Climate change could be a 'catastrophic' national security threat, report warns

Climate change could turn into a "catastrophic" threat to national and global security in the coming decades, warns a report released Monday.

"Even at scenarios of low warming, each region of the world will face severe risks to national and global security in the next three decades," the report says. "Higher levels of warming will pose catastrophic, and likely irreversible, global security risks over the course of the 21st century."

The report, titled “A Security Threat Assessment of Global Climate Change: How Likely Warming Scenarios Indicate a Catastrophic Security Future," was released by the Center for Climate and Security, a nonpartisan security policy institute.

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To avoid such dire impacts, the report recommends "quickly reducing and phasing out greenhouse gas emissions."

Human-caused climate change, aka global warming, is caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, which release heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the Earth's atmosphere. This has caused the planet to warm to levels that cannot be explained by natural factors, scientists say.

The globe has warmed about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since preindustrial times, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

The report identifies major threats, including heightened social and political instability and risks to U.S. military missions and infrastructure, as well as security institutions across all regions of the world.

In North America, under a low-warming scenario (1.8 to 3.6 degrees by 2050), the region "will experience more intense, extreme events like storms and wildfires, with significant impacts on life, property, security infrastructure and democratic institutions," the report said.

"The assessment is clear – climate change is a pressing risk to national and global security and will evolve to become a severe and systemic threat the more we allow global temperatures to rise," said report co-author Sherri Goodman, a former deputy undersecretary of defense.

"Our panel's analysis shows that no region of the world will be left unaffected, and climate impacts will interact in dangerous ways in even near-term, lower levels of warming," Goodman said.

The report says, "Climate change will present significant threats to U.S. military missions across all of its geographic areas of responsibility as well as to regional security institutions and infrastructure that are critical for maintaining global security."

In addition to phasing out fossil fuels, the report says, "the world must also 'climate-proof' environments, infrastructure, institutions and systems on which human security depends." In the USA, "we call for renewed efforts to prioritize, communicate and respond to climate security threats."

Report co-author Rod Schoonover of the Center for Climate and Security said, "It’s the job of the U.S. intelligence community to anticipate risks to national security and provide strategic warning to appropriate policymakers.

"The science has long been clear, and the security community is adding compelling analysis of the threats climate change poses to people and nations. It’s long past time for vigorous action to address them," he said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Climate change could be a 'catastrophic' national security threat