Climate change is what the U.S. military calls a “threat multiplier.” Leading to natural disasters, sea level rise, resource depletion, and mass migration, climate change poses a direct threat to political stability and can either exacerbate or trigger violent conflicts. 

What Does the Intelligence Community Say?


In a government report, Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, Dan Coats, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, said:

Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond. Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security. Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution.


The Harvard Crimson offered a fairly pessimistic view of our progress in their article, “How climate change will impact national security,” which included an interview with Calder Walton, the assistant director for research at the Belfer Center’s Intelligence Project. He clarified why the U.S. Intelligence community must take a leading role in climate initiatives: 

Rising sea level, which is affecting how we are undertaking military operations. And then, the secondary knock-on effects of population displacement, of civil disorder as key essentials become scarce, damage to crops, and economic realignment. Also, refugee crises or population displacement, and radicalization of people angry with their own government or willing to take action against countries that they regard as the big polluters. Scarce resources leading to political violence, terrorism — that’s the kind of secondary threat progression that the U.S. intelligence community will be looking at. He concluded with the concern that “they’re very, very late to the game.

What about NATO and other agencies within the Department of Defense? 


report commissioned by General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called upon the Pentagon to urgently prepare for the possibility that domestic power, water, and food systems might collapse due to the impacts of climate change as we near mid-century. Made public that August, a significant news piece appeared at the end of October, 2019.


In NATO’s Climate Change and Security Impact Assessment, climate change was recognized as an international security risk, sourcing resource shortages, civilian displacements, and military operations in extreme weather as a result of climate change as potential conflict insinuators. In the Executive Summary, we once again hear about “threat multipliers”:

These conditions represent a ‘threat multiplier’ that has significant security implications for NATO on a tactical, operational and strategic level. For that reason, NATO Heads of State and Government (HOSG) agreed that NATO should aim to become the leading international organization when it comes to understanding and adapting to the impact of climate change on security, and endorsed NATO’s Climate Change and Security Action Plan (CCSAP) at their 2021 Summit in Brussels.

Later in 2022 the U.S. Department of Defense agreed that “Climate change has serious implications for national security.” Joe Bryan, Chief Sustainability Officer and Senior Advisor for climate added, “ Climate change is dramatically increasing the demand for military operations and, at the same time, impacting our readiness and our ability to meet those demands while imposing unsustainable costs on the department."


In July, NATO released a second edition of their Climate Change and Security Impact Assessment, underscoring the need for comprehensive assessment of environmental impacts on military operations. For one thing, extreme weather conditions shorten the lifespans of military equipment and impact maintenance and replacement cycles, resulting in higher production costs, increased military spending, and diminishing military readiness at home and abroad. 

Deputy Secretary of Defense, Kathleen Hicks, has been outspoken about the ‘threat multiplier’ effect on the military:

Nations that are most resilient and best able to manage the effects of climate change will gain a strategic advantage. So the Department must prepare for and adapt to climate change better and faster than its competitors. In addition, how the Department of Defense does this will shape perceptions of America's leadership in confronting global challenges.  We cannot overstate how critical the climate threat is to strategic competition. Many of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world reside in increasingly contested and strategically relevant geography, especially in the Indo-Pacific region and especially Pacific Island nations.

Adaptation and Mitigation

Sea level rise, extreme heat, drought, and increased frequency of extreme weather events all pose risks to the structural integrity of the US military.

The military is now well aware of the compounding effects of climate change and has begun to incorporate adaptation strategies to keep the United States in a strategically powerful position. The Department of Defense has endorsed a transition from fossil fuels to electric non-combat vehicles by 2035. This move will jumpstart the transition to cleaner energy alternatives for wider fleets of combat and non-combat vehicles.



Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has stated that “to keep the nation secure, [the Department of Defense (DOD)], must tackle the existential threat of climate change.” DOD has released a number of documents outlining how it plans to adapt to and address climate change, including the 2021 DOD Climate Risk Analysis and the DOD Climate Adaptation Plan.

The Department of Defense has outlined a five point climate adaptation plan to be used within the branch to ensure military readiness in the face of climate change:

  1. Climate-informed decision-making
  2. Training and equipping a force which is able to operate in the most extreme weather conditions
  3. Infrastructure to assist the military in changing climatic conditions
  4. Supply chain resilience and innovation
  5. Enhancing climate adaptation and mitigation through collaboration on multiple scales


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The nonpartisan Center for Climate and Security will try to fill that void with a new web-based data tool that allows internet users to track military deployments — nationally and internationally — in response to…
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By Denise Chow 05/25/23
Climate change may imperil the U.S. military's ability to train troops, maintain equipment and facilities and operate effectively both at home and abroad, according to a new report on global warming's effect on national security.…
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U.S. Military Sees Growing Threat in Thawing Permafrost

By Daniel Cusick 05/24/23
Fox, Alaska, is a tiny town, but on Monday it hosted one of the Pentagon’s senior officials for a unique tour. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks was there to see 360-foot-long tunnel that military engineers…
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National Intelligence Estimate

Climate Change and International  Responses Increasing Challenges to US National Security Through 2040

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We assess that climate change will increasingly exacerbate risks to US national security interests as the physical impacts increase and geopolitical tensions mount about how to respond to the challenge. Global momentum is growing for…

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Statement for the record

Worldwide threat assessment of the us intelligence community.

The Center for Climate & Security

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Climate change back in National Defense Strategy

By Lamar Johnson   10/27/22  
Climate change is back in the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy after an absence during the Trump administration. The Department of Defense released an unclassified version of the strategy Thursday, along with the DOD's nuclear posture…
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When the water rises

By Carol Kaufmann   10/20/22  
A wildlife refuge along the Chesapeake Bay offers a “fast-motion” view of the effects of climate change and rising waters along the nation’s coastlines.
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No Security Without Climate Security

By Anne - Marie Slaughter   09/30/22  
In July, CIA Director William Burns gave a 45-minute interview at the Aspen Security Forum. Only at the very end, following questions about the Russia-Ukraine war, China, Taiwan, Iran, and Afghanistan, was Burns asked what…
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By Rachel Jacobson   09/29/22  
The Government Accountability Office released a new report on national security risks of climate change just days before an unprecedented storm slammed Western Alaska. These are just the latest signals that it’s past time for…
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USIP Explains: How Climate Change Impacts U.S. Security

By Tegan Blaine   09/29/22  
Last year, the U.S. government released a National Intelligence Estimate focused on explaining the risks climate change poses to America’s security over the next few decades. The report examined geopolitical tensions that are emerging over…
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By Michael Birnbaum   09/26/22  
European militaries are fighting fires this summer that are burning with ever greater scope and intensity, battling record blazes across a continent that is also seized by war in Ukraine and the need to defend…
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US Navy increasingly factoring climate change into exercises

By Colin Demarest   09/08/22  
The U.S. Department of the Navy will study the effect of climate change more frequently to better understand the impact that worsening weather and conditions are having on force effectiveness.
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Vulnerable U.S. electric grid facing threats from Russia and domestic terrorists

By Bill Whitaker   08/28/22  
If there's one thing we can't live without in our modern world, it's electricity. It provides heat and light, pumps water and fuel, refrigerates food, and breathes life into our TVs, computers and phones. So…
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Next-generation aircraft companies are increasingly turning to the U.S. Defense Department to accelerate their path to commercial flight. Why it matters: It can be difficult to earn regulatory approval — not to mention public acceptance…
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DOD Office Focuses on Effects of Climate Change on Department

By Jim Garamone   08/02/22  
Human activity is the main driver for global warming, according to the United Nations. The main culprit is burning fossil fuels that pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, trapping heat.
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By Sarah Kennedy   07/20/22  
Thousands of people have died attempting to enter the U.S. from Mexico. And the crossing is growing even more dangerous as the climate changes. U.S. border security policy in the Southwest is designed to deter…
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By Daniel Cusick   06/28/22  
President Joe Biden made clear from his first day in office that America’s fighting forces must meet climate change head on, when at peace and at war. But will hybrid-electric tanks and zero-emissions troop transporters…
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Rising sea levels and heightened intensity of tropical storms bring along a number of challenges for the world’s shipping industry and other maritime activities. For the U.S. Navy, the effects of climate change may mean…
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As such, the department will set a course to achieve net-zero carbon emissions at its bases and installations by 2050. It also aims to curb energy demand and increase renewable energy use under a “framework…
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Electricity shortages and blackouts are increasingly possible for the American West this summer, as an electrical operator warns of “out-of-the-ordinary” conditions.
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The U.S. Army announces the release of its first Climate Strategy that guides decision making in response to threats from climate that affect installation and unit sustainability, readiness, and resilience. The strategy directs how the…
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The US Army released its first climate strategy on Tuesday with goals to reduce the Army's greenhouse gas pollution by 50% by 2030 and attain "net-zero" emissions by 2050.
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By Joseph Gordon and Jack Greenberg   02/04/22  
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By Oren Liebermann and Ellie Kaufman   11/20/21  
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The aftermath of Hurricane Florence dumping 36 inches of rain on North Carolina in 2018 saw three Marine Corps installations flooded, costing taxpayers $3.6 billion in damage. A few weeks later, Hurricane Michael ripped through…
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By Andrew Eversden   08/09/21  
The aftermath of Hurricane Florence dumping 36 inches of rain on North Carolina in 2018 saw three Marine Corps installations flooded, costing taxpayers $3.6 billion in damage. A few weeks later, Hurricane Michael ripped through…
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The Defense Department says it will have a plan to make climate change a main factor in the further strategy of the military’s operations, risk assessments and programming by Sept. 1.
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DHS S&T Leading the Way in Adapting to Climate Change and Building Community Resilience

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By Alice Bell   07/05/21  
In August 1974, the CIA produced a study on “climatological research as it pertains to intelligence problems”. The diagnosis was dramatic. It warned of the emergence of a new era of weird weather, leading to…
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By Olafimihan Oshin   06/14/21  
NATO said for the first time Monday that it will address the issue of climate change by factoring in environmental concerns as part of the military alliance's activities.
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Military Operations Will be Strained by Climate Change

By Sara Schonhardt   06/08/21  
Militaries around the world could be overstretched as they respond to more intense and frequent climate-driven crises and threats to their own installations.
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Wesley Clark Connects the Dots Linking Climate Change and National Security

By Kate Zerrenner   05/25/21  
In March 2021, three Russian submarines broke through old ice in the Arctic. According to retired four-star general and 2004 U.S. presidential candidate Wesley Clark, we should be paying attention to this from more than…
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No green grid without cybersecurity

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The increasingly ‘distributed’ nature of the grid that is required to tackle climate change also increases the number of points of attack for hackers, writes Francis D’Souza. Between the melting homeland of polar bears, the…
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In the Russian Arctic, the First Stirrings of a Very Cold War

By Andrew E. Kramer   05/22/21  
Chunky green trucks carry Bastion anti-ship missiles that can be prepared for launch in just five minutes. A barracks building, sealed off from the elements like a space station, accommodates 150 or so soldiers. And…
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Global food security: Climate change adaptation requires new cultivars

Climate change induced yield reductions can be compensated by cultivar adaptation and global production can even be increased.
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DOD Exercise Highlights Need to Address Climate Change, Its Impacts

By David Vergun   05/17/21  
The Defense Department's first climate and environmental security "tabletop" exercise, dubbed Elliptic Thunder, highlighted the growing security threats posed by climate and environmental change, while illustrating that prevention activities today are essential to avoiding dire…
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Adapting to the Security Threat of Climate Change

By Lewis Huynh   05/13/21  
Climate change is a generational risk with profound implications to alter not just our physical world but our digital world, too. While not traditionally associated as a cybersecurity risk, the accelerating frequency, severity, and significance…
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Hackers Shut Down Major Pipeline, Raising Concerns for Clean Energy Companies

By Amy Lupica   05/10/21  
Colonial Pipeline Co., known as the “jugular” of America’s oil pipeline infrastructure, has become the latest victim of increasing cyberattacks. On Friday, the company’s systems were shut down by a ransomware attack, bringing the pipeline to a standstill for four…
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Revitalized U.S. urgency on climate change and national security

By Samantha Harrington   05/07/21  
The Biden administration’s national security concerns over climate change mark a sharp shift from the Trump administration approach.
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Climate Change Problem: an Emerging Threat to Global Security

By Aneesa Aslam   05/07/21  
Climate Change is one of the greatest challenges faced by humanity. The Greenhouse–gas emissions and over-exploitation of natural resources result in a rise in temperature which brings floods, droughts, a rise in sea level, and…
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Revitalized U.S. urgency on climate change and national security

By Samantha Harrington   05/07/21  
“An urgent national security threat.” That’s the phrase U.S. Director of National intelligence Avril Haines used in describing climate change at the White House Climate Summit on Earth Day a few weeks ago.
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