Climate change is a “threat multiplier,” exacerbating existing risks to security.
The threat comes not from climate change itself, but rather, from how it interacts with existing security conditions. In this context, climate change presents both direct and indirect threats to human, national, and international security.
Direct threats: Climate change has a direct impact on security through its effect on the critical infrastructure underpinning a nation’s security. This includes sea level rise risks to military installations that can degrade a nation’s ability to conduct military operations, as well as extreme weather events that can devastate essential energy, financial and agricultural centers that undergird a nation’s economic viability. In some cases, as with some low-lying small island states, sea level rise presents an existential threat.
Indirect threats: Climate change also presents an indirect threat to security by increasing stresses on the critical resources underpinning a nation’s security, including water, food and energy. These stresses can degrade a nation’s capacity to govern. Decreases in water, food and energy availability can devastate livelihoods, and contribute to a broad range of destabilizing trends, including internal population displacements and migrations, and political unrest. These pressures in turn can contribute to state fragility, internal conflict and potentially state collapse. Climate change can also indirectly change or disrupt existing international security dynamics in geostrategic environments, such as the Arctic and the South China Sea.
By placing strains on the infrastructure and resources necessary for the viability of the nation-state system and the well-being of its populations, and by physically changing the geostrategic environment, climate change presents a risk to both national and international security.
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