Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 01/2015

Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis

Thomas Fingar, David Lobell

November 2012

Center for International Security and Cooperation


The U.S. intelligence community is expected to provide indicators and warnings of a wide variety of security threats — not only risks of international wars that might threaten U.S. interests or require a U.S. military response, but also risks of violent subnational conflicts in countries of security concern, risks to the stability of states and regions, and risks of major humanitarian disasters in key regions of the world. This intelligence mission requires the consideration of activities and processes anywhere in the world that might lead, directly or indirectly, to significant risks to U.S. national security. In recent years, with the accumulation of scientific evidence indicating that the global climate is moving outside the bounds of past experience and can be expected to put new stresses on societies around the world, the U.S. intelligence and security communities have begun to examine a variety of plausible scenarios through which climate change might pose or alter security risks. In 2010, as part of its ongoing work with the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council (NAS/NRC) on issues related to climate and security, the U.S. intelligence community asked the NAS/NRC to organize the study whose results are described in this report.