and associated political, social, and economic stresses; increasing political and social conflict over climate-affected resources; heightened geopolitical tensions over Arctic sovereignty and resources; and increasing need for humanitarian assistance and foreign aid due to climate-related crises.

Physical Infrastructure: Risks to physical infrastructure in Canada (e.g., homes, buildings, roads, bridges), including damage from extreme weather events such as heavy precipitation, high winds, and flooding; increased probability of power outages and grid failures; and an increasing risk of cascading infrastructure failures.

Read the full report here.

Climate Change and Megacities: A Dialogue Session

By Dr. Michael Thomas

As the Center for Climate and Security’s Senior Fellow for the Indo-Pacific, I recently participated in a three-day conference hosted by the Hollings Center for International Dialogue that delved into the challenges and opportunities of the world’s megacities. Held in Jakarta, one of the largest megacities in the world, the conference brought together more than 20 experts from around the globe to explore key thematic issues of sustainability, climate and energy resiliency, the food-water nexus, social and governance issues, as well as concepts of rejuvenation and heritage preservation.

As defined by the UN, megacities are urban agglomerations exceeding 10 million inhabitants; currently there are 47 megacities, of which more than 30 are in Asia alone. Since 2007, more people now live in cities than in rural areas, with projections that this will increase to almost 70% by 2050.

An important discussion thread was the janus-faced nature of megacities with regard to climate change.

On the one hand, megacities are possibly one of the largest—if not the largest—‘single’ contributor to global emissions. Case in point, more than 70% of global CO2 emissions are emitted from cities; with NASA describing megacities as the largest human contribution to climate change.

On the other hand, they also serve as global economic engine rooms and centres of innovation that actually drive climate solutions (see Janani Vivekananda and Neil Bhatiya’s 2017 Epicenters Report).

Notwithstanding, the conference brought into sharp relief the specific challenge climate change poses for megacities.

Foremost is the risk to infrastructure due to sea-level rise, inundation, and coastal flooding. In broad terms, a combination of these factors could amount to $1 trillion in infrastructure damages by mid-century under a 0.5m rise scenario.

As is the case, climate change is one of a myriad of issues facing megacities. Using Jakarta as an example, the over-extraction of groundwater combined with sheer weight of that cities built infrastructure is seeing parts of northern Jakarta  sink at up to 15cm per year. Some estimates have 95% of north Jakarta underwater by 2050. In combination with sea-level rise and other factors, there is even talk of relocating the capital. A USD $40 Billion sea-wall known as the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development is also being seriously considered.

Sea-level rise can have a disproportionate impact on megacities located around the equatorial region—not just because of contributions from melting ice and glacial run-off—but also due to the thermal expansion properties of water. Asian megacities are especially at risk in this respect.

Climate change is also disrupting major global climatic systems such as El Nino, Indian Ocean Dipole and Southern Annular Mode; altering rainfall patterns, glacial formation and melt, and monsoon patterns (to name a few). Changes to rainfall patterns in combination with historical drought, heat waves, coastal erosion, flooding, poor land-use practice, salinity, crop failure, and natural disasters are all key factors driving rural to urban migration and contributing to the unimpeded growth of megacities.

A 2018 World Bank report noted that by 2050 more than 140 million people could be forced to migrate as a result of the slow onset of climate change. In megacities, people often locate to slum areas where, despite economic opportunity, life can be fraught with extreme poverty, public health hazards, and human security risks such as trafficking, exploitation, and lack of access to basic water and sanitation services. Mass movement (either internal or transboundary) can also disrupt existing social orders, leading to instability, violence, and (in extremis) warfare and regional chaos.

Syria continues to serve as an unimaginably devastating example of the destruction and misery that can be unleashed once societal breaking points are crossed. Like a climate tipping point, there can often be no return.

The Hollings Center Dialogue Conference shone a much-needed light on some of these issues. It also established a foothold for future dialogue sessions, particularly with regard to advancing our collective understanding of how climate change will impact megacities from a human-security perspective.

General Middendorp: Don’t leave climate to the environment ministers

In a new Op-ed in Politico, General Tom Middendorp, Chief of Defence of the Netherlands(Ret) and Chair of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), puts a twist on Georges Clemenceau’s famous saying that “war is too important to be left to the generals,” with “don’t leave climate to the environment ministers.” In it, he encourages the European Commission’s President-elect, Ursula von der Leyen (who will take office on November 1), to continue her track record of taking climate security risks seriously during her tenure. To explain, he states:

Climate change will affect every aspect of our lives and every portfolio of every government — from economic performance to managing borders. The issue has to be the top item on every ministerial brief — including, importantly, those responsible for defense and security.


Climate change is not just an environmental problem. It is an existential challenge. To fight it also means dealing with its secondary effects — displacement, conflict and violence — and making it a focus of our security policy.

General Middendorp has become an international leader on climate and security. Hopefully his voice will help spur security, defense and foreign affairs leaders across the world to step up the scale and urgency of their response to the rising security consequences of a changing climate.

Click here to read the full article.

EU Defense Ministers to Address Climate Change in Helsinki

Watch this Space: From August 28-29, EU defence ministers (the ministers of defence from each of the EU nations), will meet to discuss “new technologies and the changing world,” and “the effect of climate change on defence and security” will be a major part of the agenda, along with other rapid changes affecting the operational landscape of EU militaries, such as artificial intelligence. The meeting is being hosted in Helsinki by Finland, who currently holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union (the EU governing body made up of government ministers of the EU’s member states), and will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. Climate change will be discussed at the meeting’s first working session on Thursday, August 29. Click here for the announcement, and stay tuned for a readout of the meeting!

U.S. Congressional Research Service: Military Installations and Sea-Level Rise

By Marc Kodack

The U.S. Congressional Research Service recently released a two page In Focus report on sea level rise and military installations. The U.S. Department of Defense has over 1,700 installations that could be affected by sea level rise, with the potential to affect readiness and operations. The authors suggest that Congress might consider using their fiscal and national security authorities to determine how these installations are preparing to address sea level rise.

The report summarizes information from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Global Change Research Program on the effects that rising ocean water temperature and melting terrestrial ice have had on global mean sea level. For example, overall changes in mean sea level of 7-8 inches have occurred since 1900, with 3 inches of that rise occurring since 1993. These changes can affect installations and their surrounding communities differently. For example, clear weather flooding may occur during high tides. During severe storms and hurricanes, storm surges and high wind have damaged and destroyed infrastructure, both on and off an installation. These storms can significantly disrupt operations and the ability of an installation to function, e.g., Tyndall Air Force Base’s estimated $4.7 billion in damage from Hurricane Michael.

While the Department of Defense (DoD) has previously identified climate change and sea level rise as risks to operations through guidance and research, Congress required DoD to revise military construction policies and procedures so that they explicitly address sea level rise. The report ends with possible issues that Congress may want DoD to address including (1) creating a standard definition of extreme weather; (2) creating a process on how to incorporate climate change projections, not just sea level rise, into infrastructure planning; and (3) if all installations, not just larger installations, should address extreme weather, e.g., storm surge, into their master plans.

To learn more on this issue, also see the Center for Climate and Security’s Military Expert Panel Report: Sea Level Rise and the U.S. Military’s Mission, 2nd Edition.

Dr. Marc Kodak Dr. is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security. Before retiring from federal service in 2018 with over 31 years of experience, Marc served as the Water Program Manager in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment. 

Briefer: Climate Change Implications for Military Aircraft

By Mariah Furtek

Climate change is radically altering the physical environment in the theater of conflict, making future military successes dependent on adaptation today. New research shows that climate change is reducing performance of U.S. military aircraft. As the environment grows hotter and more humid, military aircraft will not be able to carry as much payload or travel long distances without refueling. More missions will be cancelled or modified due to decreased aircraft performance on hot and humid days, which diminishes the U.S. military’s ability to project power and respond effectively to conflicts.

Changes in the operational environment require corresponding changes in infrastructure, logistics, and acquisitions. To be effective long-term, these modifications must be informed by data-driven analysis of climate projections.

The adverse impacts of climate change on military-readiness are especially evident in aircraft and airbases. As heat and humidity rise, aircraft struggle to perform: meaning today’s inventory might not be fit to operate in tomorrow’s conflict. Anticipating the strain that climate change places on current inventory will help make current operations and infrastructure more resilient to climate threats. To this end, U.S. military and military stakeholders would benefit from a vulnerability assessment model that predicts the frequency and severity of climate-related performance impacts for both airbases and aircraft.

This Center for Climate and Security Briefer explores one such model developed by Air Force Colonel Mary McRae (ret.). McRae’s model translates future climate projections from Global Climate Models into Density Altitude (DA) measurements that communicate specific changes in aircraft performance influenced by heat and humidity. Using this DA approach, McRae maps the vulnerability of various airbases and aircraft to DA conditions that limit the viability of future operations.[1] This vulnerability assessment tool will help military, policy and industry constituents determine the most critical threats to aircraft and airbase operations; effectively mitigate climate threats through more informed military acquisitions, infrastructure and mission planning.

More accurate and detailed climate threat assessments like McRae’s make critical threats to military-readiness more visible. In doing so, updated vulnerability assessments enable current acquisitions processes to take climate change into account. These assessments also help the acquisitions community inform industry stakeholders about climate threats and ensure that infrastructure in development today is being designed in a climate-conscious manner. The information these assessments provide also encourages research into innovative design solutions that can adapt existing infrastructure to fit more challenging environments.

[1] “PhD Candidate Develops Novel Method for Assessing Impact of Climate Change on Aircraft Performance.” Villanova University.

To read the full Briefer, click here.

Mariah Furtek is Research Assistant with the Center for Climate and Security

New U.S. Army War College Report Urges Action on Climate Change

By Mariah Furtek

The United States Army War College recently released a report exploring the significant impact climate change will have on national security and U.S. Army operations, and offering a set of urgent recommendations. The second sentence of the report sets the stage immediately, stating “the Department of Defense is precariously underprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges.” 

The report details the most eminent threats climate change poses to national security: severe weather events, mass migration, diminishing global freshwater supplies, changing disease vectors, Arctic competition, stress on the U.S. power grid and nuclear reactors, as well as sea-level rise. 

In addition to addressing these broader climate security risks, the authors focus on the U.S. Army and highlight how diminished freshwater supplies jeopardize existing hydration practices. Currently, the Army relies heavily on bottled water and local wells in the theater of operation to hydrate troops when they are deployed. The Army lacks in-house hydration capacity: the Brigade Combat Teams, for example, have not been able to support their own water needs since 2015. 

Reliance on external sources for water poses a serious threat to Army mobility and capacity. This threat expands as environments around the world grow even hotter, increasing troops’ demand for water. As stated by the authors, “The US Army is precipitously close to mission failure concerning hydration of the force in contested arid environments.” To mitigate this risk, the report recommends the Army explore advanced technologies that capture ambient humidity and recycle water for reuse.

At the pole, melting ice in the Arctic is opening a new zone of competition over Arctic transit routes and natural resources. The report argues that the Army must improve training and equipment to prepare for an expanded role in the Arctic. To highlight the importance of U.S. Army investment in Arctic operations, the authors draw attention to Russia’s ongoing renovation of its Soviet-era Arctic bases and expansion of its “Arctic Army.”

The report also highlights how the Army will be called on to respond to domestic and foreign infectious disease outbreaks due to its unique proficiency operating in challenging environments. The Army must prepare for an increase in frequency and intensity of these disease outbreaks as changing disease vectors and a warmer, more humid climate amplify tickborne diseases and malaria. 

The authors advise the Army to prepare for future restrictions on fuel use by running simulations using virtual and augmented reality.  

Finally, the report recommends that the Army engage proactively in climate change-oriented campaign planning to anticipate future climate conflicts and mass migration in countries like Bangladesh. Incorporating future challenges into today’s budgets will distribute the cost of adaptation. 

Climate change is radically altering the theater of operations and the homefront, increasing the challenges the U.S. military faces at each stage of its national security mission. This report echoes the need to more fully incorporate climate threats into our security awareness and military readiness.

Mariah Furtek is Research Assistant at the Center for Climate and Security

The New U.S. Department of Defense Leadership Team on Climate Security

By John Conger

As the confirmation processes continue for both Mark Esper to become U.S. Secretary of Defense and General Mark A. Milley to become U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it is worth exploring what these officials have said and done about climate security in general, or particular aspects of it, while they’ve been in their current positions running the Army – including most recently during the confirmation process.

First, as Secretary of the Army, Dr. Esper submitted to Congress a top ten list of his most climate-vulnerable bases, focusing mostly on drought and desertification, and committed to “work closely with other leaders throughout the Department of Defense and with Congress to identify corrective actions and implement steps to enhance our readiness and capability in the face of climate related threats.”

In addition, as both Esper and Milley testified before the House Armed Services Committee on April 2, 2019, Congressman Langevin asked them to comment on the impact that climate change has on military readiness.

Secretary Esper responded: “I’m not sure that I could say that it poses a threat to our readiness, but climate change is something we have to take into account as we consider our installations, our training ranges and how and where we may fight in the future.”

General Milley replied: “I would say the effects of climate change are things we have to consider at the strategic, operational, and tactical level and all of our military operations in the future.”

Finally, both Secretary Esper and General Milley responded to Advance Policy Questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee in advance of their confirmation hearings.  Each of them was asked to comment on the readiness and resource impacts of extreme weather.

Secretary Esper’s responses (pasted in full below) generally accepted the premise that extreme weather had a readiness impact and agreed that it was prudent to pursue resiliency at U.S. military bases.

General Milley’s answers to the Advance Policy Questions (also pasted in full below) provided more detail, noting the challenge posed by the cost of recovery from extreme weather events and the readiness disruptions during the recovery period while infrastructure is being rebuilt and critical facilities are unavailable.

When asked about improving the resiliency of U.S. military bases, he stated: “DoD faces a long-term threat from extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and increased flooding at coastal locations. If confirmed, I will work with DoD’s many stake holders in support of ongoing DoD actions to implement appropriate planning and design standards that account for projected sea level rise and extreme weather events.”

Secretary Esper and General Milley joint a long list of at least 30 senior defense officials, during this Administration, that have highlighted the security risks of a changing climate, and the need to do something about it.

1. Advance Policy Questions and Answers: Secretary Esper

Readiness and Resource Impacts from Extreme Weather

In 2017, three hurricanes resulted in over $1.3 billion in damage to military installations across the U.S. In 2018, extreme weather events caused roughly $9 billion in damage at Tyndall Air Force Base, Camp Lejeune, and Offutt Air Force Base. Hurricane season for 2019 already has begun.

How would you assess the readiness and resource impacts on DOD from recent extreme weather events?

        Secretary Esper: From my previous experience as the Army Secretary, severe weather events have had an impact on DoD’s ability to conduct training and operations at certain installations. It has been my experience that DoD assesses resilience holistically throughout the installation planning and basing processes. If confirmed, I would work with DoD leadership to ensure our planning considers extreme weather events.

Based on these readiness and resource impacts, do you believe it necessary to use more resilient designs in DOD infrastructure?

       Secretary Esper:  I do believe having more resilient designs for our facilities and infrastructure is prudent.

2. Advance Policy Questions and Answers: General Milley

Readiness and Resource Impacts from Extreme Weather

In 2017, three hurricanes resulted in over $1.3 billion in damage to military installations across the U.S. In 2018, extreme weather events caused roughly $9 billion in damage at Tyndall Air Force Base, Camp Lejeune, and Offutt Air Force Base. Hurricane season for 2019 already has begun.

How would you assess the readiness and resource impacts on DoD from recent extreme weather events?

General Milley: The impacts are significant. Over $10 billion in two years creates a strain on our finite resources and forces us to make tough decisions if not supplemented with additional funding. Beyond the nominal cost, damages to infrastructure and delayed repairs also disrupted flight and ground training. It will take time to correct these training backlogs.

Based on these readiness and resource impacts, do you believe it necessary to use more resilient designs in DoD infrastructure?

General Milley: DoD faces a long-term threat from extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and increased flooding at coastal locations. If confirmed, I will work with DoD’s many stake holders in support of ongoing DoD actions to implement appropriate planning and design standards that account for projected sea level rise and extreme weather events.

Femia on TRT World: The Strategic Benefit of Acting on Climate Security

In an interview segment released yesterday by TRT World, Turkey’s international news channel, Francesco Femia, Manager and Senior Advisor of the IMCCS and Co-Founder of the Center for Climate and Security, spoke with host Ghida Fakhry and WRI’s Rebecca Carter about the increasing evidence of a connection between climate change and conflict, the  growing bipartisan consensus in the United States about the security risks of climate change, and the idea of action on climate and security as a strategic benefit for countries that wish to expand their leadership and influence.  The interview begins at 17:45, below.

South Pacific Defence Ministers: Defence Organizations Must Be Ready for Climate Change

In case you missed it: The South Pacific Defense Ministers’ Meeting (SPDMM) issued two important products in May demonstrating heightened concern about the defense implications of climate change among regional militaries. This includes:

  1. A Joint Communiqué from the SPDMM, as represented by Australia, Chile, Fiji, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga
  2. A report commissioned by the 2017 SPDMM, titled “Implications of Climate Change on Defence and Security in the South Pacific by 2030,” coordinated by the Observatory on Defence and Climate at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) – a core member of the IMCCS Leadership Consortium.

The communiqué is an admirably robust one, with point number 9, for example, stating:

We acknowledge the 2018 Boe Declaration’s affirmation that “climate change presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of Pacific peoples” and recognised climate change as a challenge for which regional defence organisations must be ready.

The Executive Summary of the commissioned report notes, among other key findings:

There is no doubt that climate change will remain a significant security challenge to the Pacific region in the coming decades. While some see climate change as a security concern in its own right, it can be viewed as a risk multiplier in the Pacific— climate change exacerbates and complicates state fragility, conflict dynamics, economic vulnerability and threatens many aspects of human security (McPherson, 2017).

Both are worth a full read.