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Climate change poses national security risks, says military report

By CBS News 9:15 AM May 14, 2014

Climate change poses a severe risk to national security, according to a new report, and if it continues at the current rates, it is a “catalyst for conflict.”

“The nature and pace of observed climate changes — and an emerging scientific consensus on their projected consequences — pose severe risks for our national security,” opens the report, produced by a group of retired military officers for the government-funded organization CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board.

Released Tuesday, the report pinpointed several regional conflicts in the Middle East and Africa that have been sparked by drought and food shortages.Rising sea levels threaten the food supply and general safety in coastal regions such as eastern India, Bangladesh and Vietnam, and will likely lead to conflicts as refugees flee the areas.

Another potential area for conflict, according to the report’s authors, is the Arctic. As sea ice melts and more areas become navigable by ship, tensions could rise with Russia.

The increase in the strength of severe weather events, which has already impacted the U.S., the Philippines, Malaysia and other areas, will create greater demand for American troops to aid in rescue and recovery efforts. Therefore, the government needs to plan accordingly, the report says.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the report, which builds on one issued in 2007, will impact American foreign policy decisions, according to The New York Times. “Tribes are killing each other over water today,” Kerry said. “Think of what happens if you have massive dislocation, or the drying up of the waters of the Nile, of the major rivers in China and India. The intelligence community takes it seriously, and it’s translated into action.” Kerry added that this summer, he will make a speech addressing the link between climate change and national security.

The report comes on the heels of the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review. Released in March, it drew a link between climate change and terrorism.

“These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad, such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions — conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence,” stated the review.

In Tuesday’s report, the authors stated that the threat of climate change can be compared with previous military threats.

“During our decades of experience in the U.S. military, we have addressed many national security challenges, from containment and deterrence of the Soviet nuclear threat during the Cold War to political extremism and transnational terrorism in recent years,” they wrote. “The national security risks of projected climate change are as serious as any challenges we have faced.”

To address the risks, the report offered six recommendations centered around climate adaptation planning, better infrastructure planning, energy conservation, and increased efforts “to prepare for increased access and military operations in the Arctic.”

The authors added that the U.S. has an opportunity to be a global leader in efforts to “develop sustainable and more efficient energy solutions to help slow climate change.”

© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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