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Climate change threatens to spark instability, conflict around the world, U.S. intelligence agencies warn

Eleven countries in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are especially at risk from instability driven by climate change, says a U.S. intelligence report.
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WASHINGTON — Climate change poses a mounting threat to U.S. national security, with rising temperatures, droughts and extreme weather likely to trigger instability and conflict in developing countries, according to new reports from U.S. intelligence agencies, the White House and the Defense Department.

The reports paint a dire picture of growing risks caused by radical changes in the world's climate as countries compete for dwindling water and food supplies while facing waves of migration across borders.

The Biden administration released the reports as world leaders plan to meet in Glasgow, Scotland, next month for crucial talks to combat climate change.

A new National Intelligence Estimate on climate, the first of its kind, warned that climate change would fuel global tensions, naming 11 countries that are especially at risk from climate change if trends continue: Afghanistan, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia and Iraq.

"We assess that climate change will increasingly exacerbate risks to U.S. national security interests as the physical impacts increase and geopolitical tensions mount about how to respond to the challenge," according to the National Intelligence Estimate issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

"Intensifying physical effects will exacerbate geopolitical flashpoints, particularly after 2030, and key countries and regions will face increasing risks of instability and need for humanitarian assistance," it said. National Intelligence Estimates reflect a consensus of all of the country's intelligence agencies.

Apart from the 11 countries cited, the intelligence report also said climate change was likely to ratchet up the risk of instability in Central Africa and small island states in the Pacific, which it said were "two of the most vulnerable areas in the world."

A decline in revenue from oil and other fossil fuels is likely to further strain countries in the Middle East that are expected to suffer from extreme heat and longer droughts, the report said.

Although the U.S. is in a relatively better position to respond to the effects of climate change, the report said "the impacts will be massive even if the worst human costs can be avoided."

A Pentagon report said rising temperatures could aggravate factors that lead to migration and even cause governments to collapse. The report said that "in worst-case scenarios, climate change-related impacts could stress economic and social conditions that contribute to mass migration events or political crises, civil unrest, shifts in the regional balance of power, or even state failure."

A White House report said migration fueled by climate change could put more pressure on America's allies and partners, as migrants are likely to seek refuge in democratic, stable countries that adhere to international conventions on asylum.

The assessment also said Russia, China and other adversaries could seek to exploit the effects of climate change to drive migrants to the U.S. and U.S. allies.

"Climate change related migration could cause greater instability among U.S. allies/partners and thereby cause a relative strengthening in adversary states," said the White House report on the impact of climate change on migration.

"In addition, adversaries could incite or aid irregular migration to destabilize U.S. allies/partners," it said.

Without an effective strategy from the U.S. and Europe, China, Russia and other governments could seek to gain influence by delivering support to countries struggling to address political unrest related to migration, it said.

"Russia also sees some benefits in the destabilizing effects of large-scale migration to the EU, particularly as it relates to the rise of xenophobia and political parties skeptical of the European project and the broader liberal order," the report said.

Although Russia will face difficulties from climate change, including flooding and more forest fires, Moscow could benefit overall, as it will have more land opened up to cultivation and resource extraction, along with new sea routes in the Arctic that were previously inaccessible, according to the White House report.

Over the past decade, U.S. intelligence agencies and senior military leaders have issued repeated warnings about the effect of climate change on global security, saying it could cause wars over water or other scarce resources.