Global warming is likely to increase illegal immigration, create humanitarian disasters and destabilize precarious governments and could add to terrorism, all of which could threaten U.S. national security, according to an assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies.
"Logic suggests the conditions exacerbated (by climate change) would increase the pool of potential recruits for terrorism," said Tom Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, who testified before a joint House committee hearing Wednesday.
Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Central and Southeast Asia are most vulnerable to warming-related drought, flooding, extreme weather and hunger. The intelligence assessment warns of a global spillover of those troubles: increased migration and water-related disputes, he said in prepared remarks.
Climate change alone would not topple governments, but it could worsen problems like poverty, disease, migration, and hunger that could destabilize already vulnerable areas, Fingar told the committee.
But he warned that efforts to reduce global warming by changing energy policies "may affect U.S. national security interests even more than the physical impacts of climate change itself," he stated.
"The operative word there is 'may,' we don't know," Fingar said.
The national intelligence assessment on the national security implications of global climate change through 2030 is one of a series of periodic intelligence reports that offer the consensus judgment of top analysts at all 16 U.S. spy agencies on major foreign policy, security and global economic issues. Congress requested the report last year. The assessment is classified "confidential."
It predicts that the United States and most of its allies will have the means to cope with climate change economically. Unspecified "regional partners" could face severe problems.
Fingar said that the quality of the analysis is hampered by the fact that climate data tend not to focus on specific countries but on broad global changes.
Africa is among the most vulnerable regions, the report states. An expected increase in droughts there could cut agricultural yields of rain-dependent crops by up to half in the next 12 years.
Parts of southern and eastern Asia's food crops are vulnerable both to droughts and floods, with rice and grain crops potentially facing up to a 10 percent decline by 2025.
As many as 50 million additional people could face hunger by 2020, and the water supply — while larger because of melting glaciers — will be stressed by growing population and consumption. Between 120 million and 1.2 billion people in Asia "will continue to experience some water stress."
Shortage of water resources
Latin America may experience increased precipitation, possibly cutting tens of millions of people from the ranks of those in want of water. But from 7 million to 77 million could still be short water resources because of population growth.
Fingar's statement strikes a considerably less ominous tone than a report issued a year ago by the Center for Naval Analyses on the same subject.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., the chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, accused the White House Tuesday night of trying to "bury the future security realities of global warming" in Fingar's prepared statement. On Wednesday he said the classified assessment itself is "first-class."
Fingar said no one in the White House changed any of his public testimony.
The Center for Naval Analyses report, written by top retired military leaders, drew a direct correlation between global warming and the conditions that lead to failed states becoming the breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism.
"Climate change will provide the conditions that will extend the war on terror," stated Adm. T. Joseph Lopez, who commanded U.S. and allied peacekeeping forces in Bosnia in 1996.
"Weakened and failing governments, with an already thin margin for survival, foster the conditions for internal conflicts, extremism and movement toward increased authoritarianism and radical ideologies," the previous report said. "The U.S. will be drawn more frequently into these situations," stated the report, which drew on 11 retired generals and admirals.
California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa said Congress' call for the intelligence agencies' report was "a dangerous diversion of intelligence assets." He said the issue should be studied by climate scientists, not intelligence agencies.
Republicans on the committee used the hearing to argue for domestic oil drilling and nuclear power to reduce reliance on foreign energy.