Climate change may strain U.S. forces

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence believes fallout from global climate change over the next 20 years will boost global instability and may place new burdens on U.S. military forces, according to a report delivered to Congress on Wednesday.

U.S. military personnel prepare to load supplies into a military transport plane on the border of Thailand's Chonburi and Rayong provinces, May 12, 2008. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

Climate change may spur increased migrations and heightened disputes over water in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Central and Southeast Asia, the report said.

U.S. intelligence painted a mixed picture of the dangers. It said climate change alone was unlikely to trigger the collapse of any country. But it predicted aggravated poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation and the weakening of political institutions.

“As climate changes spur more humanitarian emergencies, the international community’s capacity to respond will be increasingly strained,” Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, said in outlining the findings to two House of Representatives committees.

He said the United States in particular will be called upon to respond.

Such humanitarian responses may “significantly tax U.S. military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture and decreased strategic depth for combat operations,” Fingar said in prepared testimony.

The study predicted harsher climates would prompt more people to try to migrate “sooner rather than later,” both within nations and from poorer to richer countries.

In sub-Saharan Africa, yields from some rainfall-dependent crops could be halved by 2020, the survey said.

Without food aid, sub-Saharan Africa likely will face increased instability, particularly violent ethnic clashes over land ownership, it said.


By contrast, net cereal crop yields in most of North America likely will increase five to 20 percent, the report said.

The assessment said U.S. overall leadership in the global arena will be judged “by the extent to which it is perceived as forging a viable and effective global consensus for tackling climate change.”

At issue, it said, is helping to set meaningful long-term goals for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, technological progress toward curbing the impact of climate change and support for “climate migrants.”

The study, known as a national intelligence assessment, looked at the security implications of climate change to 2030.

Fingar said 2030 was chosen because it was “far enough out to have witnessed climate-induced changes to the physical and biological worlds, yet close enough to allow judgments about the likely impact of such changes.”

Fingar also serves as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, the intelligence community’s cradle of strategic thinking. He made his comments to the House Intelligence Committee and Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

The assessment assumes the climate will change as forecast by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, approved in Valencia, Spain, in November 2007.

To reach its conclusions, the intelligence community depended on open sources, not spies, “and greatly leveraged outside expertise,” Fingar said.

Editing by Alan Elsner