The Implications of Global Climatic Changes for International Security

Testimony of Dr. Peter H. Gleick to the
United States Congress
Committee on Government Reform

Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations
Hearing on Energy as a Weapon: Implications for U.S. Security

“The Implications of Global Climatic Changes for International Security”
May 16, 2006

[Note: Dr. Peter Gleick is President of the Pacific Institute, Oakland, California; he is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences; he was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2003.]

Over the last few decades, there has been growing concern over the international security implications of large-scale environmental problems, including those associated with the production and use of energy resources. Recently, this attention has focused on the possibility of major climatic changes caused by growing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other trace gases that result, primarily from our combustion of fossil fuels. Given the extent and severity of the likely climatic changes, it is increasingly urgent that we begin to ask how climate changes will affect international relationships, economics, access to resources, and national security.

It is widely acknowledged that the dependence of the U.S. on imported energy resources can lead to economic pressures and tensions or as triggers to conflict when other pressures and tensions exist between nations. Less appreciated is the extent to which the environmental impacts of energy use can lead to international security threats, especially when those impacts are as severe and wide-ranging as climate change. My testimony today discusses the most likely paths for such effects and what responses might be appropriate to minimize the adverse consequences for international stability and tensions.

Global climate change is a real and serious problem. Impacts are already evident and are worsening rapidly in many parts of the world and the United States. It is vital to identify our greatest vulnerabilities to climatic stresses and the areas where those stresses will most affect national and international security, behavior, and policy.

Five critical areas stand out as important examples of national vulnerabilities with security implications: agricultural productivity, the availability and quality of freshwater resources, access to strategic minerals, rising sea level, and the deterioration of political relationships with other countries that result from disagreements about international climate policy. […]

Download the full testimony here