national security

Climate Change's Impact on International Arctic Security

This blog post is cross-posted on the Center for New American Security's National Security blog.

Today we released a new report today titled Climate Change & National Security: The Arctic as a Bellwether. The lead author of the report is Dr. Rob Huebert, Associate Director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. 

Official military doctrine in the United States now holds that “climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.” Nowhere is this linkage more clearly illustrated than in the Arctic, and that’s why we think the region is a bellwether for how climate change may reshape global geopolitics in the post-Cold War era. 

As the planet has warmed over the past few decades, temperatures in the Arctic have been increasing at about twice the global rate. And the Arctic sea ice cover has been shrinking much faster than scientists anticipated. The five smallest sea ice covers ever recorded have all occurred in the past five summers. As a result, the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Archipelago has opened up every summer since 2007, and the Northeast Passage along Russia’s coastline has opened up every summer since 2008.

Press Release: Pew Center on Global Climate Change Chief Scientist Wins Prestigious Scientific Organization Award

Press Release
July 19, 2011

Contact: Rebecca Matulka, 703-516-4146

Pew Center on Global Climate Change Chief Scientist Wins
Prestigious Scientific Organization Award


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pew Center on Global Climate Change Senior Scientist, Dr. Jay Gulledge, is this year’s recipient of the Charles S. Falkenberg Award for his work communicating climate change science to decision-makers and the public. The award is presented jointly by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Earth Science Information Partnership (ESIP).

Since joining the Pew Center in 2005, Dr. Gulledge, who directs the Center’s science and impacts program, has worked to build public awareness of climate change science. In this role, he has communicated both an understanding of climate science and the need for urgent action to a diverse audience of non-scientists including policy-makers, the business community, and the media. Dr. Gulledge’s recent work uses a risk management framework to help explain that uncertainty over climate science is not a reason for inaction, rather it is a reason to act now to minimize both the risk that comes with climate change and the cost of mitigating it.

“He has the unique ability to translate scientific uncertainty into useful information for decision-makers and the public,” said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “Jay often says, ‘Uncertainty is information.’ For the public, that notion is nothing short of revolutionary.”

In December Dr. Gulledge will be honored for his achievements at the 2011 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco. Established in 2002, the Falkenberg Award honors a scientist under age 45 who has contributed to the quality of life, economic opportunities, and stewardship of the planet through the use of Earth science information, and to the public awareness of the importance of understanding our planet.

Dr. Gulledge manages the Pew Center’s efforts to assess and communicate the latest scholarly information about the science and environmental impacts of climate change. In Pew Center reports, on the Climate Compass blog, and in numerous media interviews, Dr. Gulledge connects the dots between climate change and extreme weather, explains scientific developments in accessible terms, and delivers straight answers that increase public understanding of climate change.

Dr. Gulledge has also forged new ground in his work on the relationship between climate change and national security. As a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, he has co-authored influential reports, including The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change.

Dr. Gulledge is a Certified Senior Ecologist with two decades of experience teaching and conducting research in the biological and environmental sciences. He earned a PhD from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and was a Life Sciences Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University. He has held faculty posts at Tulane University and the University of Louisville.

“The ability to effectively communicate Earth science to a wide range of audiences is rare, and Jay ranks among the very few who possess that skill,” said Claussen. “His dedication to transparency and accuracy and his unflagging defense of the scientific process in the face of political shenanigans have earned him the respect of his peers.”

For more information about global climate change and the activities of the Pew Center, visit



The Pew Center on Global Climate Change was established in May 1998 as a non-profit, non-partisan, and independent organization dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. The Pew Center is led by Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Degrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security

February 2011

By E3G

Authors: Nick Mabey, Jay Gulledge, Bernard Finel and Katherine Silverthorne

Download the Executive summary (pdf)

Download this report (pdf)

Press Release


Blog Post

Video Briefing



Executive Summary:

There is a growing consensus in the security community that climate change presents significant risks to the delivery of national, regional and global security goals. Through sea level rise, shortages of food and water and severe weather events, climate change will have significant impacts on all countries, which in turn could affect their social stability and economic security. In the coming decades such impacts will increase the likelihood of conflict in fragile countries and regions. Peaceful management of even moderate climatic changes will require investment in increased resilience in national and international security and governance systems.

Security analysis has mainly examined the implications of climate change over the coming two decades. These are largely unavoidable under all plausible greenhouse gas emissions reduction scenarios, given the inertia in energy infrastructure and the global climate system. However, if immediate action is not taken to reduce the steady rise in global emissions, there will be a rapid increase in the risk of far more severe impacts, resulting in security challenges that are much more significant than current estimates indicate.

But climate change is not currently well-managed. Agreements at the most recent UN climate negotiations in Cancun in 2010 included a goal of limiting climate change to, at most, a 2°C average global temperature rise. However, the emissions reductions pledged by countries at the same conference would actually result in a 50 percent chance of global temperatures rising by 3-4°C. Fragile areas such as Southern Africa could experience 50 percent more warming than the global rate. If countries failed to deliver on their emissions pledges, or if we have underestimated climate sensitivity, increases of up to 7°C are also possible. But the risks are not symmetrical. There is a ‘long tail’ on the probability distribution which makes more severe outcomes much more likely than more benign ones. In addition, above 3°C of warming the probability of breaching thresholds for “tipping elements” in the climate system rises sharply. For example, events such as a major die-back of the Amazon rain forest or release of methane from the Arctic tundra would further increase global warming levels.

E3G is an independent not-for-profit organization that works to accelerate the global transition to sustainable development. Visit E3G's website at

Jay Gulledge

Take a page from the military: Risk management could reboot climate change debate

Co-authored by Nick Mabey and originally appeared in The Hill's Congress blog

Once a serious issue becomes politicized and turns into a virtual weapon in the culture wars, it can seem impossible to move beyond partisan bickering and identify a reasonable and responsible course of action. But as those whose job is protecting national security have shown us time and again, it is important to chart a path forward --despite political battles-- when a situation is dangerous and the future is in doubt.

Defending the nation routinely requires making weighty decisions despite uncertainty, incomplete information, and limited resources. To do its job in these difficult situations, the military routinely uses an approach known as risk management. Risk management provides a systematic way to consider threats and vulnerabilities, “knowns and unknowns”, and to take steps to minimize risk.

Security Experts Advance New Frame for Climate-Energy Debate

Press Release                                        
February 10, 2011

Contact: Tom Steinfeldt, 703-516-4146

Security Experts Advance New Frame for Climate-Energy Debate
Pew Center Scientist Co-Authors E3G Study on Risk Management Strategy for Climate Change

WASHINGTON, D.C.– An approach familiar to the national security community and the military could offer a common-sense approach to tackle climate and energy policy, according to a new report issued today.

Degrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security, produced by the non-profit organization E3G, is the result of a series of closed-door meetings with national and international security, intelligence, and defense officials. The report, co-authored by Jay Gulledge of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, recommends using a risk management approach to break logjams and tackle climate change.

“The scientific evidence that the climate is likely to change significantly in the next few decades is far more solid than the evidence that usually underpins security decisions in other areas, like nuclear proliferation or the actions of rogue states,” said Gulledge, who directs the Pew Center’s Science and Impacts Program and is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “Scientific uncertainty is not a state of unknowing. It is quantitative information that should be used to make risk management decisions, and this is especially true for climate change.”

“The risk-management approach makes sense even if you have questions about the effects of climate change,” said E3G Chief Executive Nick Mabey. “It comes down to how much risk are we willing to take?”

Risk management is an approach that must be tailored by decision-makers, but as a starting point, Degrees of Risk proposes a three-tier approach to planning:

  • Aim to stay below 2° C (3.6 °F) of warming,which is the target committed to by the world’s major economies
  • Build and budget assuming 3-4° C (5.4-7.2° F) of warming,which is what current international agreements would allow
  • Make contingency plans for 5-7° C (9-12.6° F) of warming, which remains a real possibility, in part because international agreements are not binding

Within that framework, Degrees of Risk recommends specific steps for launching a risk management strategy, ranging from independent national climate security risk assessments, to explicit and sufficient goal-setting by countries, to a transparent and resilient system for international cooperation on climate change.

The report’s authors are:

  • E3G Chief Executive Nick Mabey, who as senior advisor in the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit led work on energy, climate change, and countries at risk of instability.
  • Jay Gulledge, PhD, Director, Science and Impacts Program, Pew  Center on Global Climate Change; and Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security 
  • Bernard I. Finel, Senior Fellow, American Security Project. He has taught national security strategy at the National War College and served as executive director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University.
  • Katherine Silverthorne, program lead on U.S. Climate Change, heads the Climate Security Program at E3G.

E3G is an independent not-for-profit organization that works to accelerate the global transition to sustainable development.

The report can be accessed at


The Pew Center on Global Climate Change was established in May 1998 as a non-profit, non-partisan, and independent organization dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. The Pew Center is led by Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

How Should We Think About Extreme Weather Events?

The rough weather of 2010 teaches us that climate change is risky business.

Recently, I posted a blog discussing the possible link between global climate change and two related extreme weather events: the heat wave in Russia and historic flooding in Pakistan. Although there is no method to definitively attribute any single event to climate change, based on documented trends in extreme weather events and research showing that specific types of meteorological phenomena are more common in a greenhouse-warmed world, I said:

“It is reasonable to conclude that, in aggregate, the documented increase in extreme events is partially a climate response to global warming, and that global warming has increased the risk of extreme events like those in Russia and Pakistan. On the other hand, there is no scientific basis for arguing that these events have nothing to do with global warming.”

That’s as far as the science permits me to go with this question. We simply cannot know whether any particular weather event was “caused” by climate change. In recent weeks, however, the media have done their all-too-common “he said-she said” routine of finding one source who says the extreme weather of 2010 is because of climate change and another who says it’s not. This is a meaningless argument that distracts us from what we should be thinking about, which is what these events can teach us about our vulnerabilities to climate change.

Climate Risks: Lessons from 2010’s Extreme Weather

Update: Dr. Jay Gulledge is featured on National Journal's Energy & Environment Expert Blogs. Click here to read Dr. Gulledge's take on Climate Risks Here and Now

Last fall I posted a blog about the unusual number and severity of extreme weather events that have been striking around the globe for the past several years. That entry focused on the alternating severe drought and heavy flooding in Atlanta in 2007-2009 as an example of the roller coaster ride that climate change is likely to be. As every dutiful scientist does, I stopped short of blaming those individual weather events on global warming, but I am also careful to point out that it is scientifically unsound to claim that the confluence of extreme weather events in recent years is not associated with global warming; I’ll return to this question later.

Tempestuous 2010

The weather of 2010 continues the chaos of recent years. In the past six months, the American Red Cross says it “has responded to nearly 30 larger disasters in 21 [U.S.] states and territories. Floods, tornadoes and severe weather have destroyed homes and uprooted lives …” Severe flooding struck New England in March, Nashville in May, and Arkansas and Oklahoma in June.

Federal Agencies Are Moving Forward with Climate Change Initiatives

Here in Washington we’re waiting for the snow to end and Congress to make progress on a comprehensive climate and energy bill – both can’t come soon enough. And although the federal government has been closed here for the past few days, the past few weeks have seen some significant progress by federal agencies on the climate front.

As part of an effort to lead by example, President Obama announced that the federal government will reduce its greenhouse gas pollution by 28 percent by 2020. Federal agencies have been working on developing their targets since the release of President Obama’s Executive Order 13514 on Federal Sustainability in October of 2009, which requires agencies to set a number of measurable environmental performance goals. This target is the aggregate of 35 agency targets and the Obama Administration believes it will “reduce Federal energy use by the equivalent of 646 trillion BTUs, equal to 205 million barrels of oil, and taking 17 million cars off the road for one year.” Later this year federal agencies will be setting targets for their indirect GHG emissions (looking for GHG reduction opportunities with vendors and contractors, implementing low-carbon strategies for transit, travel, and conferencing, etc.).

We’ve also seen indications that the impacts of climate change are to be formally considered in the operations of two prominent federal agencies. The Pentagon released a long-term strategy that for the first time recognizes climate change as a direct threat to U.S. forces. In the Department of Defense (DOD) Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Report–the legislatively-mandated review of DOD strategy and priorities—the agency noted that climate change will affect DOD in two broad ways. First, it will shape the operating environment and missions by acting as “an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.” And second, that DOD will need to adjust to the impacts of climate change on its facilities and military capabilities and will need to work to “assess, adapt to, and mitigate the impacts of climate change”.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced that companies should disclose to investors the potential risks and opportunities that climate change presents for their assets. Although the guidance is not a formal regulation, the SEC intends for it to “provide clarity and enhance consistency for public companies and their investors”. In addition to the physical impacts of climate change (floods or hurricanes, rising sea levels, water availability, etc.), examples of where climate change may trigger disclosure requirements include the impacts of climate legislation and regulations, international accords, and indirect consequences of regulation or business trends.

These recent developments, along with the President’s clear commitment to climate change and energy policy during his State of the Union address last month are very encouraging.

Speaking of making progress, its time for me to get back to shoveling snow.

Heather Holsinger is a Senior Fellow for Domestic Policy

National Security Implications of Global Climate Change

Download the full brief (PDF)

August 2009

Recently, respected voices in the U.S. national security community—general officers, CIA analysts, high-level Pentagon officials—have warned that global climate change threatens American security.[1] The security implications of climate change can be parsed into three broad categories:[2]

  • The changing foreign policy landscape
  • U.S. military missions and operations
  • National security as a driver of solutions

The changing foreign policy landscape
America faces a shifting strategic landscape in which rising demand for natural resources (e.g., fossil energy, water, food) increasingly drives national priorities and shapes international relationships.[3] Since climate change affects the distribution and availability of critical natural resources, it can act as a “threat multiplier” by causing mass migrations and exacerbating conditions that can lead to social unrest and armed conflict. Today, drought, thirst, and hunger are exacerbating the conflicts and humanitarian disasters in Darfur and Somalia, and climate change portends more situations like these.[4] The United States is the leading international peace broker and provider of development assistance and humanitarian relief. Climate change is likely to generate many more natural disasters, forcing the U.S. military and its civilian leadership to make ever more difficult strategic decisions about where, for what purposes, and with what tradeoffs U.S. military assets will be deployed.[5] As is the case today, America will not be able to help everyone. Those most adversely affected could come to resent the imposition of climate change. As the world’s largest historical emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, the United States is likely to be the chief target of resentment.[6] For example, al-Qaeda leaders have cited global warming repeatedly in propaganda intended to foment anti-American sentiment.[7]

U.S. military missions and operations
Climate change will influence where, when, why, and how the U.S. military operates.[8] First, military facilities and personnel will be directly impacted: Sea level rise and taller storm surges will encroach on important coastal installations around the world.[9] Increasing land area under drought will affect how and where U.S. forces acquire and transport water to support operations.[10] Weather conditions will become more extreme in places where the local climate already presents serious operational challenges.[11] Second, climate change portends a rise in the frequency of natural disasters. U.S. Navy ships provided critical logistical assistance in the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, and calls for such assistance are likely to increase, both at home and abroad.[12] Third, climate change will create new theaters of operation. For instance, the opening of the Arctic, which is rapidly losing sea ice,[13] will force the U.S. military to deploy significant assets to this newly accessible, resource-rich area,[14] where Russia’s military is already established and well equipped.[15]

National security as a driver of solutions
The national security community will contribute to developing solutions to climate change, both because climate change will present challenges to military operations and because the Department of Defense (DoD) is the nation’s single largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Moreover, the DoD is very concerned about energy security, the solutions to which are, for better or for worse, inexorably linked to climate change.[16] As the world’s largest oil importer, the United States is economically vulnerable to supply disruptions and the military is charged, for instance, with ensuring that foreign oil fields and overseas shipping lanes remain secure. In Iraq and Afghanistan, American troops guarding and transporting fuel for combat operations have become favorite targets of insurgents’ roadside bombs.[17] Because the climate change and energy security issues are intricately linked, identifying win-win approaches that address both problems is becoming a major focus within the DoD.[18]

The U.S. military and other segments of the U.S. national security community have begun to recognize climate change as a threat multiplier that must be considered in long-term security planning.[19] The security community has unique capabilities that position it to respond to climate change. Historically, the DoD has been an engine for dramatic technological innovation, and it can create a strong demand signal for new information and solutions from the academic and the private sectors.[20] The security community is also accustomed to long-term planning and preparing for a range of uncertain outcomes. These attributes are essential for managing the risks of climate change, but are lacking in most other policy communities. To shield the United States from the security threats of unabated climate change, the national security community will have to develop strategies and technologies that will benefit society at large in its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and adapt to unavoidable change, while enhancing energy security and overall economic security.



1. For several examples, see:  Gulledge, J. “One of these things is (not?) like the others” Natural Security Blog, August 12, 2009 (

2. Statement of Sharon Burke, Vice President for Natural Security, Center for a New American Security, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Hearing on Climate Change and Global Security: Challenges, Threats, and Global Opportunities, Tuesday, July 21, 2009.

3. Burke, S. “Natural Security,” Center for a New American Security, Washington, DC, 2009.

4. Military Advisory Board, 2007, Op. cit.

5. Burke, S., Senate testimony, Op cit.

6. Campbell, K.M. (ed.) Climatic Cataclysm:  The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Climate Change, The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, 2008.

7. For example, see Imm, J. “SITE Transcript and Video Link to Bin Laden Video (Updated), Counterterrorism Blog, 2007.

8. Statement of Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn, USN (Ret.), President, American Security Project, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Hearing on “Climate Change and Global Security: Challenges, Threats, and Global Opportunities,” Tuesday, July 21, 2009; Burke, S., J. Gulledge, M. Horowitz, C. Parthemore, N. Patel. “Uncharted Waters: The U.S. Navy and Navigating Climate Change,” Center for a New American Security, Washington, D.C., 2009.

9. Ibid.

10. Rogers, W. “More Fight – Less…Water,” Natural Security Blog, July 30, 2009.

11. Military Advisory Board, 2007, Op. cit.

12. Burke, S., Senate testimony, Op cit.

13. “Key Scientific Developments since the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report,” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Arlington, Virginia, 2009.

14. Freeman, B., “Navy Task Force Assesses Changing Climate,” American Forces Press Service, July 31, 2009.

15. Gunn, L.F., Op. cit.

16. Defense Science Board, “More Fight-Less Fuel: Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on DoD Energy Strategy,” 2008; Military Advisory Board, “Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security,” The CNA Corporation, Alexandria, Virginia, 2009.

17. Leber, J. “Riding a Wave of Culture Change, DOD Strives to Trim Energy Demand,” ClimateWire, July 20, 2009

18. Leber, J. “The Pentagon strives to tuck in its long logistics 'tail',” ClimateWire, July 27, 2009.

19. Clark, C. “Flournoy Details QDR Threats, Principles,” DoD Buzz:  Online Defense and Acquisition Journal, April 29, 2009; Fingar, T. “National Intelligence Assessment on the National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030,” Testimony to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, June 25, 2008. 

20. Burke, S. Senate testimony, Op. cit.


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